On Wednesday, Libyans marked the 10th anniversary of their 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow and eventual killing of Moammar Gadhafi, a long-time dictator.
As Libyans have their eyes on a newly formed government charged with leading the nation through elections late this year, the day comes.
Celebrations started late Tuesday in the capital, Tripoli, where, in the midst of tight security, people gathered in the city’s main square. The main streets and squares of the city have been cleaned and decorated with anniversary banners and pictures.
According to Abdel-Rahman Arish, head of the city’s medical centre, festivities also broke out in other cities in the south, where fireworks in the city of Sabha apparently injured some 15 people.
In the three regions of ancient Libya, Hassan Wanis, head of the General Authority for Culture in Tripoli, said celebrations and commemorative events were planned: Tripolitania to the west, Cyrenaica to the east, and Fezzan to the southwest.
“In order to unify the country, all people (across the country) are prepared to celebrate this time in particular,” he said.
A decade ago, Libya became one of the most intractable problems left over from the “Arab Spring.” The North African nation has descended into devastating anarchy in the years following the ouster of Gadhafi, and has become a refuge for Islamic rebels and armed groups thriving on looting and human trafficking.
A U.N.-supported, but weak government in Tripoli, a city largely governed by an array of armed groups, has split between competing administrations for years against an eastern-based government backed by strongman Gen. Khalifa Hifter, leader of the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces. Every is sponsored by governments abroad.
The nation has seen horrific bouts of violence over the past few years. The latest started in April 2019, when an offensive to seize Tripoli was launched by Hifter, which is sponsored by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. His campaign failed after Turkey stepped up its military support with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries for the Tripoli administration.
In October, months of U.N.-led talks culminated in an agreement that ceased hospitality and called for the withdrawal in three months of all foreign forces and mercenaries and adherence to the U.N. Arms embargo, conditions that were not fulfilled.
A Libyan Political Dialogue Forum was also formed during the talks, which earlier this month named an interim government – a three-member Presidential Council and a prime minister – to lead the country through the elections scheduled for 24 December.
The government includes Mohammad Younes Menfi, an eastern Libyan diplomat who comes from the tribe of anti-colonial hero Omar al-Mukhtar, as president of the Presidential Council of Libya. A pragmatic, well-connected businessman from the western city of Misrata, Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, was appointed as prime minister.
Dbeibah is still negotiating on the composition of his Cabinet, which needs approval from the divided parliament of the country. On Tuesday, Menfi arrived in Tripoli and met Dbeibah and other officials.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasised the importance of holding elections and enforcing the cease-fire agreement, including the withdrawal of foreign forces from Libya, in separate phone calls Tuesday with Menfi and Dbeiba. According to the U.N, there are at least 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters currently in the region.
Amnesty International reiterated its calls for accountability for those involved in suspected war crimes and severe abuses of human rights over the past ten years in a study marking the anniversary.
“The violence, chaos, systematic human rights abuses and endless suffering of civilians characterised by post-Gadhafi Libya will continue unabated unless those responsible for violations are brought to justice, rather than rewarded with positions of power,” said Diana Eltahawy, the group’s deputy director for MENA.
We call on the parties to the Libyan conflict and the incoming unity government to ensure that those accused of committing crimes under international law are not named to positions where violations and impunity will continue to be committed. Pending the results of impartial, credible investigations, persons who have been charged with war crimes should be removed from positions of authority,” said Diana Eltahawy.
Libya has emerged in recent years as the dominant transit point in Africa and the Middle East for refugees fleeing war and poverty. Traffickers frequently pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats along the dangerous Mediterranean route, stalling and foundering.
Thousands drown along the way, while some, if arrested by officials, end up detained in squalid smugglers’ pens or crowded detention centres.