Libya to Europe: Remember us?
Former Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril traveled to Brussels to warn European leaders about the dangers of abandoning their work in Libya before the country is stabilized.
Former Libyan Prime MinisterÂ Mahmoud Jibril said at a European conference thatÂ his struggling nation feels practically â€śabandonedâ€ť by Europe â€“ where attention is focused on Syria â€“ and that the youth who brought the 2011 revolution are â€śbeing completely left out of the pictureâ€ť ahead of elections in June.
It is a â€śtragic mistake â€¦ a fatal mistakeâ€ť to abandon Libya at this time, said the former leader of the Transitional National Council. â€śLibya is in a political and security vacuum, and vacuums do not remain vacuums. Extremism might spread at any moment,â€ť Mr. Jibril warned. â€śI am afraid that early indicators are there right now.â€ť
More than a year after France and Britain spearheaded air strikes in Libya and seven months after the fall of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Jibril traveled to Brussels for theÂ German Marshall Fund's annual forumÂ to deliver some harsh words. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who was present, disagreed that Libya had been forgotten.
Libya has not regained stability in the months since Qaddafi was ousted. The east is fraught with competing militias, and calls for partition between the east and west have left the political system in limbo. United Nations humanitarian advisers have been deployed, but only in an aid capacity, not as peacekeepers â€“ even as politicians such as Jibril, who has started his own political party, are forced to move their Tripoli offices daily for security purposes. Outside urban areas, there are frequent reports of gang killings, retribution, and torture.
"The Libyan revolution is in serious jeopardy,â€ť agrees Karim Emile Bitar, senior fellow at the Institute for International and Strategic Affairs in Paris. â€śQaddafi left many booby traps. Government institutions are still embryonic, civil society is disempowered, and Libya is in dire need of a stronger central political authority that would rein in the militias, collect the weapons, and prevent atomization.â€ť
No one, including Libyans, had expected this scale of change in Libya, upended after decades of dictatorship, and rebuilding often seems overwhelming, Jibril said.
â€śOur partners forgot that when the regime fell, the state fell as well, and when it happened, everyone disappeared,â€ť he said, comparing the transformation to the French Revolution. "Weâ€™ve never been through that process.â€ť Â
The young â€śdotcomâ€ť generation that is Libyaâ€™s future now feels left out, Jibril said.Â
â€śThey carried out the revolutionâ€¦[but] the West started dealing with elites like myself â€¦ leaving the younger people to feel â€¦ their dreams, agendas, hopes for dignity are not yet included.â€ť
Some 60 percent of Libyans are under 40, many of them technologically minded and media savvy, and they connect with a broader world than the older generation of Libyans, Jibril said.
Ms. Ashton responded that Libya has not been abandoned, even if the EU has been focused on Syria, and that Europe is providing support, particularly to womenâ€™s groups seeking aid, as part of a civil-society vision for Libyaâ€™s future.
"Europe will be there for the long term,â€ť Ashton responded. â€śOur commitment is absolutely there. What is important is inclusivity when it comes to what I call the 'deep democracy' of the future. But there are not civil servants and bureaucracies to engage with in places like Libya, just ordinary people, so it's a real challenge."Â
Jibril said that the current European approach to Libya lacked the coordinated focus of its military intervention last year, and that now Europe â€śis looking at what it wants to do and isÂ ignoring needful priorities,â€ť such as getting weapons off the street, and holding elections.Â â€śEngaging women is a good thing, but doesnâ€™t touch the real problems," he said. People feel weâ€™ve been abandonedâ€¦ We need to rebuild trust."
Analysts like Mr. Bitar in Paris say that Libya may be a larger security threat than Europe realizes right now and that its instability is already creating problems in North Africa.
â€śThe nightmarish scenario of an Iraqi-zation of Libya no longer seems so far-fetched,â€ť says Mr. Bitar. â€śEurope has to get involved because the outflow of weapons and the security vacuum are also starting to destabilize Mali, Niger, and the entire Sahel region. [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a regional Al Qaeda franchise] might benefit and European security will sooner or later be affected. Europe simply cannot afford to stay out of it and Ms. Ashton should be aware of this."Â
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