Eleven Years after Libya Uprising, Democracy Still Remains Elusive

Libyans on Thursday marked eleven years since the revolt that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, but the democracy many hoped for has continued to remain as elusive as ever, with many still habouring the fear of a return to conflict.

The anniversary comes as the country finds itself with two rival prime ministers based in the capital Tripoli.

Weeks after a national election scheduled for December 24 were indefinitely postponed, the east-based parliament voted to appoint influential ex-interior minister Fathi Bashagha to replace the interim unity government.

Incumbent Prime Minister, Abdulhamid Dbeibah who was appointed as part of a United Nations-driven peace process has continued to insist he will only hand over power to an elected government.

The showdown has sparked fears of another conflict within Tripoli.

Streets in Tripoli were lined with the red, black and green flags adopted after Gaddafi’s overthrow while concerts and fireworks are planned for Friday in the capital’s Martyrs’ Square, where Gaddafi once gave a famous, desperate speech before the “February 17 revolution” swept him from power.

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On Thursday, Dbeibah paid tribute to those who had fought for “freedom and justice”, tweeting that “on this glorious anniversary, we renew our vow to look to a more promising future, that fulfils promises of change and guarantees a better life for future generations”.

The political vacuum that followed the Nato-backed uprising sparked a bitter power struggle, fuelled by regional and tribal rivalries, as well as the involvement of outside groups.

Muammar Gaddafi

Despite the country’s vast oil wealth which remains the biggest-proven reserves in Africa, many Libyans are still living in poverty.

Since Gaddafi’s ouster, Libya has had no fewer than nine governments and two full-scale civil wars but has yet to hold a presidential vote.

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The uptick in current tensions could threaten what has been a long period of relative peace, since a landmark ceasefire in October 2020 formally ended eastern military chief Khalifa Haftar’s ruinous year-long bid to seize the capital.

The country’s UN mission, UNSMIL, on Thursday said it would continue efforts for free and transparent national elections as soon as possible but while the UN chief, Antonio Guterres has called on all sides to preserve calm, his Special Advisor Stephanie Williams, who has met both Dbeibah and Bashagha in recent days and has been acting as the world body’s de facto envoy to Libya, faced accusations of bias on Thursday.

In December, just days before the elections were due to take place, Bashagha went to Benghazi to meet Haftar, another controversial presidential candidate, in what he said was a gesture of national reconciliation.

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Haftar’s forces have since backed Bashagha’s appointment as prime minister. Bashagha has until February 24 to form a government.

Given the country’s tumultuous recent history, the next question will be whether Dbeibah will go peacefully

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