It is exactly nine years since the uprising that led to the overthrow of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. While the uprising succeeded in ending Gaddafi’s tyrannical regime, there is very little to celebrate. Cases of insecurity, human rights abuses and corruption are on the rise as the country descends into anarchy with little regard for democracy or human rights.
The Libyan Civil War
Libya has been grappling with a serious civil war influenced by tribal, military and political divisions over the last nine years. Gaddafi managed to hold the country together with an iron fist and by manipulating the 140 tribes. This is something that has remained elusive for the subsequent regime.
The Tripoli based Government of National Accord under Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has failed to unite the tribes and exert its authority over Libya despite having the backing of the United Nations and most Western countries.
On the other hand the Eastern part of the country is under the control of the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalif Haftar who has been making attempts to capture the capital Tripoli. Haftar enjoys the backing of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt who have been supplying him with arms and finances.
Libya: Breeding Ground of Terror
The resultant chaotic state has created a conducive environment for extremists groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS to thrive. In 2016 the United Nations estimated that there were around 2,000 to 3,000 ISIS fighters in the country. The militants were mainly based out of Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte where they made attempts to establish a caliphate just like in Syria.
Despite being rooted out by a coalition of rebels from Misrata and US forces, the extremists still present a threat to the public. Most of them melted into urban populations while others vanished into the massive Sahara desert where they have hidden their weapons and also set up camps.
From there, they have hijacked trucks ferrying oil and gained other revenue by collecting taxes from human traffickers and arms smugglers. Although their number has dwindled, the militants still continue to conduct suicide bombings and hit and stage attacks on various targets.
Libyan Democracy? Hardly
Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are essential elements of any democracy. These were indeed the ideals of thousands of Libyans who took the streets nine years ago to demand regime change and a fairer society. However this is now a mirage as civilians are being subjected to various forms of human rights abuses by the warring factions
In essence there is very little difference between today’s Libya and the Libya under Gaddafi, that was characterized by prolonged detentions, unfair trials, torture and suppression of freedom of speech and association. In fact, Libya’s authoritarianism has gotten worse.
According to Amnesty International, militias armed groups and security forces arbitrarily detained thousands of people, most without any judicial process. They also suppressed freedom of expression by harassing abducting and attacking journalists and politicians.
Last year the United Nations Human Rights Commission documented 514 civilian casualties (183 killed and 331) injured. The largest number of causalities were recorded in Tripoli, Benghazi, Sabha and Derna. Many were attacked in places of worship, camps for internally displaced people, detention facilities and banks.
Rising Discrimination Against Women
The report also stated that discrimination against women persisted in both law and practice. Women were held in prolonged arbitrary detention for political and social reasons, and were also subjected to travel restrictions and intimidation requiring them to travel with a male guardian. Women activists who spoke out about the abuses were attacked harassed intimidated and detained.
“Women and girls including victims of forced prostitution and rape, accused of engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage were subjected to invasive virginity tests by judicial order, regardless of their consent,” the report notes.
Democratic Rights Nowhere to be Seen
The right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly remains restricted. Media workers who criticized armed groups or reported on human rights issues or corruption were particularly targeted. For instance on October 22 of last year, media worker and blogger Al-Mukhtar—who worked on stories of corruption by local officials—was brought to court and charged with defamation.
While corruption was rampant under Gaddafi, it has become worse under the current regime. More Libyans are wallowing in poverty than ever before despite the country having the largest oil reserve in Africa. In 2019, Transparency International ranked Libya at position 168 out of 180 corrupt countries. This signified a drop of 22 places from position 146 the country had been ranked in 2010 just before the revolution.
According to Washington-based GAN Integrity’s Business Anti-Corruption portal “Corruption presents a significant obstacle for companies doing business in Libya . All sectors in the Libyan economy suffer from widespread corruption.”
A report by the Libyan Audit Bureau in 2017 revealed money was being smuggled overseas through the manipulation of Letters of Credit and overseas bank transfers. On one occasion the vice president of the Presidential Council, Ali al-Qartani was accused of grabbing a valuable parcel of land.
The UN blames the rising corruption on “the absence of mechanisms of effective monitoring and the complicity of political figures, in addition to the growing power of armed groups,” while GAN Integrity blames institutional weakness.
The human rights abuses, corruption, high cost of living and insecurity have made some Libyans to regret taking part in the 2011 uprising.
“Before 2011, I hated Gaddafi more than anyone. But now life is much harder, and I have become his biggest fan,” said one taxi driver in Tripoli. Former US president Barack Obama has also described US intervention in Libya as one of his biggest mistakes.
But others—especially Libyans in diaspora—have no regrets about the removal of Gaddafi. Instead they blame greedy politicians and the Western world for the current chaos.