More than a year ago, Nato began its campaign in support of the revolutionaries in Libya. Driven by a semi-liberated eastern block, the revolutionaries pushed their way west towards Tripoli, supported by many nations. When Muammar Gaddafi finally fell, many thought that Libya could become a success story, showing how the international community could come together in support of a rebellion.
The National Transition Council (NTC), recognised by many countries before the fall of Gaddafi, took control of a country ravaged by warfare and decades of decay. As the NTC continues to struggle to maintain control, armed militia groups, loyal to their tribes or locality, patrol the country while the arms used during the revolution flood the streets.
However, Libya is now in the process of remaking itself. For months I have been talking to women in Libya, and they are ready to create a new Libya. These women, who have watched their husbands and their sons killed, are starting new businesses, developing the essential building blocks of a new civil society, reaching across borders, and pushing for their rights. Communities have been picking up the slack, forming ad hoc committees to provide services from trash collection to education. Each city or enclave seems to be moving at its own pace — Misrata recently held local elections, while the NTC struggles to set a date for elections in June. To add to the confusion, groups in the eastern part of the country have declared their intention to become semi-autonomous. These militia and tribal groups want to return to a pre-Gaddafi system in which the government in Tripoli would maintain control of foreign policy, the military, and oil policy, while a regional capital in Benghazi would attend to more local concerns. It is unclear whether or not this plan will actually be implemented, but it is an indicator that the revolution in Libya is far from over.
It is ironic that the one Arab Spring country that was able to bring the US, Europe, and the Arab League together under the Nato banner in an intervention against their dictator would now struggle so greatly. Their neighbours, Tunisia and Egypt have managed to hold elections and bring together disparate parties in an effort to move forward. And now attention has been turned towards Syria, struggling through its own rebellion.
And that is the problem. The rest of the world stopped paying attention to Libya. We watched, gripped, as Nato air strikes supported the Libyan revolutionaries, and we watched with amazement while the ‘Nato girls' targeted key Gaddafi strongholds for attacks. But now, when Libya needs us the most, we have changed the channel. As soon as the planes returned to Europe and the NTC started talking about election laws and constitution writing we stopped watching. We, once the partners of the Libyan revolutionaries, have turned the other way, distracted by today's latest headlines.
The situation in Syria is dire and deserves our attention. But, so does Libya. We must ensure that militias do not become the government of the new Libya. With elections in Benghazi and Tripoli planned for May, national elections slated for June, and no police force to speak of, the militias for now serve as an authority in many areas. Without continued pressure to disarm and push towards democracy, we may yet again see a country torn apart by tribal and militia loyalties.
We need to support a burgeoning civil society with training and visibility to help create open dialogue and meaningful public discourse. We need to continue to hold the NTC to account, promoting a transparent process towards democracy. We must continue to work with tribal and militia groups to disarm and remove guns and unexploded ordnances from the streets. We must support the women who are working every day to rebuild their country by providing them the resources they need to start businesses. Most importantly, we must not forget about Libya. We have supported reformers to fight; now we must help them to build.
Christine German is an experienced international aid worker currently based in Washington, DC.