By Libya Herald Staff
Aref Nayed, currently Libyan ambassador in the UAE, played a major role in the 2011 revolution, ensuring international recognition for the National Transitional Council and that there was fuel, food and funding for the areas that rose up and fought the Qaddafi regime.
Not only a diplomat but also an Islamic scholar, with his own think-tank and training organisation, Kalam Research & Media, as well the Libyan Institute for Advanced Studies, founded in 2012, he is again concentrating on bringing stability and hope to Libya. His name is one of several widely mentioned in relation to the Government of National Accord being prepared by the UN-brokered Libya Dialogue negotiators in Skhirat, Morocco.
In a lengthy but highly focused interview with the editor-in-chief of the Libya Herald, Michel Cousins, on the country’s current predicament, he spells out the changes that such a government needs to implement.
In dealing with security, it will have to rely on the combined support of Misrata and Zintan, as well as the Warshefana and places such as Tajoura, of Suq Al-Juma, and Zawia, he says. He firmly believes that with them supporting it, the spoilers – those opposed to dialogue and reconciliation – can be dealt with. If not, they will have to be sanctioned by the UN or even indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
There will also have to be close cooperation between the new government and the international community, particularly in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). “Without fighting ISIS in Libya, ISIS will win the battle in the region”, he warns.
But security will not happen without economic reform. “To go forward, we need economic reform,” he stresses. The two have to go hand-in-hand. Libyans need jobs urgently, he notes. They need to earn an income, to be able set up their own businesses if they want, to feel they have a stake in society. They have to be helped. There can even be investment programmes linking business setup grants to handing in weapons, he says.
“If young people believe that the economy is booming, that there are opportunities for them out there and that they will lose by continuing to remain [working] at checkpoints … they will leave their weapons and create companies and try to participate in an economic boom”. But without reform, young Libyans will stay with their militias.
There also has to be justice, he insists, if there is to be security and the path to a new Libya laid. The release of illegally held prisoners, the right of the displaced to return home, compensation for those who suffered or lost homes and assets both during the Qaddafi era and since the revolution have to be addressed urgently.
“The release of prisoners is an absolute must,” he says. People will not be interested in Libya’s future if their children are still being held illegally and tortured. “How can you expect people to participate in rebuilding Libya with you if you have displaced them in their hundreds of thousands?” he asks.
The new government will not be able to do everything immediately, Nayed fells, but it must make a start on key issues that should have been done by earlier post-revolution administrations but were not.
He believes strongly change will happen if the government and the Libyan people work together for the country’s wellbeing.
Interview with Aref Nayed
Michel Cousins: The objective of the UN-brokered Libya Dialogue process in Skhirat, Morocco, has been to create a government of national unity – a Government of National Accord. But Libya has had governments of national unity since the revolution. They have not been the problem. The problem has been security. There are two issues relating to security: the militias and the Islamic State (IS or ISIS).
Regarding the militias, the Draft agreement has been initialed by most the delegates at Skhirat, but not those from the General National Congress in Tripoli. A new prime minister and two deputy prime minister will be chosen very soon by the Dialogue delegates probably without the input of the GNC delegates from Tripoli. Given that situation and given that the Dialogue aim is that the new government should be based in Tripoli, do you think that is possible? Will the militias there allow the new government go to Tripoli?
Aref Nayed: First of all, one of the biggest enemies we have today is cynicism and despair. That’s why it’s extremely important to always be hopeful and positive. And to appreciate the progress made. We must not lose sight of what is positive. The UN-led Skhirat process for peace making in Libya has made tremendous progress. One of the key progress points it made has been the disassociation of what I call social fabric elements or tribal elements from the ideologically-based elements in the Fajr Libya coalition [Libya Dawn].
A year ago, when Fajr Libya attacked Tripoli airport and the capital in general, and took over ministries and took over the seat of government, it was a combination of a great variety of elements with a huge participation from social fabric or tribal elements.
One of the key successes, I think, has been, the fact that Misrata in particular has seen that it is wrong to be associated with the thugs and that it is wrong to be associated with ideologically-driven zealots, and that it is very important for it to reintegrate itself within Libya’s broader social fabric.
This is key, a key success to this whole process.
So when we’re discussing the security architecture for the coming period, we must appreciate that a key element of success for any future architecture it that it must be support by both Misrata and Zintan. Realistically speaking, these are the two largest forces in the western part of Libya. Unless they see eye to eye, unless they come together as supporters of a national unity government, it is going to be very difficult to do anything in western Libya.
Now granted, there is an important element that did not sign. That is, to put a name to it, basically the Libyan [Islamic] Fighting Group [LIFG] and some of the armed militias that belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and some of the associated groups.
These people did not sign up to the agreement, despite the fact that that some politicians from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Justice & Construction Party, which stems from the Muslim Brotherhood did sign up and are actually promoting the Dialogue, which is a good thing. However, the armed wing, if you want to call it that, remains outside the agreement.
That is a challenge, of course, to the architecture of any security for Tripoli.
It will be difficult to enter Tripoli without bloodshed if these elements continue to be adamant about their refusal to participate with the rest of the Libyan people in a peace settlement.
So while the security situation is not going to be easy, and will definitely continue to be difficult, with the Libyan Fighting Group and some of their associated militias, and even some of the rogue militias with Misratan origins, like the Salah Badi militia for example, who refuse the consensus of Misrata and remain with the ideologues, these elements will continue to cause issues.
Unless they sign up, I’m afraid they will have to be pressurised by not only the Libyan people but the United Nations and the international community.
It is very important that people who made many concessions and who really tried hard and worked hard to make peace are rewarded. It is equally important that people who are spoilers, who sabotage the peace, who continue to give a safe haven to terrorists and who support terrorists, should themselves be given no safe haven or support in any way, shape or form – not by the international community or the Libyan people.
We are looking forwards to a situation where there is definitely a deadline, where people either in in or be labeled as spoilers and duly processed through the United nations system and perhaps even the International Criminal Court in The Hague for sabotaging the political process.
So the security architecture will depend on the goodwill and cooperation of elements that are strong on the ground. Again, Misrata and Zintan are definitely important parts of this architecture but, of course, they are not the only ones.
What is very important is, ultimately, to have the commitment of all stakeholders, especially the broad social fabric of Libya, including all the towns and cities and the tribal areas and the tribal fabric.
MC: You mention the international community having a role. What role do it have in helping security, given that we also have the problem of ISIS? Are we talking about boots on the ground, air strikes, what?
AN: The international community will need to support the forthcoming government of national unity in various ways. An important way is by simply uniting with that government in a unified strategy.
One of biggest challenges in Libya is that there is no unified strategy for security, no unified architecture for security in the country. Security strategy can no longer be a device for any country without regional help and cooperation and without international help and cooperation. We cannot pretend to have security without arrangements with the rest of the world.
So the international community will need to sit with the upcoming government and put together a unified strategy for dealing with the threats and mitigating the risks that are risks not only for Libya but for all its neighbours and its neighbours across the Mediterranean as well.
That is a very important contribution which is unification of strategy.
The second very important thing is the enablement of the national unity government to be able to have proper and secure command and control over the entire territory of Libya. It will involve technical assistance with command and control centres and a unified command centre from which the government can oversee the security arrangements in the entirety of the country. This involves technologies such as satellite imagery, aerial imagery, maybe drones equipped with cameras that can survey coasts for example. There is a huge need for technological assistance for border control, for coastline control, of course for command and control centres that can enable the government to be able to see what is happening on the ground all over Libya and be able to issue commands that can be implemented across the country.
The third thing that is very important is equipment and training.
The current Libyan government, despite the fact that it is the legitimate government, stemming from the legitimate parliament, has been deprived from acquiring any equipment. Even training has been quite limited. It is very important for the future government to have the training and equipment its needs.
I am of the view that the training should happen on Libyan soil, in Libya. It is much more effective that way. The equipment should not be colossal contracts that will deplete the country’s resources, but specialised equipment that can give the government an edge over the terrorists so as to be able to handle the threats that these terrorists pose.
Finally, there has to be cooperation in fighting ISIS in Libya. It makes no sense to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq and to give them a safe haven in Libya.
We have seen what Libyans weapons and training and finance can do to our neighbours through these disgusting terrorist aggressions against tourists in Tunisia, against consulates in Cairo. So we have seen that without stabilising Libya, without fighting ISIS in Libya, ISIS will win the battle in the region.
That is a very important form of cooperation and it will have to be done in the context of the international coalition on ISIS, to reintegrate Libya as part of the strategy against ISIS, and to have platforms for fighting ISIS in Libya through arrangements with the international community.
MC: The original aim of the Skhirat process was to create a government of national accord through dialogue and reconciliation. Furthermore, the US and other states said that they would not provide aid to Libya to fight ISIS until there was such a government. Now it looks as if that government is going to happen without the GNC’s approval and without reconciliation. Do you think the international community has decided that the need to fight ISIS in Libya is now too urgent and more important than the GNC and reconciliation?
AN: The international community took over nine months of very patient, persistent and meticulous negotiations. They have given all the stakeholders and all the parties a chance to be included. They have done their best. They have pressurised the House of Representatives to be more flexible. Indeed, the House of Representatives has made many concessions that would have been thought impossible and a few months ago.
Despite all this, some stakeholders still want to be spoilers and I believe there is a reason for that.
It is because they are stakeholders who don’t really have a stake in the Libyan state. They have a stake in a transnational state that they would like to build or a transnational ideological organisation that they would like to promote.
Such movements only cooperate with the national state in order to scavenge its resources for their transnational aspirations. That’s why they are not signing on.
I do hope that those who are more sensible among them will still catch up and sign but it is high time that we realise that not everyone will sign. It will be precisely those elements that have been sabotaging the democratic process in Libya for the last four years who will not sign. The reason they will not sign is because democracy is not in their vested interest.
Democracy is only useful to them when they can rig elections and win them. Or when they can control the levers of the state.
When they lose elections as happened in Libya – they lost three consecutive elections – and when they lose the levers of power in the state, they will try to sabotage it – as indeed they have done in the attack and takeover of the capital and the seat of government.
I was never of the view that the international community should wait for the national unity government. I always believed that because we have a legitimate parliament and because we have a legitimate government led by Abdullah Thinni that the world community should have been cooperating with that government to fight the terrorists and not lose these nine months that we have lost.
Nevertheless it’s never too late and it’s better to come to this conclusion now rather than never.
I think it’s high time that we moved forward. We cannot let a bunch of saboteurs of the state destroy our chances for fighting the state that they are trying to promote, which is the so-called Islamic State or ISIS.
MC: Do you think that the international community, by not rejecting the Supreme Court decision last November on the grounds that it was made under duress, empowered the rump GNC, and gave them a position in the debate, and thus prolonged the mess in Libya?
AN: It was quite understandable. The international community wanted to avoid a major conflict in Tripoli. Tripoli has two million people. We have seen the effects of a fight in Tripoli because when Fajr Libya attacked, they destroyed the airport, the fuel depots, they completely removed the Warshefana clans from their land and burned literally thousands of houses and looted thousands more. So we have seen what a fight in Tripoli can cause. So I think the international community was right to be persistently and patiently trying to convince everybody to come to terms.
However, I think everybody’s patience has run out and the danger is increasing.
ISIS keeps taking one town after another in the middle of Libya. They have more and more resources. They now have a fully functioning airbase an hour’s flight from Rome at Gharabiya near Sirte. So it only natural that everybody lost patience with this process and indeed wanted signatures, wanted the resolution.
It’s the same with the Libyan people. There are people who have been living in schools for almost a year now. There are people who cannot get things like basic medical care, who cannot get gas for cooking, fuel for their cars and food, and a peace for their children.
So people have definitely run out of patience. That is why the Libyan people will never forgive anyone who does not sign this agreement and gets on with life. It is a dreadful war that has to stop.
People who still want to spoil the peace are people who are not interested in Libya and not interested in the welfare of the Libyan people. They should not be further entertained by the international community or the rest of the Libyan people.
We should call for the application of sanctions against such spoilers and against those who actively support ISIS and promote it and finance it and condone it and create digital armies in its support and keep blessing it either in promotion or in the continued denial that ISIS even exists.
Such people should be categorised with ISIS as enemies of the Libyan people and of the international community. These people will never give Libya peace. They will never let Egypt or Tunisia be in peace. They will never let Italy or Greece or France be in peace.
MC: Can we go back to the issue of security in the capital. If and when a government of national unity is created and approved by the House of Representatives, where does that government go if there are people in Tripoli who do not want it? Even if the GNC might approve the agreement, there are still those people there, like Badi, like Ghnaiwa, who are opposed to it. Returning would be very dangerous.
Even if there is some sort of security, there could still be situations where, because people didn’t like a government decision or because their cousin had been arrested, who might kidnap a minister again, just as before. The government has to be safe to be effective. Where might it have to go if it can’t go to Tripoli?
AN: You are alerting to a very important imbalance in the architecture of the agreement.
The armed wing of the House of Representatives, which is the Libyan army, basically signed up to the agreement by obeying the parliament. They have said that only the parliament negotiates on their behalf. Zintani forces also did that. They said the parliament represents them. So in effect they signed up. Warsehfani forces also did so. The only forces that did not sign up and are not subject to any political pressure now are precisely those rogue elements in Tripoli.
There are people who say that, in effect, the armed wing of the Islamists stayed outside the agreement while their politicians jumped into the agreement so that they can have a say in the legislature and the executive while at the same time not be bound by any commitments regarding their military wing.
Such sceptics are right to bring this up.
It is extremely important that people who signed up do so in action and not just in words and pen. That means we must see real commitment from Islamists who did join the agreement and who will become part of the HoR by returning to the HoR or become part of the government by having some ministries or deputy minster positions. These people have to show real commitment in fighting terrorism. There can’t be a situation where they obtain the concessions because of the military pressure that they applied, and at the same time don’t have the responsibility and the obligation to curb their former military wing.
That is a key question regarding the upcoming architecture and we need to work with the international community and with all Libyans to make sure that this imbalance is addressed.
Secondly, you say that no government can go to Tripoli when people like Ghnaiwa or Badi are in charge. Of course that is the case. However, a government that has the full support of Misrata and the full support of Zintan and the full support of the Warshefana and the full support of Tajoura, and of Suq Al-Juma, and Zawia will be able to put a stop to these people.
I think these people will recognise, once these people unify under the command of a unified government, that they are no match to these combined Libyan forces.
When faced with the combined power of the Libyan people, these elements will submit to the will of the Libyan people.
Right now they are able to intimidate and scare, and kidnap and embezzle, and even assassinate because we are divided. Once we unify – all Libyans, all Libyan forces, all tribal forces, all social fabric forces, all towns, all cities – in a unified people’s will to peace, then we can put a stop to this nonsense.
That is the foundation of a security architecture. It is the unity of the Libyan people and the unified determined will of the Libyan people not to put up with thugs and blackmailers and assassins.
I think these people will either come to their senses or will have to be fought by the legitimate Libyan army, police and intelligence in order to dismantle their power and the stranglehold on our capital.
We cannot leave the capital to them.
MC: Could Tripoli became very nasty, very bloody, as the militants turn on those who they think have betrayed them – in this case the Misratans, people in the west of the country who want the agreement?
AN: Tripoli cannot be left to fester with intense fighting. It’s a large city with a large population.
But there is something that is quite comforting. When the signing happened, and using the excuse of the anniversary of the liberation of Tripoli, the thugs basically organised a parade in Tripoli. The good news is that no one showed up for it, and they only had something like 300 to 400 young people parading and they only had a very limited weapons supply; their trucks weren’t exactly very impressive.
So instead of intimidating everyone they stupidly showed that they actually are quite weak.
So I don’t think that the forces in Tripoli are as strong as they seem, and if the Misratans and the Zintanis and the Warshefanis and the people of Zawia and of Suq Al-Juma and Tajoura are all behind the Libyan army, including some Tripoli militias – for example people who are now answering to [Central Tripoli mayor Al-Mahdi] Al-Harati who did sign up – if all these people combine, I don’t think that these guys stand a chance.
They will probably give up their weapons and leave. And if they don’t then I’m afraid every nation has to fight for its sovereignty and its capital. You cannot just leave it in their hands.
MC: Other than security what should the priorities be for the new government?
AN: First of all regarding security, it’s important not to think about it narrowly. It is not just about weapons and checkpoints and command and control centres and fighting rogue elements.
Security has to do with economic well-being. It has to do with the giving of a healthy space and environment and an open horizon to young people. It has to do with medical security and food security and water security.
Part of the problem for the last four years is that every government that has come has narrowly conceived security and has focussed on security, security and then security again.
I think that if young people believe that the economy is booming, that there are opportunities for them out there and that they will lose by continuing to remain [working] at checkpoints, then they will leave their weapons and create companies and try to participate in an economic boom.
So I think that it is very important that we look at economic stabilisation as an integral part of various elements – elements that have to do with wellbeing, that have to do with medical comfort and medical care, that have to do with education, that have to do with moving the economy.
The Libyan economy has been stagnant. We’ve been treating the oil resource as a faucet that has been largely closed for the past couple of years.
A country cannot live like this. We need to produce again. We need to move the economy again. That is why it should be a top priority for any government that comes now to jump-start the Libyan economy, to regain the confidence of Libyan businessmen.
I don’t mean the huge tycoons that made a lot of money from the war economy, but I mean the middle-sized businesses and the people who own small and medium sized businesses and companies. We need to have their confidence again.
We need to assist them, by facilitating trade finance, by giving them the opportunity to thrive, by encouraging them to employ young Libyans, by giving them tax breaks, by giving them customs breaks.
We need to incubate new businesses for young people. We can even trade weapons for business opportunities.
We can say: you trade in your weapons and you get a small factory. You trade in your weapons and we will help you start up your construction company. Or we will help you start up your IT and communications company.
We need to have creative programmes that can inspire young people to leave the weapons aside, leave the bloodshed and move on to build something for Libya and for themselves, to settle down, to get married and have kids.
Without this you cannot have security.
So it’s not that you need to secure the country first and then jump-start the economy. You need to do it hand in hand.
You need to do this not with any self-sufficiency illusion but with the realisation that you need all your neighbours and all the world community to do this. We need to identify partners who are willing to invest in the young people of Libyan and in the future of Libya. We need to open up the country for such investment in a way that does not threaten Libyan wellbeing or sovereignty. We need to do so rapidly. People need to be inspired again.
As I said one of our biggest enemies is despair and the loss of hope. And it is despair, the loss of hope and nihilism that fuels things like ISIS, and we need to get over this.
MC: You say that economic reform has to go hand in hand with creating security. But there has been no economic reform any since the revolution. The result is that young people can’t get a job. So they go and join a brigade. It is the only way they can get any money. Not only has there been no attempt to reform the economy, if anything it has got worse since the revolution.
AN: It’s got worse because people try to use cash as a fix, thereby creating cash addiction, which is worse than drug addiction. Because once you start giving free cash, and especially once you give cash as a reward for keeping your weapons, it’s very difficult to get the kids off the weapons, just as it is very hard to get people off drugs.
Unfortunately the policy of dishing out payments to fighters, which started during the NTC times, and continues till today, is not only wrong-headed, it basically destroyed the country.
Economic reform is absolutely important. One of the key elements that needs to be understood if we are to understand why we are in the situation we are in, which is often forgotten, is that Qaddafi’s socialist policies, which were quite drastic, destroyed three things in Libya.
They destroyed the old structure of capital; they destroyed the old structure of property, and the old structure of labour.
The three fundamentals of the economy were transformed. They were transformed into something that was a failure. The socialist transformation never worked. Libya became more and more dependent on oil, rather than less dependent. And, ironically, it produced less and less oil. Oil production in 1968 during the last days of the king was higher than oil production at any other point since then.
In order to go forward, we need economic reform.
One of the key reforms needed is respect for private property again. There is no clear land title in Libya because Qaddafi burned the land registry. We need to restore the land registry.
We need to restore labour unions that are real and not just a bunch or revolutionary committee members as they were in the time of Qaddafi, unions that can uphold the rights of workers to a fair wage.
We also need to restructure the way capital is distributed because right now if you look at the distribution of wealth in Libya, you have the government which has most of the money, then you have five or six tycoons who have horded away billions through thievery, especially during the last ten years of Qaddafi’s era. Then you have some small businessmen, maybe middle businessmen. Then you get a vast majority of young people who are jobless.
This kind of distribution just doesn’t work and it is a formula for trouble. Because the problem is, as these young people rebel, they don’t know what they want. They don’t know what to do. It isn’t because of their lack of imagination or vision. It is because no government has given them a framework in which to fulfill their visions and dreams.
That is why economic reform is a priority.
There is a famous economist named [Hernando] de Soto who did some studies on Libya. I contacted him as early as 2003 out of research interest to talk about to how an informal economy can be changed into a formal economy, how it is that we have a 1.750 million square kilometres in Libya and yet how much of that can be collateralised to guarantee loans for young people, for example. It’s less than .00001 percent because there is no land registry, no clear title, and no way of valuing, no credit bureau that can give credit worthiness reports.
Unless you can release this potential, you will not be able to jump-start the economy.
We need creative ideas – ideas like De Soto’s, ideas like the Finnish approach to development, or the Swedish, Norwegian attitudes towards the welfare of their people, and the automation of government as in Estonia and other countries where there is e-Government that can reach the tiniest of villages and towns.
We need laboratories for incubating new ideas about how to restructure the economy.
MC: You mention land registry. Countries like Poland and Hungary dealt with it. They did so by a mixture of returning land and compensating people. There has been no attempt to do that in Libya. There has been no attempt to deal with another issue – subsidies. If people do not pay a realistic price for water, electricity, fuel, they will never value it. Similarly, there are currency controls that prevent the economy growing.
There are so many things that can be dealt with very easily, that need to be done but which have not been done. Will a government of national accord be able to do them? Why not , say, bring in the Poles or Czechs to advise on land registry straightway?
AN: It all depends on how this government is formed, how this government is composed – the balance between the elements of this government – whether it can really be a government of accord or will it be a government of discord and bickering with parties that never get anything done because they keep blocking each other.
That’s why I say that what is foundational for going forward is consensus. And consensus comes from mutual respect, and respecting each others’ dignity.
That is why the agreement needs to be expanded to include the vast majority of Libyans who form the social fabric of Libya.
It is quite alarming that there was a meeting in Bani Walid of more than 37 tribes, which will be meeting again in Soloug, which explicitly said that they are not supportive of the UN-led process.
This is quite worrying because if this attitude continues we will find that nothing can happen in the country.
You need the buy-in of stakeholders.
If you look at the grievances of why these tribes do not want to come in you can find that they are very easily addressed. Grievances such as prisoners who have been illegally detained, and for over four years now, who need to be released.
People will tell you: “How do you want to build a country with you when my kids are in your jails and where they are being tortured? And without due process.”
The release of prisoners is an absolute must.
There is a section in the UN agreement which deals with goodwill measures and trust-building measures. These should be in the preamble. These should be upfront in the agreement. These measures are absolutely important because they restore trust and dignity.
For example, how can you expect people to participate in rebuilding Libya with you if you have displaced them in their hundreds of thousands? People need to be able to go back to their homes.
The return of the displaced, the release of the prisoners and you mention compensation – the compensation for people whose houses have been blown up, and burned who have been maimed and whose property has been taken.
The only people who got compensation over the past four years are Islamists who compensated themselves for the years in jail in Qaddafi’s time. It’s fine but it is unfair to all the other people who have been injured in those times including all those who have lost their property – and the people who have lost their lives and property and freedom and limbs in the four years since the Revolution.
We need to have equity and fairness in all this. We cannot have two types of Libyans, the revolutionary Libyans and the anti-revolutionary Libyans who are seen as second-class or, worse, seen as non-human and then summarily destroyed.
We must restore equality between Libyans. Equality of dignity, equality of value. Only then will Libyans cooperate.
If the government is based on such a consensus, and if it is formed by reasonable people who are willing to work with each other – they may not like each other, they may still hold some grudges about what happened during the war, they don’t have to love each other – but they must love Libya in order to work with each other. And they must be able to realise that putting hurdles and preventing decision making is not going to do anyone any good.
Regarding reform, it is has been done before [elsewhere], it can be done. Restructuring the banking system, exchange rates [and controls]. There is the corruption of the L/Cs and how they are used to syphon off Libya’s hard currency in the billions.
On subsidies, we need to have a sensible gradual lifting of subsidies and, at the same time, making sure that the Libyan people do share in their wealth by some sort of a smart-card scheme or a scheme for allocating money to every Libyan family because if the subsidies continue at the rate they are being paid today, we will continue to dish out medicine and food and goods and raw materials to all our neighbours – because the smuggling is massive.
With smuggling comes criminality, come drug smuggling, comes human smuggling, comes wars in the south of Libya.
Most of the wars that have happened in the south of Libya and on the borders are basically smuggler wars. They are not really social fabric wars. They are smuggler wars that use the social fabric and turn it into a tribal war but it really is about who controls the dues they get from letting smuggled goods pass by.
All of this is important.
Again we see the intricate relationship between economic security, the architecture of reform, and security.
You cannot do one without the other.
MC: So much of what happens in Libya at present is about money, not about ideology. People jump on ideological bandwagons to get the money. That makes it easier to deal with. When it’s ideological it’s in the mind. There is a great deal of crime in Libya. In Sebha for example there were over 40 murders in Ramadan.
What can a government of national accord do to cut down on crime? Is it again a matter of security? Or does something else need to be done?
AN: There is no simple solution. There has to be a complex solution consisting of various elements. But what you mention about money and ideology is important.
Money and ideology can be separate but they are often intertwined. The most dangerous thievery that happened in Libya in the past four years is ideologically-motivated thievery that is self-righteous. It thinks it is stealing the money to use it for a good cause.
The ironic thing and the destructive thing is that this cause had nothing to do with Libya. It had to do with syphoning off Libyan funds in order to finance an international aim, in order to finance the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq and the rise of (a zillion) other movements that have stemmed from this basic fundamentalist ideology of thinking that they speak for God Himself and want to impose God’s rule themselves as they understand it.
The ideology is not only dangerous as a system of ideas, but also because it is a major motive for stealing of Libya’s money in order to use it for transnational purposes.
What is interesting about ideological groups in Libya is that they often acted like tribes.
I know that many people from towns and cities will differ, but Libya is still quite largely tribal. So even when political parties and ideological movements thrived, they thrived on an almost tribal model. They became part of tribal warfare and used tribes for their warfare.
Crimes come in a huge variety.
There are corruption crimes that are quite vast. There is corruption in the foreign exchange and how it is used. There is corruption in trade finance and how L/Cs are used. There is corruption in customs. There is corruption in taxation. There is corruption in way things are imported. There is corruption in even in the way things are exported because people dismantle infrastructure to sell it as scrap. So there is corruption at those levels. But there is also corruption in government contracting. There is corruption in small bribes, for example, in getting a passport issued.
All that is criminality.
There is also the criminality of smuggling: human smuggling, drugs smuggling, weapons smuggling, and subsidised goods smuggling – which is a huge system of crime that deprives the country of billions of dollars every year.
How do you stop all of this?
Some of it is through structural reform. For example, restricting the economic model and how we do the economy; how we supply services to people; how we supply foodstuffs to people, how do we supply basic goods, like fuel, and cooking gas and food.
We need to work on these structural changes.
The taxation system needs to be reformed. When you have a taxation system that taxes you 90 percent of your income, definitely people will go and do tax evasion. It’s better to reform the taxation system rather than blame the people for evading tax in Libya.
When the customs system is designed in such a way that it encourages at least12 points of corruption, you need to change the customs system.
I think by simplifying the processes of government, by reducing bureaucracy, by reducing the number of stamps one needs to get on a sheet of paper before you can do something – it is interesting that every stamp in Libya becomes a source of corrupt income for the holder. So the less stamps you need, the less signatures and approvals, the less corruption.
So simplify government. Simplify bureaucracy. Have a straightforward system. Have a transparent system that allows the citizen to know what is going on – and to report what is going on.
A grievances reporting system, a system for public tendering where people can just log in and see what tenders are available and where they can do their submission, where they can see how they were evaluated and why it was that company A was given the contract and not company B.
You need all these measures together.
Unfortunately in Libya, when you say you want to stop crime, people think that they should commit even more crime by violating human rights, torturing people, beating up people, throwing them in these dungeons, not jails.
We need to look more comprehensively at this.
Of course, Qaddafi did release almost 15,000 criminals. Many of them unfortunately, joined katibas (brigades) and now have weapons.
So, there is some basic policing, some jail building and jail management. But that is only a small segment of what fighting crime is all about.
MC: Illegal immigration is a major issue for Europe, and for Libya too. Is it purely a matter of security? After all there is very little illegal immigration taking place in the east of the country, it is taking place in the west. It is not taking place in substantial numbers in other countries where there is security. Can it be dealt with by getting decent security locally? And by getting rid of the corruption, because in places like Zuwara local officials are involved in it.
AN: People are not things. They have dignity and are of value. It’s never good to compare human beings with mechanical systems. But there are mechanisms at play that can be understood through analogies.
What you’ve got basically is a flow – a flow of human beings in vast numbers, in the tens of thousands, going from Africa to Europe.
If you look at this from a flow point of view, from a fluid mechanics point of view, at why it is that this flow happens, you will understand how you can stop it.
First of all you have a differential that makes people flow. You have crushing poverty and perceived wellbeing in Europe. You need to work on this discrepancy. We have to look at this issue not superficially or at the final point. We have to look at the origin.
Why is it that people leave their lands? Every human being, like every animal on earth, likes its nest, likes its locality. Why is it that someone would leave his mother and father and walk for thousands of miles and risk dying to get to Europe?
Let us ask these questions. Is it something so fundamentally wrong in the way we do the world economy and the way we structure the world economy that makes this happen?
Instead of spending the money on navies to patrol coasts, why don’t we spend it on development projects in the countries of origin of these immigrants so that we help them in their own countries so that they don’t have to move?
So there is a differential issue that has to be looked at.
And like in the case of flow, it can be expedited and enhanced though mechanical pumps. What you have in Zuwara is basically a pump. These human trafficking mafias are basically pumps that just increase this flow.
You need to stop these pumps.
You need to identify them. There is a lot of intelligence work that needs to happen, a lot of surveillance work, including satellite and aerial surveillance, and you need to identify those individuals who live off the blood of these immigrants, who live off the thousands of lives drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean. These people deserve to be in jail. They should not be making money off the suffering of human beings. That is the second thing you can do.
Another thing you can do to stop the flow is by making sure you have a government in Libya that understands that Libya also needs labour, that understands that the six million people of Libya are not enough for all the projects that can happen in Libya.
If we revive and enhance the agricultural projects that are in the south of Libya, which are surprisingly successful because of the water that is available underneath the desert, if we have vast agricultural projects there, it is conceivable that we will be able to settle many workers not only to offer Libyans food security, but maybe even to export food to Europe.
There are creative ways of looking at this.
We shouldn’t look at this as an issue of human beings who are showing up at our doorsteps and then put a navy to stop them. Because where would they go?
It’s not a simple problem, and it’s not a Libyan problem. It’s a world problem. Europe, I think, understands that.
We need to work with our European partners on development and on developing systems for fighting the criminals who promote this but also making sure that the lives of these people are not only safeguarded but, as dignified human beings, are given opportunities somewhere or somehow.
MC: Qaddafi paid Libyans to do nothing, to keep quiet. As a result an entitlement mentality has set in. People now think that Libya is rich and they should have a part of it and should not have to work or do anything, others can do it for them – the Tunisians, the Egyptians, the sub-Saharan Africans.
Libyans did not use to think like this. And outside Libya, Libyans work hard and are successful, especially in areas such as banking, finance, medicine. But not in Libya.
How can that be changed? Is it not about time that Libya started appreciating the value of Libyans? It does pay people properly. Look at how much a doctor is paid in Libya and how much in the UK. In the UK, he gets at least ten times as much. Look at how much an officer in the Libyan army is paid. It is peanuts compared to what a member of a katiba gets. Has Libya not got to start appreciating the skills and dignity of ordinary Libyans so that they are willing to contribute wholeheartedly in their society?
AN: Libyans began to be dependent on government subsidies and government hand-outs and government salaries for not doing anything when Qaddafi destroyed the free economy in 1978. Before that people used to farm, used to manufacture, used to have shops, they used to trade. There were a vast variety of activities.
All of that stopped, deliberately. Qaddafi wanted the country to be socialist. But what he ended up doing was making everyone dependent on a meagre government salary that was not enough to give them a dignified life, but just enough to keep them going and not have to do much. It was a very strange and precarious kind of existence, and not a pleasant one at that.
How do you change that?
It’s not going to change overnight. This is going to take time.
It will require putting in structures, of frameworks for economic development and activity, of structures of governance, for training, structures of capacity building, for technology transfer. That is going to take time.
What you say about Libyans being bright outside Libya and achieving, but not in Libya, it’s because people need a system to achieve.
A Libyan who works in, say, a large company like IBM in the States, is not working as an individual, he is working as a team member in a structure that was developed over a hundred years. When someone goes and works in a hospital in the UK, they are working in a medical care system that has taken a hundred years to develop. People thrive within systems that are successful and that encourage people to go forward.
Unfortunately, I know many [Libyan] expats who came back but who were not able to be successful. You get a combination. They were not able to be successful so they have resentment and people resent them because they see them as prima donnas who come from overseas who have unrealistic expectations and who look down on them.
So there is this discrepancy between Libyans who were outside and had opportunities outside and Libyans inside, and between Libyans in cities and in the countryside, and between Libyans in cities and Libyans in semi-nomadic areas. There are huge social issues that have to be addressed.
No one can do this in a year or two or three. That’s why it is important to have a long-term vision.
I had the privilege of working with a group of young Libyans on a project Libya 2020 Vision. That seems so far away but it is only five years. We need a Vision 2050. We need a forwards vision. We need to get out of the quagmire we’re in by having something at the front, what Ernst Bloch calls the “not yet” to move forwards.
Just as you get a truck out of the mud by having a winch pull it out by having a point outside of the mess.
We need a vision. We have this document called Libya 2020 Vision. We are encouraging young people to work on this vision. There are other people working on visions. We need to get together and develop a Libyan vision that can inspire young people.
MC: Do you think that in a limited period of time – the maximum is two years – a Government of National Accord can achieve enough to give Libyans confidence that things will get better?
AN: When you call things temporary and transitional, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. People tend to think that way. What is important, even if this government has six months, or a year or two years, even if it cannot achieve great things, it must start to achieve great things.
What is important is to start. The problem is that we have had false starts for four years. We just need a good start.
A jump-start of the Libyan economy and the beginning of putting in measures that can achieve fruition in a year, two years, three years, and some maybe in a decade, but we need to start.
We must not say “it’s only a year so I must be obsessed with security”.
No, jump-start the economy, jump-start education, jump-start medicine, jump-start wellbeing, jump-start the media so that instead of this cynical, hateful media that is teaching people to hate each other and kill each other, we can have a media that can encourage dialogue and understanding, and respect and dignity.
If we do nothing else in this one year or two years, except restore the dignity of men and women, by releasing prisoners, moving people back to their homes, beginning the healing process, telling the Libyan women and showing the Libyan women that we have not forgotten their sacrifices in the revolution and that they are an active member of this society, that they constitute 50 percent, give them their fair value in the government and their share in the government in a fair way.
We need to do all these things. I don’t think it takes all that long to show good intent and take a step or two forward towards achieving that intent.
We should not sit and lament “it’s only one year; what can be done?” A lot can be done in a year.
Look at Japan after the tsunami. That should inspire us. Look at Nepal after the earthquake. They are training their people who to do carpentry and how to do electricity and how to rebuild their country.
We all have pain and we all have anguish.
But pain and anguish are raw materials from which a nation can be built if we are determined enough and if we love each other enough and love our country enough.