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Libyans Mark 12th Year Since Revolution Amid Stalemate

A Libyan boy waves his national flag at the seaside promenade in Benghazi on February 16, 2023.
A Libyan boy waves his national flag at the seaside promenade in Benghazi on February 16, 2023.

On February 17, 2011, Libyan people started their popular uprising that overthrew Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's 42 years of dictatorship. However, 12 years after the revolution Libya is still witnessing a political and security deadlock. VOA’s senior analyst Mohamed Elshinnawi spoke to Hani Shennib, president and founder of the National Council on U.S. Libya Relations, his analysis.

The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: On the eve of the 12th anniversary of the Libyan revolution, political stalemate still persists in Libya, why is that?

Shennib: When the revolution of 2011 occurred in Libya, it was a spontaneous anger of the streets within a population that was not prepared for such a revolution. Preceding this, this was a population that was undereducated, lacked any political experience, had no political parties, and the fact that they actually just went out in the streets and toppled Gadhafi -- with the assistance of NATO -- did not qualify them to be able to build a state. And that is why this crisis in Libya is continuing. There is no infrastructure politically to be able to form institutions and build a state the way it should be.

VOA: Libyan people showed a great deal of courage in their uprising against Gadhafi's one man rule. So why did Libyan political figures fail to unite the country and reach a political solution?

Shennib: I think that who we call "elite" are not necessarily classified in the appropriate way. What has surfaced on the leadership of Libya was not the meritocracy that is required to build a state. It was primarily city and tribal leaders who lacked the experience to build a state. And again the country evolved into a situation where what we call elite lacked the leadership skills to build a state.

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VOA: Looking to the near future, what would it take to achieve the long awaited goal of a stable, unified peaceful Libya?

Shennib: It is very difficult to imagine that Libya can get out of its quagmire that exists right now in the current culture of tribalism and city-based competition. Whether you're from Zintan or Misrata or from Derna or Benghazi or else, the cities of Libya need to evolve from the culture of nepotism and appointing individuals that belong to their tribe or to the city as opposed to appointing or recommending or supporting the true experts that can actually build the country. The meritocracy that is capable of creating the institutions that need to evolve Libya from its medieval very backward institutions that were destroyed during the era of Gadhafi.

VOA: What do you expect the U.S. to do to help the Libyan people?

Shennib: I think the United States need to do two things. Number one is exert its power to actually deter foreign influence in Libya. The meddling of foreigners in Libya is negatively impacting the ability to have proper Libyan evolution of their institutions, and the restraints that are made by the primarily military influence of foreigners is making it difficult for the Libyans to make their own choices. Number two the United States can also start injecting into Libya the true support that is required... They need to inject into Libya a hybrid of expertise that will assist in building the institutions. We have seen how countries have actually benefit from inviting experts from the outside.

If you walk into any administration, any ministry today, you will discover very quickly that the middle management is the weakest link in Libya today. If the United States and those who internationalists will want to support Libya can contribute to the expertise that are required, I think this is going to make a big difference.