Libyans are disillusioned but cling to hope

“The European Union has a responsibility to help Libyans move towards a peaceful solution.” - Tripoli University President Nabil Enattah
Sunday 15/07/2018
Seeing hope. Tripoli University President Nabil Enattah.  (Libya’s Biotechnology Research Centre)
Seeing hope. Tripoli University President Nabil Enattah. (Libya’s Biotechnology Research Centre)

TUNIS - Disillusioned with politics and bereft of any illusions, Libyans have lowered their expectations to “bread and security,” said Tripoli University President Nabil Enattah, who, however, said he sees hope in Libya’s strong social fabric.

Libya plunged into chaos following a 2011 NATO-backed revolt that toppled long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Since 2014, the country has been split between rival governments and parliaments in Tripoli and in the eastern region of Bayda.

“Libyans are finding it increasingly difficult to have bread. They are fed up with politics and political infighting. They are yearning for bread and security,” Enattah told The Arab Weekly in an interview.

He said the role of Libya’s elites is the main cause of — and the key to solving — the conflict.

“The revolution took the elites off-guard. They were not prepared to build the institutions and rebuild the state and pave the way for stability, democracy and prosperity,” said Enattah on the sidelines of a conference in Tunis about the Libyan conflict.

“The truth is that Libyan society had been deprived of political experience under Qaddafi’s rule as well as under the previous regime,” he said.

Enattah argued that the former regime could not be blamed for the current crisis, which arose from infighting among the “revolutionaries” early in the “revolution.” The conflict between liberals and Islamists evolved during the period of the General National Congress, with each faction forming military forces, which hindered the transition to a stable state, he added.

Enattah blamed “external parties” for extending the crisis and making it more complex because each foreign influence has its own agenda and interests and backs a particular faction to further its aims.

“Economic interests of major companies, different policies of global and regional powers have acted as an amplifier of the crisis,” Enattah said. “Poor people from neighbouring countries flooded southern regions where adventurous armed groups, who looked for money from smuggling and other trafficking practices, have added to the problems of the country.”

“France shoulders more responsibility in Libya and should help Libya restore peace and stability. The European Union has a responsibility to help Libyans move towards a peaceful solution,” said Enattah. “Libya is a pivotal state in the region. It has eight neighbouring countries and its stability has a huge effect on the stability of the whole region.”

He cited UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame to explain why “Libya is rich in oil and other resources but Libyans are feeling the crunch of an economic crisis.”

Libyan Field-Marshall Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army and security forces control the eastern region of Libya, faces off with an array of political factions and militias in control of Tripoli and other western regions.

“The immediate effect of this divide is an economic stagnation with a liquidity crisis, a depreciated dinar and higher prices stifling the livelihood of most Libyans,” said Enattah. “The Libyan crisis is becoming an economic crisis and that adds to the misery of Libyans.”

“Salame has an assessment that shows how difficult the situation is getting. He described the political crisis spawning a perverse economic model based on corruption and trafficking in people and goods,” added Enattah.

He said Libya has no direct role in the migration crisis with which the European Union is struggling, adding: “It is a problem imposed on us by the vacuum of power and the interests of human traffickers.”

Asked whether elections could break the impasse in Libya, Enattah said: “As a tool of democracy, elections are necessary to decide between opposite interests and contradictory ideologies and political orientations but elections could make the conflict worse. Because who can impose respect for the outcome of the polls if there no army, no strong police and no understanding between rivals before the vote?”

Elections before the end of 2018 are central to a plan presented by Salame to the UN General Assembly in September 2017 but Libya experts are increasingly sceptical that free and fair elections could take place this year.

The 2014 election was followed by a civil war that caused more political atomisation with the emergence of informal mechanisms for amassing economic wealth and grabbing political power by rival militias and warlords.

Enattah, however, pins hope on Libya’s resilience as a state and the relatively strong fabric of society to weather the crisis.

“Libya has been a state for several centuries. It had resisted and survived many daunting difficulties and ordeals in the past. It will do the same this time,” he said. “Despite the criminal gangs and other militias, Libyans in many parts of Libya are able to invent ways to survive and live together without losing sight of their values and strong bonds.”