Libya: On the ninth anniversary of Libya’s revolution, new book by CIHRS analyzes Libya’s derailed democratic transition

In Books, CIHRS Publications, Democratization and human rights issues in the Arab region by CIHRS

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) has released a new book today February 17th, Libya 2011: A Democratic Transition Derailed, marking the ninth anniversary of Libya’s 2011 revolution. Seven Libyan researchers, academics, and politicians prepared four chapters analyzing the key obstacles derailing democratic transition in Libya, including those obstructing the implementation of truces and agreements. Seeking to bridge a research gap on Libya while examining the conflict through a humanistic lens, the book is an illuminating exploration for all interested in Libyan affairs.

Although the vying Libyan parties and the international community reached a new agreement last month in Berlin, the efficacy of this agreement remains captive to complex power dynamics on the ground that cannot be disregarded by those invested in the peace process. If ignored, these power dynamics will consign the Berlin agreement to the same grim fate as the dozens of local and international truces and agreements that have preceded it.

The book analyzes these power dynamics on the ground, identifying and probing the primary obstacles that have thus far derailed Libya’s democratic transition. The book concludes with a republication of the Roadmap for Human Rights Reform and Restoring the Rule of Law, authored by CIHRS and the Libya Platform. The roadmap, formulated by key actors in Libyan civil society, underscores the three key components upon which any path to democracy, peace, and stability in Libya must be based. They are: respecting the fundamental human rights of all people in Libya; countering impunity for rights violations, regardless of the perpetrator’s affiliation; and upholding the rule of law for all.

A lack of serious institutional dialogue on any of the key post-2011 issues has halted progress in Libya’s transitional period, with the overarching impasse centered on governance and the nature of relations between the state’s executive, legislative and judicial authorities. Armed groups of all affiliations continue to exert the largest influence upon legislative or even reform efforts.   The impasse in establishing an effective form of state governance is exacerbated by the failure to address key issues, such as: organizing the media, with a view to eliminate hate speech and incitement to violence; protecting vulnerable populations, such as women, migrants, and refugees; re-structuring security institutions in such a way that prevents armed groups from obstructing peace processes, democratization, and the building of a state based upon the rule of law.  Nine years after the dawn of Libya’s revolutionary era, there still remains a feeble – if virtually nonexistent – constitutional, legislative, and judicial foundation upon which the success of any transition to democracy and stability is contingent.

The first chapter of the book, “Libya, Between Institutionalism and Individual Rule,” examines the issue of governance from two perspectives. The first perspective hypothesizes that the failure of Libya’s transitional period thus far is attributable to the neglect of the state’s pre-Gaddafi institutional heritage, which includes elements such as tribalism, favoritism, regionalism, and other historical, cultural, and social variables.   The failure to take this institutional heritage into account correlates with post-revolutionary Libya’s failure to restore the institutional nature of the country’s governance and political management. Meanwhile, the opposing perspective posits the reverse: it is precisely the presence and inclusion – not the absence and exclusion – of Libya’s pre-revolutionary institutional heritage that has caused post-revolutionary state-building in Libya to fail. Libya, the researcher contends, was never a modern institutional state according to standard definitions or concepts.

Regardless of whether they excluded or too vigorously included the main features of pre-Gaddafi Libya’s institutional heritage, the reality is that the main post-2011 political actors viewed armed conflict as the most viable means of tightening control over a political transition in a fragile and fragmented society undergoing profound change. Thus, the task of Chapter II, which is to map Libya’s multitude of armed groups, is crucial to understanding the country’s current political landscape. In this chapter, titled “The Rule of Armed Groups,” the researcher maps these groups –tracing developments and shifts –  in terms of their geographic surroundings, tribal affiliations, and ideologies; their alliances and positions in relation towards the ruling parties; and their positions or attitudes towards polarizing political issues such as Gaddafi, the 2011 revolution, and the 2014 warfare between the forces of Khalifa Haftar and those of Libya Dawn.

In a state riven with violence and the strife, holding perpetrators of violations accountable becomes an issue of vital significance – not only for the viability of Libya’s democratic transition but for the lives and safety of all civilians in the country. In this regard, Libya’s judiciary is of utmost importance in regards to ensuring accountability and delivering justice to victims. Chapter III, “Safety Valves: The Judiciary and the Media,” discusses the challenges that must be overcome by Libya’s judiciary in order to assume its ideal role as an arbiter of justice. Foremost among these challenges is politicized legislation undermining the judiciary’s authority and independence, in a chaotic and violent context where judges and other judicial institution personnel are highly exposed to assassination, kidnapping, and other forms of retaliatory violence. With Libya’s judiciary thus enfeebled, verdicts issued by courts are typically ineffectual. Violations and crimes continue unabated, as the perpetrators avert accountability and victims do not receive justice.

Alongside the judiciary, the media also has the potential to act as an antidote to the conflict in Libya, by spreading a culture of tolerance and exposing corruption and abuses by government institutions and politicians. Yet, as Chapter III details, media institutions in Libya have failed to play this potential role. To the contrary, Libya’s media institutions are weaponized by rival factions, who instill media output with hateful and violent speech. So not only is the media ineffectual in furthering Libya’s transition, it is detrimental to this transition; inciting violence while moving further from the path toward a political solution resulting in democracy, stability, and peace.

When immersed in a quagmire of political actors locally, regionally and internationally; institutional legacies or a lack thereof; armed groups defined by shifting alliances and ideologies; and judicial and media institutions unable or unwilling to assume their ideal functions, it can become easy to lose sight of those for whom Libya’s democratic transition should ultimately benefit: the people of Libya, whether they be citizens, migrants or refugees.

To put this human element back into focus, the final chapter of the book “Victims of Armed Conflict” details the struggles of migrants and women. Persons fleeing poverty or conflict often find themselves at the mercy of armed groups or militias – exploited for their labor, entrapped in prisons or facilities where torture and unspeakable violence are commonplace, or sold or traded in the human-trafficking market. Women migrants are at the greatest risk of falling victim to these atrocities. And women throughout Libya are all vulnerable to assaults, sexual violence, and abductions emanating from a patriarchal context that reinforces the deep-rooted repression women face through discriminatory legislation, often donning a religious guise.

Book currently available in Arabic.

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