War-weary Libyans miss life un­der Gaddafi

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

TRIPOLI: Five years after an up­ris­ing killed Libya’s Muam­mar Gaddafi, res­i­dents in the chaos-wracked coun­try’s cap­i­tal joke they have grown to miss the long­time dic­ta­tor as the frus­tra­tions of daily life mount. Those liv­ing in the cap­i­tal say they are ex­hausted by power cuts, price hikes and a lack of cash flow as ri­val au­thor­i­ties and mili­tias bat­tle for con­trol of the frag­mented oil-rich coun­try. “I hate to say it but our life was bet­ter un­der the pre­vi­ous regime,” says Fayza Al-Naas, a 42-year-old phar­ma­cist, re­fer­ring to Gaddafi’s more than four decades of rule.

To­day, “we wait for hours out­side banks to beg cashiers to give us some of our own money. Ev­ery­thing is three times more ex­pen­sive.” A UN-backed unity gov­ern­ment has strug­gled to as­sert its author­ity na­tion­wide since ar­riv­ing in Tripoli in March, with a ri­val par­lia­ment in the coun­try’s far east re­fus­ing to cede power to it. On Fri­day it suf­fered a new blow when a ri­val seized key of­fices in the cap­i­tal and pro­claimed the re­in­state­ment of a third ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­vi­ously based in Tripoli. The tur­moil after Gaddafi’s 2011 fall has al­lowed the Is­lamic State ji­hadist group to gain a foothold on Europe’s doorstep after seiz­ing the strong­man’s home­town of Sirte in June last year.

Forces loyal to the unity gov­ern­ment have for five months been fight­ing to ex­pel the last ji­hadists from the for­mer IS strong­hold, with sup­port from US air strikes since early Au­gust. With the loy­al­ists weak­ened by the anti-IS bat­tle, forces led by a con­tro­ver­sial field mar­shal last month seized key oil ter­mi­nals to its east, al­low­ing the Na­tional Oil Com­pany to re­sume crude ex­ports. The east­ern par­lia­ment has thrown its sup­port be­hind Khal­ifa Haf­tar, who presents him­self as Libya’s sav­ior in the face of a grow­ing ji­hadist threat but is a hugely di­vi­sive fig­ure.

‘Chaos or mil­i­tary rule’

While his army has ousted most ji­hadists from Beng­hazi, the birth­place of the 2011 up­ris­ing, his de­trac­tors ac­cuse him of work­ing to­wards the sin­gle goal of seiz­ing power to es­tab­lish a new mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship. “Libyans are forced to choose be­tween two ex­tremes: ei­ther chaos with mili­tias and Is­lamist ex­trem­ists as the dom­i­nant forces, or mil­i­tary rule,” said Libya an­a­lyst Mo­hamed El­jarh. “No other con­vinc­ing op­tions are on of­fer,” added El­jarh, of the Rafiq Hariri Cen­tre for the Mid­dle East.

Haf­tar’s forces have fought for more than two years to ex­pel ji­hadists from sec­ond city Beng­hazi, while pro-GNA forces are caught up in fight­ing IS in Sirte. Ac­cord­ing to Libya ex­pert Mat­tia Toaldo, these ri­val forces might then want to ex­tend their in­flu­ence in other ar­eas of the coun­try and be met with tough lo­cal re­sis­tance. “It is hard to think that the coun­try will be sta­bi­lized any time soon,” said Toaldo. “Libyans seem to have swapped a re­pres­sive cen­tral­ized author­i­tar­i­an­ism with a more de­cen­tral­ized and chaotic form of author­i­tar­i­an­ism, be it un­der mili­tias or un­der the rule of gen­eral Haf­tar.”

The per­sis­tent chaos has also en­abled hu­man traf­fick­ers to step up their lu­cra­tive trade in the Mediter­ranean na­tion, with hun­dreds of mi­grants dream­ing of Europe drown­ing off the Libyan coast. And Libya has been the launch­pad of deadly at­tacks on hol­i­day­mak­ers in neigh­bor­ing Tu­nisia. While some Libyans mourn an eas­ier life un­der Gaddafi, oth­ers stress that the chaos in Libya springs from decades of mis­man­age­ment un­der the dic­ta­tor. “The strug­gles of Libyans to­day are the log­i­cal con­se­quence of 42 years of sys­tem­atic de­struc­tion and sab­o­tage” by the state, said Ab­der­rah­man Ab­de­laal, 32, an ar­chi­tect un­able to find work in his field.


This file photo shows Libya’s leader Muam­mar Gaddafi.

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