Libyans mark third anniversary of revolution with bitterness

Three years on from anti-Gaddafi uprising, nation a lawless quagmire

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 5:26am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 5:26am


As Libya prepares to commemorate three years since the uprising that ousted and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the country is haunted by a nightmare of lawlessness that has overshadowed people's dreams of a better life.

Tomorrow marks the start of the February 17 revolution, when angry residents of the eastern city of Benghazi took to the streets to protest against Gaddafi's four-decade rule.

Gaddafi reacted violently, touching off a Nato-backed war that devastated much of the country, killed thousands and led to his capture and killing by rebels eight months later.

Ahead of the anniversary, the United Nations has expressed grave concern about the course Libya is taking.

It called on Libyans of all political stripes "to rise above partisan interests and ... work by all means to prevent inflaming tensions, which could lead the country to slide into lawlessness and chaos".

Sadly, however, lawlessness and chaos are already everyday concerns. The latest example came on Friday, when the government and armed forces denied rumours of an impending coup after a retired general called for parliament and the government to be suspended.

How that could have been taken seriously is difficult to understand, as the post-Gaddafi government has never built an army capable of providing minimum security, much less run the country on its own.

As put by Anna Boyd, a senior analyst with IHS Country Risk: "The army is trying to break Libya's current political deadlock, but is too small and weak to be able to take over government in Tripoli and enforce its writ."

Indeed, just last week, gunmen tried to storm army headquarters and guards stopped them, but only after they ransacked cars and stole weapons.

The lack of security is evident on a daily basis.

Even Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was briefly kidnapped in October by members of one of the militias that fought to oust Gaddafi and have since become Libya's powerbrokers.

Zeidan has been also politically cornered by Islamists who have quit his government and are blocking his attempts to put together a new cabinet.

The General National Congress (GNC), the country's top authority, has so far failed its mandate of setting the stage for a new constitution and elections, and has angered many by extending its mandate.

Amid all the political bickering, the GNC last week adopted a new road map and timetable, which allow for two scenarios.

A general election would be held at the end of the year if a constitutional body to be chosen this week adopts a new charter within four months of its election. But if, within 60 days, it decides it cannot complete the job, it would call for immediate presidential and legislative polls for a fresh period of 18 months.

Ironically, the average Libyan does not seem to care. Last month, the electoral commission said only 1.1 million out of an eligible 3.4 million voters had even signed up to elect the panel.

People "have not seen an improvement in their lives [since Gaddafi's overthrow] or a sincere will to put an end to the anarchy undermining the country," says political science professor Ahmed Mahmoud.