The below preface is an excerpt from the book Unheard Voices of the Next Generation: Emergent Leaders in Libya, published by the Transatlantic Leadership Network and distributed by Brookings Institution Press. WYLN partnered with the project in book publishing and conferences.
The creation of Unheard Voices of the Next Generation: Emergent Leaders in Libya began with an early morning meeting between Dr. Sasha Toperich and I in the Istanbul airport. At the time, Dr. Toperich thought to write a publication on Libya. As our conversation crafted the idea further, we came to a simple conclusion: much has been written by experts and those of Libya’s past generation; why not invite younger voices to share their perspective? We invited Dr. Ali Abusedra, a highly respected Libyan intellectual with a substantial international career as a lawyer, to join us in putting together this volume. In short, this is how the idea to embark on this project began.
I had already envisioned a theme for which the book could focalize: the transition from anarchy to democracy, and how it is even more complex and characteristic of Libya’s recent history than a transition from dictatorship to democracy. As I explain below, in my view, the crux of Libya’s contemporary difficulties is the anarchic institutions that plagued Libya for decades. As we move toward a post-conflict Libya, it is important to not repeat these mistakes, particularly the mistake of one-man rule. Moreover, those who will inherit Libya’s future—the next generation—must have an active role in shaping this dialogue.
Libya is unique, especially when one considers the geography and pattern of its history. This is the focal point for debates on the history of Libyan state formation and the state-building that greatly differs from other nations in North Africa. The Gaddafi era affected this history by building anarchy that disrupted the natural state formation process. The ensuing dilemma created a unique pattern of political transition following February 17 Revolution. Understanding this context is fundamental to understanding the current situation in which Libya finds itself.
The horrors of the Gaddafi regime proved that total control over the state by one man is not in Libya’s best interest. One-man rule will not pacify the current anarchy; indeed, the current anarchy is the direct result of years of such rule. Controlled anarchy was a hallmark of Gaddafi’s ideology, reflected fully in his writings and daily practices. It was a practice that blocked political and economic diversity in Libya at all levels.
The aftereffects of the Gaddafi’s anarchic tendencies were clear in the wake of the February 17 Revolution. It is overly simplistic to give Libya a pass in the Gaddafi era, or to divert blame for the Revolution or NATO’s 2011 intervention. Where Gaddafi should have built a system that set Libya up for the future, he instead undermined government institutions, minimized the role of the private sector, and negated civil society. This had a dramatic effect on governance in Libya. In the end, any semblance of an administration collapsed after his death in October 2011.
Libya’s revolution had been the result of longstanding failure of Gaddafi to govern the country through his anarchist agenda and creation of a closed society. Fragmentation of authority, proliferation of militias, and criminal organizations—these and more are the result of weak institutions and infiltrated political agendas. Moving from pan-Arabism to the global system became impossible with the state of things left by this one-man rule.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi broke down the notions of a national identity for future generations. The relationship between Libyan citizens and Gaddafi’s political system was challenging as he tried to orient the national attitude toward his eccentric behaviors and regional contrives.
This confusing message debilitated the capacity to build national consensus. Instead, people turned to tribal and regional identities. This led to the fragmented society that we see in Libya today.
It is clear that one-man rule cannot lead to a thriving Libyan society. Instead, it manifests anarchy, corruption, inefficiency, and tribal deadlock. In the absence of a transitional mechanism or pattern on which the current state can build upon, the institutional system is open to disaster and collapse. Chaos managed with one force will only lead to more chaos, and uncertainty to more uncertainty. By the same token, the failures of Libya’s past one-man rule will be re-manifested in future attempts to take the country by force, or to consolidate power under one man.
The solution so desperately needed is conceptions of a new system—one that can transform the ongoing conflicts in Libya from within. The solution would build new institutions from the bottom up and unite people under a national narrative that speaks to Libya’s immense potential. Elections would be held. Libya’s economy would open, and the country would gradually enter the international community, creating pathways for mutual benefit between Libya and its geographically complex environs.
This is the foundation behind Unheard Voices of the Next Generation: Emergent Leaders in Libya. Libya’s next generation has much to offer in conceptualizing the future of Libya’s economy, governance, and civil society. Such conceptualizations must be inclusive, including voices from a diversity of cities and regions; only through the exchange of ideas will the strongest theories of change be born. It is my hope that, reading the plurality of ideas, analyses, and testimonies within these pages, the reader will agree that the future of Libya is secure thanks to an ambitious and thoughtful next generation.
One-man rule wreaked havoc on Libyan society for over four decades; it will not inspire economic growth, capacity building, or stability now. It is time for a new generation to imagine a democratic and prosperous future for Libya.
The authors herein offer hope for what our beloved country can become. I have no doubt you will be inspired by the writings herein.
Dr. Nezar Krikish