Whether it is the rule of militias, the rising influence of the Islamic State (IS – Daesh) or the tragic fate of migrants fleeing the scourge of war off its coast, Libya is once again in the international headlines. Then again, Libya has always been newsworthy, but there always seems to be something else overshadowing it.
Over a year since “I never imagined that Libya would follow Lebanon”, Eye on the East had a chat with the same Libyan activist, who still prefers to remain anonymous. You could say this is an update on Libya’s tumultuous developments, though the expression, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” has never more truthful. 10 questions answered with this activist’s usual humor and irony, albeit the seriousness of the situation, because how else can one sometimes cope with so much pain and tragedy…
Eye on the East (EOTE): For the lack of a better word, things in Libya are ‘complicated’. If you could name a movie or book that best characterizes the current situation, what would it be?
Libyan Activist (LA): Game of Thrones, without the sex and the wine. It would be fun to relate major characters from the TV series to Libyan political and military leaders. Maybe an idea for a Libya TV game show. The only problem is the likely Libyan candidate for the Kalisi role sadly has already been killed in Benghazi last year.
EOTE: What went wrong in Libya?
LA: Everything. Many people say we weren’t ready. But more to the point, the people who helped us get rid of the G-man were not ready either.
EOTE: How powerful and representative are extremist Islamic groups, such as Al Qaeda and IS, in Libya?
LA: I heard IS took over Mosul with 300 fighters. Mosul is as large as any big Libyan city. Not much can stop few dedicated armed Wildlings in a lawless country.
EOTE: Were there times when you thought Libya could have transitioned more peacefully from the post-Qaddafi era, or was it just a matter of time until the situation deteriorated, as is now the case?
LA: Yes we did, sorry we made a mistake! Joking aside, the international community was focused on the word ‘transition’, but there was nothing to transition from! There were no institutions, no structures and no organisation. Focus should have been on nation-building from scratch, starting with the army and police.
EOTE: In retrospect, how do you look at NATO’s intervention in 2011? How responsible was it for what ensued, whether the instability, continued violence and becoming a welcoming ground for extremism?
LA: Well, (thinks of a bit)…some of my compatriots would say, “what a dumb idea, we should not have asked for it.” Others would say that NATO from the air should have been followed by NATO on the ground to clean up the militia mess and weapons’ bazaar. However, there is agreement that everyone underestimated the complete breakdown of functioning government institutions once the realm’s noble families (i.e. crooks) disappeared.
EOTE: Is the breakup of Libya inevitable? And if so, along what lines?
LA: Some speculate it could shatter into multiple mini-states. We already have an IS state in Derna [port city in eastern Libya] and Sirte [Libyan coastal city halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi]. Can you imagine all those new embassies around the world to accommodate the new fledglings, not to mention UN and international organisation membership? At least we won’t have to worry about the IS mini-states signing up to the Human Rights Convention.
EOTE: Do you think there would have been greater interest in Libya from the international community in general and Arab World in particular had it not been for the events taking place in Yemen?
LA: Maybe. But frankly, I can’t see it would have made any difference.
EOTE: Similar to some Syrians who now long for the regime of Bashar Al Assad, if only for the peace and stability it provided, are there some in Libya that have a sense of nostalgia for the Qaddafi days?
LA: Sadly yes, and probably more than one would like to admit. The funny thing is at the beginning of the revolution, all the nostalgia was for the old days of King Idris. Just like Game of Thrones, we love to hark back to the good old glory days, rather than look forward to new opportunities.
EOTE: What is the best and worst case scenario for Libya now?
LA: Foreign intervention and foreign intervention… Again, joking aside, the best case is for UN-sponsored talks to succeed in generating a national coalition government. The government would sit in Tripoli, with foreign troops on the ground to protect and defend the capital and some mechanism of sticks and carrots to collect weapons and disband militias…tough one! As for the worst case, have you seen the Mad Max movies?
EOTE: What role can Libyan expatriates play to help stop the violence?
LA: Stop inciting violence and open a dialogue between the various competing expatriate groups, including the ex G-men themselves, to agree on some core principles.
EOTE: What can be done about the hundreds of migrants dying from Libya and Africa to Europe, escaping death and in search for a better life?
LA: A cynical view would be to provide them with better boats and life vests. Without a functioning government and organised security and army nothing can be done. So back to the idea of better boats and life vests, perhaps funded by the EU to clear their conscience.
EOTE: The next time you go to Libya, what will be the first thing that you do?
LA: Well, before I go to Libya, I will buy a Nespresso machine. And when I get there, I will have a coffee by my old beach club in Haii Al Andalus [the Andalusian neighborhood], where I used to spend lazy Fridays with my family every summer during the happy days of the old King….may god bless his soul.
EOTE: Thank you, as always…
LA: One more thing. There is a nationally-recognized constitution drafting commission busy at work in [the eastern Libyan city of] Beida. We might actually end up having a constitution ready for a referendum in a few months time… but without a state.