A battle for equality in Libya

Just as the country was set for a reconciliation conference to design a democracy, the strongest warlord attacks the capital, perhaps on a mistaken belief that Libyans want dictatorship. The UN has proved him wrong.

Reuters
A child in Benghazi carries the flag of Libya during a Feb. 17 celebration of the eighth anniversary of the revolution against Muammar Qaddafi.

Of the five Arab nations currently in acute civil strife – Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – it is easy to forget the initial yearning that led to the harsh reactions from authoritarian figures. In each country people simply had taken a peaceful stance for democratic rule. In Libya, that purity of purpose is often overlooked, especially now that the North African nation has descended into all-out war.

Last Thursday, Libya’s strongest warlord, Khalifa Haftar, launched an attack on the capital, Tripoli, seat of a United Nations-backed regime led by Fayez al-Sarraj. The attack by the self-styled Libyan National Army was a sudden turn for Mr. Haftar, who had been participating in a U.N.-led peace process. Next week, his faction was set to join more than 120 delegates at a national reconciliation conference aimed at writing a constitution and holding elections. Instead, millions of civilians in Tripoli are now under fire or fleeing.

Perhaps Mr. Haftar, who once worked for former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, believes Libyans are not ready for democracy and want a strongman. That would explain why Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and United Arab Emirates support him. Just before the attack, he visited Saudi Arabia’s king, who has revived his own crackdown on pro-democracy activists.

Why would a reconciliation conference be such a threat? The reason could be that U.N. diplomats, led by special envoy Ghassan Salamé, had consulted thousands of Libyans in 57 towns across the country last year, listening to their desires for peace and their views on restoring democracy. Among the monarchs and dictators of the Middle East, such grassroots consultation is seen as a sign of weakness and threatens notions of elite rule.

Despite Libya’s divisions along ethnic and tribal lines, the people seek a political equality that can be assured only in a democracy. “What makes Mr. Haftar a better candidate [to rule] than other Libyans?” asked interior minister Fathi Bashagha in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Foreign powers often intervene in Libya for narrow interests, whether to prevent democracy, gain access to oil, stop terrorists, or block migration to Europe. What they often neglect are the aspirations of Libyans for rights and freedoms. Those desires can eventually win out.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.