The following article was written in collaboration with my friend and colleague, Susan Sandover who is the author of the book ‘Libya a Love Lived a Life Betrayed 9/36’
By: Susan M. Sandover & Therese Martin
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Daily we (an American mother with a Libyan husband and a British Libyan widow) read, hear and see the ongoing tragedy and horror of the war in Syria and yet Libya barely warrants a mention in the British and American press. It seems as if the Libyans are the forgotten. Photos and video footage are seen periodically of migrants being saved in the Mediterranean but we have yet to read an article on the potential tinderbox situation in Libya.
The 17th February marks the anniversary of the commencement of the fight to overthrow Gaddafi but will this date warrant a mention in the international media? Most likely NO. The war finished quickly in just 8 months. Today what remains is the daily episode of the Libyan Game of Thrones represented by an assortment of grey-haired men in their expensive suits with allegiance to either diaspora, area, tribe or a religious faction all vying for power. But what of the ordinary citizens of Libya? With 45% of the population aged under 30, the majority without hope of work, they are the dangerous forgotten. Consequently, crime is on the rise and coffers from the old family loan system have long since dried up. The infrastructure that was failing under Gaddafi is now at crumbling point or virtual collapse. The morale of the people is so low that they too are beginning to join the thousands of migrants endeavouring to reach Italy and Europe by crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of a better future.
Aside from tribal infighting, the cancer ISIS, whose roots had lain hidden during the Gaddafi era now has found its chance to emerge and spread its tentacles. Libya’s porous borders allowed pockets of IS to establish themselves in three branches in Libya; Tripolitania in the west (primarily in Sabratha), Cyrenaica in the east, and the Fezzan in the south of the country. Sirte has only recently been cleared of IS by forces backed by the GNA (Government of National Accord) and supported by the United States which targeted ISIS with over 500 airstrikes between August 2016 and January 2017. Although IS combatants were removed from Sirte, many Jihadi warriors managed to escape, disappearing into the desert. Will they once again go into hiding, waiting for the chemo therapy to end and then resurface? Libya’s marginalised youth and migrant Africans entering the country are all potential recruits and this needs to be recognised before the Libyan dormant bomb erupts, as it will, if help is not given to the country.
Despite the abundance of problems facing Libya, some hope remains. Organizations, focused primarily on women and youth are emerging. On offer are empowerment workshops, training for the health sector, networking for entrepreneurs, as well as opening centres to provide services for psychological, social, legal and health problems. Reconciliation will only happen with concerted efforts from within Libya, as well as with help from abroad.
By ignoring the ongoing situation and hoping that it will go away will only result in another Iraq and Syria disaster of horror, instability and further turbulence within the MENA region. Peace and reconciliation should be led by the Libyans hand in hand with the West so that Libya can be reunified and the IS cancer can be eradicated from the country. The alternative is unthinkable. The new President of the United States seems to believe that by building walls and banning Libyans from entering the United States that this will solve the problem and prevent the spread of IS and terrorist attacks. We only wish this were true, in fact it may be encouraging those Muslims who were born or who are now living in the United States to feel marginalised and draw them to embrace radical ideals.
Will the Libyan youth be celebrating the 17th February anniversary? What are their aspirations today? They must be given hope or they will become the lost generation and potentially join radical groups who offer them salvation. The alternative is unthinkable while the reality is an unstable quiet which is shattered by periodic gunfire, bombs and tanks as Libya once again has returned to a questionable, unpredictable future.
By: Susan M. Sandover & Therese Martin