Tuesday 19. October 2021
#159 - April 2013


The EU and the “Arab Spring”: the case of Libya


Libya is in the midst of armed chaos with an absence of State authority. There is a government which exists on paper and sometimes on TV rather than a real institution that exercises its authority on the ground.

The EU engagement with all of its neighbours is firmly grounded on the basis of the incentive-based “more for more” principle and on “mutual accountability” as set out in the two joint Communications of 2011 (“A Partnership for Democracy” and “Neighbourhood Policy Review”). This means that individual countries which register a marked progress in the domain of human rights will be assisted by the EU in social, political and economic matters. With this in mind, can the Libyan Revolution be designated as a ‘backward’ or a ‘forward’ revolution? In an interview for europeinfos, Mr Mokhtar Ihsan Aziz, Director of the Islamic World Studies Centre, Malta, shares his analysis.


We in the West have mixed feelings about the Arab awakening. Sometimes we have much faith in the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, while at other times we are sceptical and fear that it will soon turn into an ‘Arab Winter’. With reference to Libya, what is your personal opinion?

Almost two years have passed since change struck the countries of the Arab Spring. In Libya the Arab Spring has taken an extremely violent turn, due to the ferocity and violence of the former regime. This situation led to a continuous state of war for more than eight months, accompanied by foreign military intervention under an international cover. However, the primary cause of this military intervention was Libya’s strategic and sensitive situation, and its economic importance as a global source of petroleum.

An armed and swift turnabout brought to power an elite most of whose members had lived for many decades alienated from their homeland, during their escape from the tyranny of the Gaddafi regime which had not allowed any kind of opposition or disagreement. Without immersing ourselves into the backgrounds of those who dominated the political scene in Libya at the ‘Spring’ time, we can say that they have failed to provide an informed leadership that could have directed the energies of the popular revolution towards building a robust State. This would have fostered new democratic traditions, opposing the phase of ‘one opinion and one voice’.

The persistent spread of financial and political corruption, the prevalence of the exchange of accusations of corruption between members and symbols of the new elite are the main characteristics of this new regime. It is no wonder that they are approaching a state of ineffectiveness in the attempt to build State institutions, notably the army and the official security structures. Consequently, successive governments in the new era are isolated from managing the country's affairs on the ground. Instead, we have a situation where armed militias with different identities and loyalties condemn any loyalty to the government. This prompted some researchers to discuss the question: “To what extent is Libya approaching the status of a failed State?” Indeed, Libya is in the midst of armed chaos with an absence of State authority on the street.


How does the elected legitimate authority relate to the distorted practices taking place on the ground? And what role can the EU play in the promotion of human rights in Libya?

The government in Libya since the change - and indeed until the present moment - is a government which exists on paper and sometimes on TV rather than a government that exercises its authority on the ground.

The militias, divided into different formations under the authority of the government, are trying to impose their will, vision and even beliefs. They do it in different ways, including by force and violence, sometimes without sanction from a public or central authority. It is no secret that amongst the militias, there are extreme Salafists, who condemn certain ideologies that endorse the issue of freedoms, including religious freedom. The above-mentioned ideologies are not necessarily consistent with the vision of the vast majority of the Libyan people, who are affiliated to the moderate Maliki doctrine (see box).

What is happening now - as a result of force - is the imposition of imported and alien beliefs on the community, as for instance the extremists beliefs of Salafists; actions that extend to the breaking of the spirit of the Libyan population through armed confrontation. The outcome is a restriction of the freedom that was gained after the fall of the former regime. This is happening to the advantage of new emerging dictatorships, energised by alien thinking and suspicious financial sources infiltrating into Libya through these extremist militia groups. This new political and social reality represents a real threat to the building of a nation, which should respond to the aspirations of the people who had revolted against the old tyranny. Financial corruption, old and new, is the driving force behind all the ongoing distortions and deviations in the Libyan social and political landscape. This has hindered and will continue to hinder the establishment of a democratic State. The way to support the democratic forces in Libya is: transparency and combating corruption internationally. Europe should support organizations which are not subject to political bargaining and suspicious transactions. Europe should also provide the means to spread the concept and culture of rights and public freedoms and the principle of citizenship.

The EU can play an active role in this regard through monitoring human rights in Libya, applying stricter transparency controls and combating corruption. Corruption has for a long time linked the world of the south and the world of the north - crimes in which economic institutions as well as public and private figures are involved. To ignore economic and politically corrupt crimes will inevitably result in substantial negative consequences. Among them would be the spread of unemployment and crime in the countries of the south as well as launching a mass of illegal immigration in all directions in attempts to escape from the blocked horizon for the future of the countries of the south and in search for a better destiny.

The interview was conducted by Dr Joe Vella Gauci




The Malikite School (Sunni)

This school was founded by Malik ibn-Anas of Medina (715-795). His, book, codifying some 1,700 legal traditions, introduced the formula of consensus of the community (ijma) for the first time.  It is more conservative than the Hanafi school (the most tolerant of the legal schools of Islam) and is followed by the Muslims of North Africa, exclusive of Egypt.

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