In Libya, the US consulate in Benghazi came under attack which took the lives of the US ambassador and other mission staff. While the unrest was immediately sparked by the release of an anti-Muslim film on YouTube, an overview of the developments during the past several months should place the current events into a much deeper context.
In July, Libya held parliamentary elections which the media praised as a triumph of democracy, though the uncertainty in the estimates of the eligible voters in the country – from 3.2 to 3.5 million people – reached 5% of the population (1). Moreover, only 2.8 million registered to take part and 1.7 million – actually walked into the polling booths. The ballot count showed that 1% of the voters left their bulletins untouched or filled them in inappropriately, so that they did not factor into the eventual balance. The simple truth is that the name written into the “invalid” bulletins should not be hard to guess. Overall, just around one half of the constituency contributed to the poll outcome, a result that sounds like anything but a triumph of democracy, and still the UN Secretary General’s fresh report on the activities of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) carried no criticisms concerning the irregularities (2). Evidently, glossing over problems was the only way to avoid citing the real reasons why the nation which supposedly spent four decades craving for real democracy under late M. Gaddafi proved to be so unenthusiastic as of late. The reasons, though, are on the surface – for Libya, a country which used to boast 100% popular involvement in governance via people’s congresses and committees (3), the post-Gaddafi elections marked a big step away from democracy rather than progress towards it.
For Libyans, Gaddafi’s epoch, among other benefits, opened unprecedentedly wide access to education. These days the people in Libya are fully aware of the difference between the Western democracy based on parliamentary representation and the truly inclusive – real and efficient – democracy they enjoyed in the not-so-distant past. Gaddafi wrote in his epic Green Book: “Parliamentarism is an ill solution to the problem of establishing democracy. The main purpose of a parliament is to speak from the name of the people, which in itself is an undemocratic practice, rather than to empower those whom it nominally represents. … The parliaments became legitimized barriers preventing peoples from exercising authority in their countries. Legislatures shut the mases out of politics and sustain the legislatures’ monopoly on power” (4).
In Libya’s new parliament, the National Forces Alliance led by former premier Mahmoud Jibril has 39 seats out of 80, the Justice and Construction Party headed by former political prisoner Mohamed Sowan has 17, and the rest are split among 19 parties having 1-2 seats. At the same time, 120 parliamentarians with unannounced political affiliations and agendas were elected on a district-to-district basis (5). The mosaic mirrors both the fractured state of the Libyan society and the ad hoc character of most political formations which took parts in the parliamentary race (6).
Violence accompanied the elections campaign all along, with polling stations torched and boxes with bulletins destroyed. Even the electoral commission’s employee was killed when, on July 6, its copter came under fire in the Benghazi district, the hotbed of the Libyan revolution. In fact, deaths from violence were reported right on the days the elections were held (7).
On the whole, there are no signs that tensions are going down in Libya, where fighting flared up non-stop over the past 5-6 months. Serious clashes between the Toubou brigades and Arab groups began in Sabha, southern Libya, in June and took hundreds of lives. Later battles raged in Kufra, south-east Libya. The traditional inter-clan dispute over border control in the western part of Libya escalated into a three-day armed conflict between Zuwara city on the one side and the cities of al-Jumail and Reghladin on the other, with around 50 people being killed. Ten people died when Arabs and Tuaregs hammered each other in Ghadames, and around 1,600 Tuaregs were forced to flee to the nearby Derg later on. In June, the Zentan and Mashashia tribes locked horns in the Nafusa mountains, leaving over 70 people dead and some 150 – wounded. Government forces were deployed between Zentan and Shagiga to keep apart two local communities warring over land. The Barki council continued to pursue “federalist” policies in the east of Libya. Violence spilled even into the premier’s premises where a guard and a “rebel fighter” were killed in a shootout last May. Government facilities, international community representatives, and the security forces come under fire in east Libya with frightening regularity. Finally, the US consulate was devastated in Benghazi, the city which used to be the epicenter of the rebellion which displaced Gaddafi.
In contrast to other attacks on US diplomatic missions across the world – a total of 23 as of September 14 – the one in Libya grew out of the background of permanent bloody fighting which is flooding the country, and out of the wider turbulent context of the post-Gaddafi Libya. No doubt, the demonstration of the spectacular incapacity of the current Libyan administration was an event carefully planned with an array of objectives in mind – from warranting a stronger Western military presence in the Arab world to plunging it into permanent chaos which is the same as a permanent revolution…
1. The 2006 survey — the latest in Libya — set the population of the country at 5,670,000, including 350,000 foreign nationals.
2. Curiously, the UN Secretary General’s report on Libya drew no assessments whatsoever. The UN Security Council convened on September 12 to discuss the document but no envoys of UNSC member-countries spoke at the meeting. Libya’s representative delivered an apology over the death of the US ambassador, and that rounded up the agenda.
3. Soviet Union’s chargé d’affaires in Libya Prof. A.Z. Egorin who spent decades in Libya offers an excellent description of how the people’s congresses and committees functioned in the country in his The Will of Gaddafi (Moscow, 2012).
4. M. Gaddafi. The Green Book. Part 1.
5. The Libyan electoral commission: http://www.hnec.ly/en.
6. Th titles of all of the parties involved in the elections — the Party of Hope, the National Alliance, the Party of Progress, the Well-Being Party — leave the constituency completely in the dark concerning their political leanings.
7. Gaddafi wrote about how parliaments are formed in today’s world: “If a parliament is formed by a party which has won the elections, it is a parliament of his party, not of the nation, and represents the party rather than the nation. The executive authority appointed by such parliament is the authority of the party which won the elections, not the people’s. The same is true of a parliament where several parties get their own numbers of seats. The legislators who get the seats represent their parties, not the people. An administration formed by a coalition of parties means the power of the coalition parties, not the people’s power”.