A Benghazi Resident’s Take on Michael Bay’s “13 Hours” Movie

Benghazi just can’t catch a break. As if an all-out war isn’t enough, the city is being vilified nation-wide by those who see the war as a misdirected endeavor, and the people of Benghazi are being accused of, yes, destroying their own city! I won’t point out the insensitivity and blatant ignorance of this stance. If you’ve been reading this blog over the years, you’ll be familiar with the slippery slope that led our city to the circumstances it’s in today. The war is horrific and it’s hurting us, but it was also an inevitability brought about by the same people currently pretending like there were other options.

One of the very first incidents that sparked the descent down this slope was the killing of American ambassador Chris Stevens. This event launched the start of Benghazi’s international vilification, as pundits and citizens alike decried the Libyan revolution and the international intervention that bolstered it. “We shouldn’t have gotten involved at all!” they screech, oblivious to the fact that if NATO hadn’t intervened on March 19, 2011, there would be a pile of cold ash where I’m currently sitting. Vacuous terms like BenghaziGate and Benghazi Truther were coined by people who most likely could not point out Benghazi on a map. Possibly most comical of all, my city’s name has become almost permanently linked in the media with Hilary Clinton, a politician who hadn’t even seen Benghazi.

So you can imagine my ire one afternoon when I received a message from a friend with a Youtube link and the message, “watch this and start tweeting.” The link was for the trailer of the new “13 Hours” movie, based on the book by the same name. I had heard rumblings about this movie before, knew that it was being filmed in Malta, but other than that I dismissed it as just another attempt to cash in on the Libyan revolution. There have been myriad books and movies made dramatizing and/or analyzing the events of 2011 onwards, mostly from  Western journalists who seemed to have left their professionalism at the airport when they walked into this country. But this movie takes unprofessional and irresponsible Western arrogance one step further.

Pictured: Above, the actual city of Benghazi.  Below, NOT Benghazi.

Pictured: Above, the actual city of Benghazi.
Below, Malta, I guess? Basically some place that ISN’T Benghazi.

Right off the bat, the film starts off so very wrong. You get an overhead shot of a seaside Middle Eastern town. How can you tell it’s Middle Eastern? Why, there’s a dome and minaret! And all them Middle East places look alike, don’t they? It’s not like Benghazi has it’s own unique and rather gorgeous architectural composition accrued from various eras in its history. Nope, just show people a dome and tell ’em it’s Benghazi, same thing.

The opening shots are followed by a scene of Americans being stopped by armed men, who accost them in the standard “Hollywood Arab” accent. This scene sets the tone of the rest of the trailer, an explosion-laden standoff between “the good guys” (our valiant Americans) and the evil Benghazians who like to eat Westerners with their breakfast sfinz. It’s basically a sausage-fest filled with heavy artillery, fire and well-groomed beards. So, yeah, a typical Michael Bay flick.

Benghazi Boy Scouts, marching during a culture parade in the city. Not pictured: Flip flops

Benghazi Boy Scouts, marching during a culture parade in the city. Not pictured: Flip flops

Interspersed through the movie are clips of disheveled children wearing grimy flip flips, standard scenes for any movie on this region. If you don’t have domes and dirty kids in flip-flops, your audience may not recognize where the movie is taking place.

I think what primarily bothers me about the movie is that the people of Benghazi are either the gun-wielding terrorists or confused onlookers. What about the Libyan guards that lost their lives defending the compound? What about the regular citizens who arrived on the scene and tried to help the Americans? What about the medics who tried to resuscitate them? What about the protests the next day decrying the heinous and barbaric attack? Benghazi is well-known for its hospitality and kindness to guests, especially those from abroad. The terrorist attack that night was a shock to the entire city, it wasn’t just another day-in-the-life-of-an-Arab-city.

Scary Benghazi residents wielding frightening weapons. Cuz there's only one type, right Mickey?

Scary Benghazi residents wielding frightening weapons. Cuz there’s only one type, right Mikey?

What the movie will also probably ignore is the repercussions that the incident had on Benghazi. International organizations and offices all packed up and left, leaving the government with no real reason to resolve the security problem. On the contrary, they continued to indirectly support Ansar Shariah and the other militia groups, leaving Benghazi’s residents at the hands of unstable murderers. Our name was smeared in international media, becoming synonymous with conspiracies and chaos. Instead of being helped, we were shunned and ignored, left to combat terrorism on our own. This is a fight we’re still fighting to this day.

I know people will tell me not to jump to any conclusions til the movie is released, that it is, after all, just a movie. But many others have already pointed out that the release of this movie will coincide with Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign launch. So it seems that this entire movie boils down to the spoiled bickering of Americans as they grapple for power, using the murder of a good man to gain political leverage over one another. Not unlike Libyan politicians, then. Between all this, a beautiful city, my city, is reduced to so much hyperbole in a debate that lost relevance long ago.

Benghazi is not anyone’s conspiracy theory, and it sure as hell isn’t just a single unfortunate incident that defines a city with a rich history. Benghazi is Euesperides, a prosperous Greek city founded centuries ago. Benghazi is Berenice, a city named after princesses and queens. Benghazi is ‘the mother of the orphans’, lovingly named so by the orphans that make up this eclectic, strong, resilient city. Part of me is almost glad that the depiction of Benghazi in this movie is so hilariously inaccurate, because then people won’t associate the real Benghazi with it.

And who knows, maybe in the future, it an ironic twist, the term ‘Michael Bay’ will be adopted into colloquial Benghazi speech to refer to a colossal, factually incorrect screw up.

Hashtag Activism, from the Digital World to the Streets of Libya (Part II)

Around this time last year, I wrote an article entitled “The Revolution Will Be Hashtagged“, which focused on the way Libyans were utilizing social media to try and create change. The article is no longer online, but just to give a rough summary of it, I pinpointed several hashtags used on Twitter and events set up through Facebook to mobilize people on a number of pressing issues for Libya at that time.

A year later, the use of social media by Libyans has continued to expand. Despite the crippling circumstances that has brought civilian life to a halt in many parts of Libya (such as the 14+ hours of power outages witnessed on a daily basis in most cities nation-wide), there has been a noticeable influx of Libyan users on social media sites. There is a “migration”, as many have put it, from the familiarity of Facebook to other platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. While these platforms offer a variety of ways for Libyans to express themselves, it has also given them a chance to voice their concerns and criticisms on their failing state.

“Hashtivism” has been a growing trend worldwide, with Libya being one of the latest to use the internet as a platform for social change. These types of movements are not without their detractors though. Many have accused online campaigns of being the lazy man’s activism, or “slacktivism”, allowing everyone to feel a sense of fulfillment by liking or retweeting something without actually making any impact.

And this criticism has been voiced by Libyans too, who are skeptical about what internet initiatives can actually do for the country. Many efforts on the ground in the country have failed to make an impact, as evidenced by the country’s slide into civil war. Indeed, many have called for the complete shut down social media sites in the country because of their propensity for spreading rumors and calls for violence.

But one actually needs to be in the country to see the extent that the digital world has spilled onto Libya’s streets. An ideal illustration of this is the online hashtag campaign  (Reduce the rent, have a blessed Ramadan), which called on landlords to reduce the cost of rent, particularly for displaced families. This campaign saw a fair bit of success, as people began reporting on landlords lowering the cost of rent, in some cases making rent free for a month or two.

Sign on a bulletin board in the Benghazi Medical Center, circulating the hashtag that began online calling on landlords to lower the cost of rent

Sign on a bulletin board in the Benghazi Medical Center, circulating the hashtag that began online calling on landlords to lower the cost of rent

Another laudable campaign began as an initiative by a Tripoli resident to promote peace. Salah Sokni, a popular online satirist, visited four cities in Western Libya with a sign that simply said,  (Libya towards peace). He posted the pictures of his visits on Facebook, and this sparked a nationwide campaign, complete with Facebook page, as Libyans posted pictures of themselves with the same slogan, calling for an end to the conflict. Sometimes it takes one person to voice a sentiment that is there under the surface, for everyone to express it. This slogan was later adopted by H2O, a Tripoli-based youth CSO, as part of a project to promote peace through soccer matches, entitled  (In the field for peace).

(Source: Salah Sokni's FB page)

(Source: Salah Sokni’s FB page)

But hashtag activism isn’t just growing to promote specific concepts. It’s also being used increasingly to pressure policy makers and those in positions of power. After the announcement by UNSMIL of the final draft of the peace agreement between the warring factions, Libyans from both sides of the conflict called on their representatives to sign the agreement using the hashtag  (Yes to signing the agreement), and expressing their frustration with the ongoing war and instability. The Constitution Drafting Assembly has also been looking for feedback from citizens through the hashtag   (Libya’s Constitution)

The error message that appears on sites blocked by LTT

The error message that appears on sites blocked by LTT

As internet use in Libya continues to grow, government institutions have begun to take notice too. Following in the steps of the dictator before them, online sites have been blocked or have become difficult to access. This began shortly after the end of the revolution when users were reporting that +18 sites were blocked by the main internet provider in the country, Libya Telecom and Technology (LTT). This company took it further when online news site Alwasat was blocked in Western Libya, itself leading to an online campaign decrying this censorship. It’s been reported several times that accessing Facebook had become incredibly difficult, leading to speculation of whether LTT had manufactured this block. Today, to access Google in Libya through LTT, Google Libya (with safe search turned on), is the default mode, and cannot be changed even manually. While these restrictions are relatively small, they signal a worrying trend in online freedom, especially with the growth of internet activism.

Hashtags continue to rise in popularity among Libyans, who use them not just for activism, but to share laughs, to commemorate and commiserate, and learn what their fellow countrymen are thinking. It can be a rallying cry, such as the phrase (Libya, even if the struggle is long), coined by murdered activist Abdulsalam Almismari and the final tweet by Tawfik Bensaud. As the war continues and Libya’s public places remain inaccessible for protests, online platforms have been transformed to become the new public squares.

War and Eid

I’ve been actively avoiding social media these days. Everyone is filled with the holiday spirit, and I don’t want to infect anyone with my grumpiness. I mean, I do wish that everyone would have a joyous and festive Eid, but I also want to mope and complain that I’m still a refugee, that the electricity keeps getting cut, that the bombs haven’t stopped, etc. etc.

That’s not something people want to read on Eid, and especially not people in Benghazi, who do not need to be reminded of the reality we still continue to live in. That’s why I have stayed my tongue (or rather, my fingers) from writing anything and being this year’s Eid Grinch.

And then I remembered that I’ve been neglecting my blog. I have been rather busy these days, but that isn’t why I’ve been avoiding writing anything here. I think it’s because I’ve discovered that more people are reading it than I thought, which kinda weirds me out. I write the way I talk; to hear my thoughts out loud. The fact that people are listening means I have to be more careful with what I say. And that’s just annoying.

But it’s Eid, and people are too busy celebrating to read a blog post, and I really need to get some stuff off of my chest.

Like, for example, the fact that this Ramadan was much better than the horrific, blood-soaked one we experienced last year, but that it still wasn’t very good. That it has now been seven months since I’ve last seen my house, and I have no idea whether it’s still standing or not. That all of my friends are in different countries around the world, and that I might never get to see them again.

Celebratory events and occasions help to push these things out of the way for a time, coating our grim existence with a veneer of mindless joy. But it no longer helps me, I feel that every uncertain day is eating away at me, as I try to grasp onto any constant in my life but finding nothing. I imagine that this is what it must be like to float out to sea, completely stranded and surrounded by miles of nothing in every direction. I guess have some kind of existential agoraphobia.

It could just be a funk, and I’ll bounce back in a day or two. It could just be that while celebrations help people forget, they just brings things into a more focused perspective for me. We say, hopefully next Eid we’ll be back home, and things will be back to normal. But I don’t want to wait until the next Eid. What if things aren’t normal by then? Where will I even be at that time? When you live through a war, long-term thinking is a dangerous pastime.

People in Benghazi are trying to celebrate as normally as possible, as though we can’t hear the missiles overhead, or ignore the 12-hour power cuts. We’re exchanging plates of Eid pastries and people are uploading pictures of themselves in traditional outfits as they greet each other in our streets and houses. You can almost tangibly feel the conscious effort people are making not to brood on the war. We fasted for a month, and in difficult circumstances, we deserve to celebrate! We need to forget, and this is as potent an opium as we can find.

So we’ll revel for a few days, pretend like everything’s tolerable, all the while secretly hoping and praying that this will end soon. Dear God please let it end soon.

I hope you have a happy Eid.

After Months of Dialogue, UNSMIL’s Peace Plan Falls Short

This week in Libya: murder, mayhem and the continued push towards total state failure. While the army in Benghazi continues to inch towards complete liberation of the city, the conflict in Derna becomes more complicated. The South continues to be ignored as smuggling, immigration and the ethnic fighting goes on unchecked. And in West Libya, ISIS casts a longer shadow with each passing day.

But hey, that’s what all this around-the-world dialogue is for, right? In case you’re one of the growing number of people who are cutting news and social media out of their lives, here’s some background; the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is conducting a series of national dialogue sessions with the warring factions of the Libyan conflict (which includes the GNC, the HoR, prominent (or so they say) members of Libyan society, and war lords, among others). The ultimate goal of these talks is to reach a ‘peace agreement’ between all sides, in order to lift Libya out of civil war.

Several drafts of the peace agreement have been released to the public (although how these drafts were reached is hard to determine, as UNSMIL remains tight-lipped on the particulars of the dialogue sessions). The fourth (and supposedly final) draft was released last Monday, to a less-than-enthusiastic Libyan audience.

Within an hour of the release of version 4 of the draft, Libyan social media erupted with comments. Using the hashtag  (#FourthDraft), Libyans remarked (and in some cases ranted) on the document that is touted as the saving grace of the country. Opinions ranged from “This is a reasonable and workable draft” to “This is all a conspiracy against us!!”

So, what makes this final peace agreement draft such a debated and heated topic? From my own observations:

1) The High Council of State: In the peace agreement, the House of Representatives remains the legislative authority of the country, and a new ‘National Accord’ government is designated as the executive.

But a third body has been created, ‘the High Council of State’. According to the draft, this body is purely ‘consultative’, although it does appear that they hold some legislative powers as they are granted ‘binding opinions’ on draft laws.

However, it’s not just the blurry role this council has. In the last draft, an article has been added that states that 90 seats of the 120 seats of the State Council are to filled by members of the General National Congress.

Yes, THAT General National Congress. The same one that has led us to this mess in the first place. It appears that this move was taken solely to appease the GNC so that they can agree on the draft. However, bringing back half this defunct body and giving them a place in the new government structure isn’t exactly a popular move. In fact, most of the outrage about draft #4 has been over this move.

Besides the fact that the GNC doesn’t exactly have an impressive record of achievement for them to be consulted on matters of state, the current body as it exists continues to show support towards groups like Ansar Shariah. Giving them three quarters of the seats in this council is also an inordinate percentage.

2) Councils, Committees and Commissions Galore: The State Council isn’t the only body to be created if this agreement is implemented. While I haven’t counted the exact number, there appears to be at least a dozen councils and committees to be formed. These councils are specified for a wide array of jobs, from a ‘Women’s Support and Empowerment Unit’, to a specialized council for reconstruction of war-affected areas.

In my limited experience, the councils and committees that are set up in Libya are done so for the primary goal of providing a fancy position for people who want one. With this draft, there will be a seat for everyone who’s currently clamoring for some kind of power, probably with some to spare, too. But how effective (or even necessary) some of these committees will be is not guaranteed. Among them is the ‘Libyan Political Dialogue’, which apparently transforms from the group orchestrating the dialogue process into an actual body. They will continue to exist with questionable levels of authority.

3) Who’s Who?: As many observers have noted, the distribution of powers in the new government structure is rather vague. The HoR is supposed to be the legislative authority, but the State Council seems to have some sway with regards with legislature. The ‘Libyan Political Dialogue’ also seems to hold exceptional powers.

Aside from the power division, there is some confusion over the terminolgy. The Libyan army is recognized as the regular military force, but who is officially covered under the term ‘army’? One of the problems in the conflict is the double meanings that various terms have. One man’s ‘revolutionary’ is another man’s ‘terrorist’, and one person’s ‘army’ is another’s ‘azlam’.

Overall, I believe the draft is an acceptable document. I think I speak for many, many Libyans when I say that the war has gone on for too long. Any solution at this point is welcome, as long as it means an end to the bloodshed and the return of normal life.

However, with that in mind, a peace agreement must be one that ensures peace, not one that simply divides power. The current document, as it stands, has a number of loopholes that can keep the conflict going on indefinitely. Aside from that, there’s really no guarantee that any of the people who will be appointed into the overall structure will actually work towards creating and maintaining peace, or some kind of mechanism that deals with those that attempt to obstruct the process.

The final date to accept this peace deal is June 17. So far, all sides are still deliberating on it, and a meeting in Germany today hasn’t produced any tangible results. I’m not sure what will happen next week, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that hopefully, we see an end to the war soon.

The Blurry Outline of Libyan Youth, and the Struggle Between Generations

Libyan youth from different geographic, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds working together and presenting their demands for the constitution as one group, to representatives of the CDA

Libyan youth from different geographic, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds working together and presenting their demands for the constitution as one group, to representatives of the CDA

I’ve been engaged in several youth-oriented projects in Libya lately, and I’ve come to realize several things about the oft-spoken-of-but-rarely-heard-from character that is the ‘Libyan Youth’. There is this idea of Libyan youth, an archetypal character that is almost a trope. This character is brought up by those in power, those trying to gain power or those who speak loudly of Libyan issues. The most popular platitudes include, “Youth are the flame of the revolution! Youth are the future!”

The “youth” they speak of are often characterized by the mental image of a young man in baggy clothing and a cap (I doubt very much whether anyone visualizes young women when they speak of youth) sitting in a street corner, throwing away their non-existent future while a vague dark shadow of bad influences lurks behind them. Everyone is concerned for the Youth, everyone knows they are important somehow, but this demographic is never investigated beyond the usual talking points.

To add to the unclear image, there is no national definition of who exactly qualifies as youth in Libya. 50-year old politicians like to half-joke that they, too, are part of the youth collective, because they are young at heart, and this should make them just as qualified to work on issues pertaining to youth. This kind of shameless imposition is neither uncommon or surprising; in Libya, the more labels and badges you can forcefully apply to yourself, the more you can control.

It’s very easy (and also accurate) to blame the older, aging generations for this blatant restraint and marginalization of Libya’s largest demographic. There are many factors that come into play that aid this injustice; cultural and social norms that place trust in the elderly over others, the lack of adequate education and empowerment for younger generations, and the lack of a national youth strategy or representative committee to protect youth rights. But there are other factors that contribute to perpetuating the status quo.

But this brings us back to the initial question; what is the definition of a Libyan youth?

There is no nationally agreed-upon fixed definition. Most agree that a person is a ‘youth’ by the time they’re 18. But the other side of the limit is fluid. Some youth CSOs consider 30 to be the maximum age a person can consider themselves a youth, while others go as far as 35 or 40. Many youth organizations don’t work with a fixed limit because, in their words, “we don’t want to leave anyone out.”

This is another point I’ve noticed, where youth, even when brought together and explicitly asked to discuss youth issues, will instead focus on issues of the country as a whole. They don’t see themselves as an entity separate from the rest of society, and this extends to their concerns for the country. In a workshop on the role of youth in achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals, two of the proposed projects focused on providing education to adult Libyans that haven’t finished schools. Let me reiterate; these are Libyan youth, concerned about the education of adults. Whether this reflects the selfless nature of the future generation, or their naïvity, is debatable.

There is a gap, in Libyan society, between the younger generation and the old. This gap became more pronounced after the revolution, especially between the generation that was hit hardest by Gadhafi’s reign of terror and the “February 17th” generation. You can hear the difference in the way they talk, see it in the way they behave, and really comprehend it when you interact with both. My generation has considerably more opportunities than their parents; things like travelling and technological access have helped Libyan youth to become relatively more open-minded and aware. (Of course, that could just be the youth in my own social circles)

This gap means that there is a difference of priorities. But the disproportionate representation and hold on power between the generations means that the priorities, concerns and aspirations of the majority of Libyans go ignored. Like most of the MENA region, Libya suffers from a chronic youth unemployment problem, which breeds more problems like militarized youth and an unsustainable economy. As you can tell from the current status of Libya today, youth issues are not exactly the first thing on the minds of our politicians. When it comes to young Libyans, the only thing the people in power seem to care about is how many they can ship to the front lines.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the elderly. Nor do I think they should all be excluded from political and social life. But the truth is there in plain sight, even if it’s an ugly one; Libya’s revolution was taken over by a power-hungry generation that granted themselves license to run the country the way they saw fit, and bought off the younger generation with empty promises and small sums of money. The exclusion of youth from the process of nation-building has had the consequences you see here today (along with other factors, of course).

This is also why our small-but-resilient civil society have such a high percentage of youth involvement. No, scratch that, youth are the fundamental component of civil society. Their efforts and energy are key to making projects successful, and the older members of civil society are very conscious of this fact.

Libyan youth are more than just a blurry, undefined component of society; they are not a vague campaign promise, and including them in the nation-building process is more than just a favour that you can grant them. Youth are literally the future of the country, so stop using that as a catch phrase and start acting on it.

Wajeej, the Libyan Way to Make Some Noise

logoI’ve noticed that I have been neglecting my blog lately, for a number of reasons. I’ve been keeping busy with a number of projects that have kept me from being more engaged on here. But another reason is that living for an extended period of time in a country that’s falling apart sort of kills the writing spirit. And I’ve noticed that it’s not just me; a lot of Libyans have been becoming increasingly quieter these days; there isn’t much left to say.

One astute person, Rawad Radwan (@LibyanP) noticed this absence of (positive) Libyan expression and decided that people needed a safe, neutral space where they could express themselves. This was how the Wajeej blog was born. At its core, Wajeej is made up of a group of active Libyan bloggers and writers, bringing their ideas and thoughts together in one place.

In Libyan, the term ‘wajeej‘ (in arabic, وجيج) is used to describe a constant stream of chatter. It’s common to criticize a talkative person of speaking too much ‘wajeej’. However, the connotation used here is not negative, but rather encouragement to have people speak up. The main aim of the Wajeej blog isn’t just to share the views of Libyan writers but to allow others to participate with their opinion pieces. Since Libyans primarily rely on Facebook or the limited space of Twitter to express their thoughts, this blog is a much needed change from the typical (and, these days, rather hostile) social media spaces.

The response so far has generally been very positive, which isn’t a surprise since there are very few civil and online initiatives being taken these days, so people are thrilled when they see anything new being set up. The challenge here will be sustainability, keeping the blog active and ensuring it doesn’t die.

So far I’ve only contributed two pieces, one on the vital #Unite4Heritage campaign started by UNESCO, and another article I’m rather proud of entitled ‘Benghazi After the Storm‘. It’s been a bit tricky juggling work and deadlines with quality writing, and again also because summoning the motivation to actually write about Libya is difficult.

However, I think the coming weeks and months will show a change for Libya. People are becoming increasingly fed up with the situation, and peace building efforts in and out of the country are beginning to show promise (well, I think they are, but just because I’m getting desperate). What we need at this stage is less empty analyses from so-called ‘Libya experts’ and more authentic Libyan voices.

So, if you’ve got something to say, and want your voice to be heard, send in your submissions and let us hear your wajeej!

The Libyan Constitution: A Futile Effort or the Key to Saving Libya?

Disclaimer: If you clicked this expecting a highly technical article on the constitution drafting process, you shall not find it below. I’m no constitutional expert and I detest legal mumbo jumbo almost as much as I loathe militias. I wrote this in a sleep deprived frenzy after writing a catchy title. 

Both the English and Arabic version of the 1951 Libyan constitution can fit into this small booklet, but it seems that the new Constitution Assembly will be forgoing this brevity.

Both the English and Arabic versions of the 1951 Libyan constitution can fit into this small booklet, but it seems that the new Constitution Assembly will be forgoing this brevity.

In Libya these days, the discussion for every topic seems to be made up of polar extremes. The political situation has people divided into factions that are themselves further subdividing, and the war between the two most prominent groups (they both start with the letter D and make regular arch-enemies look like buddies) has severely frayed the collective nerves of this abandoned country. The Constitution Drafting Assembly, the council that was voted in by the people to create a new constitution for the new nation, has, well, failed to produce anything apart from a highly questionable draft of suggestions that only succeeded in casting doubt on the assembly’s capabilities. Legally mandated to produce this essential document in 120 days, the assembly overstepped their timeframe. Perhaps overstepped is a bit of an understatement, seeing as they celebrated their one-year anniversary just a few days ago. This prolonged delay has had much of the nation asking this burning question; what the hell is taking so long? Of course, this answer will vary depending on who you ask, but the standard answer seems to be, ‘Well, how can we draft a constitution when you people keep blowing stuff up?” It’s a reasonable answer, and the turmoil that has become the new norm in Libya has limited and, in some cases, halted, many essential services and processes. However, many believe that it’s this precarious edge that Libya teeters on that makes the production of the constitution so vital, nation-saving even. And here we reach the crux, the polar extremes. Libyans are now roughly divided into two camps; those who believe that the constitution must, absolutely must, be written with the greatest haste and urgency possible, and those who think that the constitution will change nothing for Libya without political stability/military conquest/ whatever other numerous alternate solutions are being proposed.

A comic pamphlet to raise awareness on the rights of Libyan women in the constitution, produced by the 'Lematha Ana' charity for women's rights. Several efforts have been made to create awareness in the general public on the importance of the constitution

A comic pamphlet to raise awareness on the rights of Libyan women in the constitution, produced by the ‘Lematha Ana’ charity for women’s rights. Several efforts have been made to create awareness in the general public on the importance of the constitution

Why should the constitution be written ASAP? For one thing, a document that lays out the foundation of the Libyan law and order system would help revive the law and order that went out the window on that fateful day four years ago. It would also define the form the nation should take and provide a clear political roadmap. And since the constitution would be voted on through a national referendum, it just might be the first document that all members of the warring factions can agree upon. This would be a minor miracle in itself, as finding things that all sides agree on is about as easy as looking for Waldo in a striped t-shirt convention. The constitution has the potential to become the focal point where the peacebuilding process can begin for Libya and the foundation on which a stable nation can be formed. But, while having a constitution is nice in theory, will it actually make a difference on the ground? And to assume that the constitution would save the country means that you have to have an actual constitution ready to do the saving, which, as I mentioned earlier, has not yet happened. As the CDA continues to draft at their leisure, millions of the nation’s dinars has gone into paying the bills for the 56 members and their entourages. In case you aren’t aware, the country is quickly going broke thanks to the war, and soon we might be faced with the problem of whether Libya can even afford a constitution. There’s also the issue of the referendum, and the difficulty (in some cases, impossibility) of holding nation-wide voting. Both sides raise very valid points. It is this humble citizen’s opinion that both are right (a sentence people don’t like hearing, I know). We do need a constitution, but we also can’t expect it to magically repair the country. We have to work on both fronts in parallel, finding the appropriate solution for the Libyan conflict while working on a constitution that provides a long-term vision that will contribute towards the country’s healing process. I think that many Libyans cling to the CDA because they see it as the only government institution left that isn’t involved in the war. During the craziness last year before the HOR elections, the CDA was asked to take power and govern the nation, which they rightly refused because they wanted no part in the conflict. This was a wise move and has earned them the respect of the warring factions and general public. But there’s a critical component to the constitution drafting process that needs attention, and that is the assembly itself. Are the 56 people that make up the assembly responsible enough to draft this crucial document? Sure, we voted them in, but we don’t exactly have much democratic experience, as evidenced by the condition we’re in today.

Dr.  Ibtisam Ibhaih (left) hositng a meeting of civil society organizations in Benghazi

Dr. Ibtisam Ibhaih (left) hosting a meeting of civil society organizations in Benghazi

Benghazi’s CDA representative, Ibtisam Ibhaih, recently visited the city to hold a meeting of civil society organizations and discuss the constitution drafting process, along with the obstacles encountered. It should be noted that Ms. Ibhaih has made several such efforts before to reach out to her constituents, and visiting Benghazi while the war is still ongoing is a commendable effort on her part. During this meeting, Ms. Ibhaih spoke of the state of the assembly and some of the reasons behind the delay on producing the constitution. Among what she listed were the numerous long vacations that the CDA has been taking (at one point there was a 3-month long vacation), the lack of attendance by many of the members and the corruption in the administration. There is also a coordinated effort to try and move the CDA out of Libya, for reasons that are not entirely clear, and it’s obvious that there are sensitivities between members in the assembly. These revelations are hardly earth-shattering, but they do not bode well for the future, particularly for those who have hung what’s left of their hopes on the CDA. But Ms. Ibhaih emphasized that she would do all she can, and that the work is still ongoing. In her own words, “My biggest concern is saving this country.” Pretty words, but words alone just don’t cut it. Libya’s situation is worrying in the extreme. We are rapidly reaching a breaking point, and the chance of finding a holistic, effective solution is getting slimmer by the day. All sectors in society need to do more to both support the CDA and pressure them into doing a better job. Civil society must act as a link that connects the CDA to the rest of the nation, and we must ensure that the constitution is drafted in an inclusive and transparent manner. In short, we have to be better people. I know it’s difficult, and I know the situation doesn’t exactly encourage forward thinking, but we have to try. If we were as good at constitution-making as we are at negativity and creating problems out of nothing, we would have had a constitution a long time ago.