Ayat Mneina

Ayat Mneina

Civil Society, Extremism, Featured, Libya, Parliaments, Political Reform

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Nearly 18 months have passed since Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) was democratically elected and given a 12 month mandate to complete its post-revolution tasks. Across the country, Libyans are now vocalizing their disapproval of such underperformance. To make matters worse, although February 7 marked the official end of its mandate, the GNC has moved to extend its term indefinitely, or until the elected constitutional committee is able to draft a new constitution. Elections for this body are set to take place on February 20.  While much of the delay in the political transition process can be attributed to the country’s instability – due to a failure to dissolve militia groups, secure the borders, and build a strong national army – popular sentiment across the country is unsympathetic toward the GNC‘s counter-progress.

The constitutional committee, set to include a representative 60 members from across the country, will have 120 days to produce a draft constitution to be voted on by the public.  Despite this seemingly organized transitional plan, the GNC has proven itself unsuccessful in meeting set deadlines since its establishment.

The extension of the GNC’s term has been loosely understood by the Libyan public in two ways: Some believe that the GNC is bound by the completion of its set tasks and not by time; therefore, an extension is a natural progression to allow for their original mandate to come to fruition. Conversely, others contend that the GNC is no longer valid once its pre-determined term has finished. According to this view, the extension is unconstitutional and the GNC should be replaced with another, more adequate body to complete the job.

The debate surrounding the extension of the GNC largely excludes the Libyan public from having a strong contributing voice due to the lack of political awareness in a country relatively new to the democratic process. Whether or not the GNC extends its term is not what the public is focused on. Rather, the public is concerned with the GNC’s overall mediocre performance riddled with delays or a complete lack of response to civil participatory initiatives. Had the GNC cultivated opens lines of communication with the public beyond televising GNC meetings in order to generate a two-way exchange, dialogue, and free debate, then its legitimacy may have been salvaged. Unfortunately, many feel discarded by the process.

Libya’s regional frictions add to the central government’s complications, with the federalist wave led by Ibrahim Jathran having successfully contested the government’s reach by overtaking three of the country’s largest oil terminals located in the East. They have faced little resistance and have put yet another hole in the government’s ability to command authority.  Furthermore, clashes in the South of the country and politically-fueled kidnappings of officials and their relatives by militias wanting to subvert the government’s rule have contributed to the country’s deteriorating situation.

Tensions are running high as protests against the extension of the GNC mandate are expected to increase in the coming weeks. Libya’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Sadik al-Ghariani, has publicly condemned these protests, reinforcing his own brand of political participation. Not all welcome this involvement, considering his role to be interference, a tool used to sway public opinion in favor of one political direction over others.

Amid the multitude of events in the coming days, Libya’s media continues to struggle. Not only must they overcome shortcomings in methodology, but they also must contend with an environment in which intimidation tactics are used by political factions, militias, and unidentified/undiscernible groups. Libya Al-Ahrar, a channel born in the early days of the uprising based in Benghazi, was targeted on the evening of February 5, a move the channel understood as a warning against covering the protests expected on February 7, according to one of their staff members who chooses to remain anonymous.

Overall, remaining critical of the political process is progress in itself. If anything comes of this phase in the country’s transition, it should be a culture of awareness and transparency. The people must play a role to ensure that they are heard. This will require patience and perseverance. Simultaneously, it requires support from outside forces. Libyan civil society has obvious shortcomings, but this makes support efforts even more essential. The Libyan people must be equipped with the right tools and methods in order to vigilantly monitor and communicate with those in power. Friends of Libya, including international partners and allies whose own nations were built on the ideals of democracy, should stress the importance of a strong civil society in Libya.

It is now clear that pressure on the government and the GNC from within has no impact on its performance. Pressure must therefore come from the Libyan people, equipped with the resources and support that they need. Without checks and balances, the government and the GNC have arguably succumbed to the weight of their powers. Corruption and greed have put a stick in the wheel of progress and only the public can get the wheel turning again.

Ayat Mneina is a co-founder of the Libyan Youth Movement (@ShababLibya). Follow her on Twitter @Amneina.