Libya’s politicians bicker even as the country crumbles
October 20 marks four years since the Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi made his last stand in his home town, Sirte. An amateur video showed him bloodied and surrounded by rebels pushing him into the back of a pickup truck. What is certain is that he was captured alive and possibly suffering from minor injuries only to be pronounced dead as he was transported to Misurata about 250 kilometres west of Sirte.
Human rights experts believe that Qaddafi and his companions were summarily executed. The man credited with his capture, Omran Shaaban, himself died in unclear circumstances.
Four years after Qaddafi’s death, Libya is not any better off. The current state of the country makes it almost logical to speculate what would have happened if he were still alive. His death can be highlighted as a landmark in Libya's history, but it also proved bad for the country. This is why many Libyans would have liked to see him face trial. Many of them think Qaddafiwas unfairly treated.
Abdurrahman, a former rebel commander who does not want to use his real name, thinks it was a mistake to kill him and that “the man should have been tried before the court of law because he knew too many things and could have provided answers to so many unanswered questions". He also thinks that Qaddafi was killed because certain foreign intelligence agencies believed that he could embarrass many world leaders if he were allowed his day in court.
He says the former Libyan leader is still popular. This is because many Libyans like to compare their country today with how life was under his rule. Libya today is on the brink of total disintegration with two governments each claiming legitimacy and representation of the people. At the same time, ISIL is fast expanding its footprint in both the east and the west of the country. Less than two weeks ago, the terrorist group launched its most daring offensive when it attacked a compound within the Mitiga airport west of Tripoli.
Various militias have been operating simultaneously, with the judiciary hardly functioning. Arbitrary arrests, kidnapping and murders still take place, even if on a lesser scale compared to three years ago. Sporadic gunfire, road blocks and power shortages have become routine.
Benghazi has almost completely been destroyed in the ongoing war between the Libyan army of the internationally recognised government, based in Bayda, and Islamist factions concentrating mainly near the seafront north of the city. The capital, Tripoli, however, is under the control of a government – recognised by none – that was established after a bloody war ended in August 2014.
Life for ordinary Libyans in the capital might have marginally improved compared to a year ago, but the situation is far from normal.
People still lack security and struggle to make ends meet with the prices of commodities skyrocketing and little subsidised basic food available. Medical services are almost non-existent, so people are forced to seek treatment in neighbouring Tunisia. Those seeking to go to Europe find it even harder since all western embassies have withdrawn from the country, which means that they have to travel to Tunisia to apply for a visa.
Oil production, the main source of government revenue, is down by a third and the country now pumps less than 500,000 barrels a day, starving the treasury of the much-needed cash that would be used for paying thousands of civil servants. Government salaries are at least three months behind schedule.
All major infrastructure projects that were in progress when the unrest started four years ago have come to a halt as major foreign companies have left. Now the rusting cranes that dot Tripoli's skyline stand as a reminder of those days. Thousands of Libyans have been internally displaced, while an estimated one million citizens were forced to seek shelter abroad, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia.
Most schools and universities have yet to open for the current academic year, which is why children spend most of their time playing in unsafe streets.
All the while the political factions have been quarrelling about the shape of the next government, if ever agreed upon in endless United Nations-led talks in Morocco. Abdurrahman believes such talks will never deliver anything to the country.
Mustafa Fetouri is an independent Libyan academic and journalist who is now based in Belgium