Books - To save Libya you must get to know it first
National reconciliation involves negotiations with the previous regime and the start of institutional reform, as Ibrahim Fraihat explains in his book.
- Thursday, 29 December 2016
When talk turns to revolutions like those of the Arab Spring, analysts often forget the history. They fail to recall the root causes that lead a country to break up, losing all democratic values and allowing an authoritarian government to seize power and deny all social contracts. The bookUnfinished Revolutions: Yemen, Libya and Tunisia after the Arab Spring, by Ibrahim Fraihat, kicks off by describing what triggered the revolution. The book is essential to understanding the evolution of areas that are often misconstrued by Westerners. In 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau published Du contrat social: ou principes du droit politique, one of the most significant philosophical works in the field of political science. Fraihat recalls this in relation to the death of Muammar Gaddafi. He explains how, in actual fact, the social contract within Libya was already broken. Gaddafi had destroyed it by acting as a tyrant rather than a ruler and ignoring the tribalism that has now led the country to become a torn and polarized non-nation. Fraihat analyses the evolution of Libyan society following the death of Gaddafi, identifying parallels with all the other revolutions and outlining four crucial phases: the reinstatement of justice, national reconciliation, post-conflict reconstruction and post-conflict development. Libya, it seems, is stuck in the first. According to Fraihat, re-establishing fairness and legitimacy within the judicial system is a necessary condition for everything else. “There are two parallel states, and neither is interested in meeting this condition”, he explains. In order to manage this first phase, the population and the state bear in mind three factors: the search for truth, repairing damages caused by the previous judicial system and, finally, transparency. None of these are found in Libya, though the population does feel very strongly about the first. The obvious question that follows is why the country hasn’t moved on? In Fraihat’s opinion, for stability to be restored following a revolution there must have been a preexisting uniform nation. In practice, revolutions serve to restore what Fraihat defines as “the normal condition” of national unity undermined by an authoritarian government. But this concept doesn’t hold true for a country like Libya, which also has to contend with fierce internal tribal rivalries. These tribes pre-date the nation and still exist to this day. Will they be around tomorrow? Probably, because at this point there’s a second obstacle to the restoration of democracy – foreign interests. Fraihat explains that not only must a social contract have existed prior to the revolution, but it is also key that there are not particular interests involved. Ultimately, harmony is a necessary condition to be able to move towards a democratic state. This is not the case in Libya where conflicting actors are involved: the Libyan tribes, constantly at each other’s throats, and Western countries that are divided in their support for Libya. Will Libya ever manage to develop into a stable state? Fraihat’s answer is openended. Much depends on the West. If there is the will to understand Libyan complexities, then a post-revolution phase could kick in, capable of dragging the country out of the quicksand into which it is currently sinking. Reading Ibrahim Fraihat’s analysis is in any case a good way to start.