I have a confession to make: when I first sat down with an idea for this article, I wanted to base it entirely on the good side of Libyan news. Following the death of US Ambassador Chris Stevens back in September, all the media has mentioned has been bad news regarding Libya. Western papers and websites have been filled with negative stories and opinions focusing on violence, armed militias, lack of government control, fears of what the future Libyan state might look like, whether that state will be aggressive towards the West… the list goes on. I felt it important to recognise the good that has been going on in the Libya, which has largely been overlooked by Western media.
Western coverage of Libya over the last few months has been a perfect example of ‘there’s no news like bad news’. It is understandable that the tragedy of the death of Chris Stevens has dominated the headlines. Yet there was little mention of the mass protests that followed a week after the Benghazi attack, which were protesting against the armed militia groups. If anyone wanted an example of how people-power can bring about incredible results, the events in Benghazi would be hard to trump. 30,000 protesters took to the streets, protesting against the militia groups (especially Ansar al-Sharia) which were suspected of involvement in the death of Chris Stevens and his colleagues, and successfully drove them out of the city. The second piece of good news which was either spun into a negative story or largely forgotten was the events at Bani Walid. Most people will have never heard of the town, but it was the Gaddafi loyalist stronghold, which continued to fight against the new Libyan government until its capture on 26th October 2012, a whole year after the death of Gaddafi and the international media’s conclusion that the revolution had been finished. All that was reported about it was that it is a symbol of a fractured state. Perhaps what might have been closer to the truth was that it symbolised the end of Gaddafi loyalist’s last hold on Libyan soil.
So far I appear to be sticking pretty well to my primary intentions- there has been good news in Libya which has been largely neglected. Yet I then hit a problem. Events in recent weeks have strongly suggested that my feelings surrounding Libya appear to have been far too optimistic. On 20th November, Faraj al-Deirsy, head of the Benghazi police, was shot dead and there have been a string of attacks against the intelligence and security services. Authorities are trying to disarm militia groups (and with less success than the public protest in Benghazi had), yet many are reluctant to do so. The term ‘loyalist’ is thrown about, delegitimizing parts of the new government. The east of Libya has been failing to disarm and is protesting against the new government as they fear being neglected. Even in Tripoli, rival militias have turned their weapons on each other, hardly producing a good picture of a state’s internal stability. This should hardly be surprising though. The removal of Gaddafi also meant the complete removal of the state’s infrastructure and its institutions. The reconstruction of the state was bound to be difficult, and it is proving so.
It appears impossible then to paint a whole, or even a mostly positive picture of Libya, and hence I have failed with my initial intentions. There certainly have been news stories of great and positive significance and it is saddening to see- or rather to not see- their absence in Western media. Yet my earlier optimism has been dampened as it is hard to ignore the fact that Libya is struggling with many different problems. Its lack of complete control over its territories is deeply concerning, and the ability to label any opponent on either side as a ‘loyalist’ allows easy justification for the militia groups to do as they wish.