Does Libya Need a Youth Parliament?

It’s a bit of a coincidence that I’m writing this today. For those of you who don’t remember (or those that are forcefully blocking out the memory), today (February 15th) marks the spark that set off the Libyan revolution, when protesters marched in front of the security base in Benghazi.

While many Libyans today would say that it was a mistake to have a revolution, or that life was somehow better under Gadhafi (a major delusion), I still stand by my belief that three years is an incredibly limited time to start judging whether it was successful or not. Life has become difficult in some aspects, but it’s been better in others. Everyone kept reiterating the point that it was not going to be easy to rebuild a broken country after 42 years of destruction, but it seems that many people chose not to prepare themselves for the challenge we were facing. And of course, a negative attitude makes a situation appear ten times worse than it is.

One of the better aspects to emerge from the Libyan revolution was the growth of our civil society. In Benghazi this growth was followed by a lull after most organizations moved to Tripoli. But it didn’t die. There is still a small group of social activists that continue to persevere despite the complications and marginalization.

Recently Libya’s activists got together in Tripoli for a two-day workshop on Youth Initiatives. The initiative in particular was the creation of a Libyan Youth Parliament (or Congress or Council, whatever worked). Everything about this project was up to debate and discussion. What would be its priorities? Who would it comprise of and who would it represent?

The fact that we have an inefficient and idiotic government does not bode well for any sort of political group, particularly one started by and for the youth. The older politicians deter youth participation (unless they can manipulate them for their own gains), and the lack of opportunities coupled by the lure of militias make for a dangerous environment.

But all these reasons only serve to highlight just how important it is for Libya’s youth to have someone guarding their interests. The revolution began primarily because people had nothing left to lose. An organization that solely represents the demands of the youth would go a long way in fulfilling one of the goals of the revolution.

So, where to begin? Let’s start with the facts:

  • In 2010, 19.3% of the population was between the age of 15-24, and 30% are under the age of 15
  • The median age in Libya in 2010 was 26
  • Unofficial estimates put unemployment rate at 30%, with 45% being university graduates
  • 40% of Libya’s population live below the poverty line
  • 68% of the youth voted in the elections, but 62% feel that the National Assembly does not represent them

Trust in the democratic process in waning as the government fails to achieve any real, tangible change. There is no real communication between politicians and the youth. A youth parliament would not only stand up for the basic right and needs of it’s constituents, it would also provide a connection and a platform of dialogue between the disenfranchised youth and their elected officials. It would give them a sense of power and inclusion.

I could write about the importance of a youth parliament for dozens of paragraphs, but one thing that’s more difficult to come to terms with are the challenges. A youth parliament would be the first entity of its kind in Libya, and reaching out to the government for support wouldn’t be easy (real support, of course, not just lip service). Trying to unify and represent the Libyan youth would also be challenging, as many live in remote areas or have limited access to telecommunications. Reaching compromise or finding common ground would also be tough for a nation of people who are not used to discussing and debating personal opinions and beliefs. Sustainability is another issue. Many youth-led initiatives in Libya were unable to continue because of lack of support.

The problems faced by a youth parliament are almost the same problems faced by the actual government. Lawlessness, extremism and corruption are just a few of them.

The idea of a youth parliament is still in it’s infancy in Libya. But it exists, and there is a real possibility that it will develop. What’s important is to ensure that it starts off on solid foundations, and perhaps even becomes a model for future systems to come.

What are your thoughts on a Libyan Youth Parliament?

(The statistics I used were from the United Nations World Population Prospects and an AlJazeera Study)

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