When the National Transitional Council (NTC) was formed back in February 2011 — as the city of Benghazi celebrated its liberation from the Gaddafi regime — the administration, touting democratic ideals and peddling post-Gaddafi fantasies, was a beacon of hope for so many Libyans. Even for those reluctant to believe in the stealthy conversions of some NTC members from ex-Gaddafi handymen to proselytizers of peace and freedom, the NTC signified a notable step forward for the revolution and a tangible result of the struggle for which so many had died. For so long, Libya’s government was a one-man show starring one of the most ridiculed, caricatured figures in Arab politics. But the NTC — for a while, at least — has an opportunity to rewrite history.
Militia clashes, high unemployment rates, increasingly large trash piles and a decreasingly transparent political agenda have since marked the NTC’s tenure and further exacerbated the nerves of a population still recovering from an 8-months’-long war. These could be excused as the expected post-revolutionary growing pains of a country that has to rebuild it’s entire social, political and economic infrastructure from scratch — and yet the NTC is not entirely blameless. More concerned with grooming foreign relations than tending to the chaos at home, the administration has chosen a band-aid approach to its domestic troubles, throwing money where it will do little to alleviate from the distress of post-war. The NTC’s reputation has been sullied by it’s inability to fulfill any of its post-war promises and damaged by its back-and-forth bickering with the Transitional Government headed by Al-Keib.
There is little, if anything, the NTC could do to salvage the support of the Libyan people, but it still has an opportunity to save its legacy. Here, we offer our earnest, unsolicited advice to the NTC:
1. Justice for Saif Al-Gaddafi
Libyans were eager, if not fully prepared, to try Saif Al-Gaddafi in the country, and most were fully supportive of the NTC’s decision to shun all ICC requests for extradition. However, news that his trial might take place in the “remote mountaintop town” of Zintan, the city where he was found hiding, does not bode well for a fair trial. The risk that his tribunal might be tainted with the bitter impulse for revenge is high. It was not too long that Gaddafi’s son had been seen wagging his finger at Libyans and promising rivers of blood, and the graves borne of that promise are still freshly dug. Last year, as Libyans breathlessly anticipated the capture of Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan writer Hisham Matar warned against in-house prosecution, urging the NTC to turn him over to the ICC when they had the opportunity. “Revenge builds nothing; justice is educative, teaches a society the values of accountability, and the meaning of causality and responsibility,” he wrote.
I hesitate to believe that we’re incapable of giving Gaddafi, Jr. a fair trial. Yes, the political infrastructure is unstable at best and tensions are high as efforts to rebuild falter. But we have the opportunity to treat Saif to a justice we did not give his father. Whether Saif or Muammar deserve a fair trial in court is irrelevant but the Libyan people do; justice is a salve for the victim, not the brutalizer. The violence of Muammar’s death — justified or not — left gaping wounds in the psyche of the Libyan people that may only, now, be healed with the cool relief of forgiveness. Justice will not come in the form of retribution but in rebuilding our country.
All attempts by the NTC to collect the weapons that have become so abundant since the start of the war have been distressingly futile. Guns are still a common sight on the streets of Benghazi and Tripoli, and vigilante citizens are hesitant to give them up. Since the war, Libyans have been left with zero sense of safety and their weaponry is the only insurance they have to secure their homes and protect their families. It’s no wonder the authorities have had difficulty prying them away, even with the promise of financial compensation.
After 8 months of devastation, all Libyans want to feel is safe. They want to be able to go to sleep without the accompaniment of gunfire every night. They want to se send their children to school without the fear of unexploded ordinance. They want to know that rogue militias have been either disarmed or absorbed into a national army to serve and protect our country. The Arab uprisings have been spurred not for a desire for wealth but for a loss of dignity — and dignity is but a symptom of security, the ability to protect one’s own.
The NTC’s self-set deadline to reign in the militias has long past, and news of clashes and confrontations continue to dominate headlines. It’s time they make good on their promises — or, at least, one of them. The NTC’s plan should be two-fold — offer sustainable jobs in the military and police force to rogue militias and vigilante soldier to create a safe environment conducive to effective weapons collection. When everything appears to be an imminent threat to safety and security, no one will be willing to give up their guns.
3. Job Security
Last month, when members of the Zintan Brigade refused to hand over control of the Tripoli Airport to the appropriate national governing bodies, they only made one demand in return for their retreat: jobs at the airport.
The NTC was not at fault for refusing to comply — to do so would have set a dangerous precedent for the acquisition of power via force — but the incident gave insight into the deep-seated fears haunting the young men who gave up their lives for the revolution: that it was all for more of the same. Much of the disenchantment and anger that drove young people to the streets to protest on Feb 15th was a consequence of crippling unemployment rates — 30 percent among youth — and devastating poverty rates — 20 percent nationwide. For many of the young men who left their homes and risked life and limb for liberty, it was an easy decision to make — they weren’t leaving much behind.
But the war’s over. And thousands of former revolutionaries find themselves poor, unemployed and disillusioned by revolutionary rhetoric and rah-rahs — much in the same state they were prior to Feb. 17, an insufferable indignity following the massive sacrifices they made to get here.
4. Clean Up Libya
These past few months, many of the complaints voiced by Libyans seemingly had nothing to do politics — they had to do with the heaping piles of trash seen on every main street in Tripoli and Benghazi.
But they had everything to do with politics. In some ways, the mounds of garbage were seen as a visible, tangible symbol of the NTC and transitional government’s ineptitude. Pollution and street garbage is a problem that predates the revolution — but the piles had gotten much bigger in its wake.
While incredible non-governmental organizations like Cleaning Up Tripoli formed to make up for the lack of social services, most Libyans seem dissatisfied with the role the government has played — whether in prevention or in its response to public outcry.
5. Elections – fair, free, easy access
The path to Libya’s first elections has been rocky, hindered by vitriolic debates on federalism, financial corruption and fraud and controversial laws. And yet, despite the overwhelming challenges, elections are still slated for this June, rain or shine — and perhaps it’s for the best. While it remains to be whether Libya’s current political junta is prepped for the task of rebuilding a country in post-war ruins, these elections will set the precedent for Libya’s political culture.
Part of the responsibility of ensuring these elections transpire freely and fairly is securing the right of every citizen to all the information they need to vote, and to vote with confidence. Surveys reveal that many Libyans are not even aware there are elections taking place — much less how to register and where to vote. Making this information available online, while crucial, is not enough — a good portion of the Libyan population doesn’t have easy access to the Internet. Free and fair elections necessitate the cultivation of a vibrant political culture and the easy accessibility of information. According to Libya’s Elections Committee, over 330,000 people have already registered to vote in just five days — and that’s an auspicious start.
*Tasbeeh Herwees is a student at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School, as journalist at Neon Tommy, and the founder of KifahLibya, a new digital magazine on Libya where this article originally appeared.