Sunday, December 6, 2015

Libyan Youth in Politics

By: Jaelynn Grisso

Produced and edited by: Joshua Lim

Libyan protesters from Benghazi in 2011. Young Libyans have been 
and still continue to be significant players in the country.
(via Al Jazeera English)

Nearly half of the population of Libya is under the age of 25, making young populations significant players in the country. Many claim the push for the revolution in 2011 was started and fostered by Libyan youth. Since the revolution, youths are taking responsibility in crafting a new civil society.

Ayat Mneina, a 27-year-old Libyan activist based in Canada, said via email that Libyan youths are currently removed from politics.

“Although youth candidates have participated and run in the previous elections-on youth specific slates- they were not successful in garnering enough support to be successfully elected,” Mneina said. “Youth continue to mobilize in other spheres which certainly overlap with politics; including civil society and media.”

Many young Libyans are still politically engaged and they are frustrated with the Libyan governments.

Frustration with the government

Libya is currently operating under two governments – one is internationally recognized – but neither government represents the interest of youth in Libya, youth activists said.

“The Libyan culture is a patriarchal and views the elderly as more capable of leadership,” said Seraj Elalam, who led youth organizations in Libya but recently moved to the U.S. “The consecutive and current Libyan governments have minimal youth representation and the younger members, but still not youth, within these bodies are not vocal or effective.”

Mneina said the youth were not being represented well in the current government because the young people of Libya “do not see the government taking any action to further their agenda.”

“There have been no provisions to provide youth with opportunities or safeguards to ensure young people's active participation in Libyan society,” Mneina said. “Today’s politics in the Libyan government do not ensure that issues brought forth touch the lives of daily Libyans. Instead, it is a pursuit for power and so the ambitions of the revolution and of Libyans across the country are no longer driving governance.”

Yassine Al Farsi, a 19-year-old Moroccan who grew up and now lives in Libya, said the government is out of touch with the young people in Libya.
“Some of the elderly in the government, not the young people who live a miserable life, but their concern is just power and money and they forget about good spirits who had gone wanting good positions in the government,” he said in Arabic.

Similarly, Elalam said the governments were fostering the conflict and creating a heavier burden for young Libyans.

 “Both governments in Libya are driving and maintaining conflict to survive,” he said. “The Libyan conflict is feeding off youth further crippling the young Libyan population and bringing back to life old tribal and regional animosities that this younger generation wasn't aware of, while at the same time birthing new animosities for the youth to carry.”

Youth in the revolution

Many claim that the young population in many countries involved in the uprisings in 2011 – commonly referred to as the Arab Spring – played a prominent role in demonstrating.

“In 2011, Libyan youth activists – armed and unarmed – were at the core of the revolution and vigorously demanded the fall of the Gaddafi regime,” Anna Lührmann noted in a scholarly article published in the Mediterranean Institute Berlin. “Many harbored idealistic expectations for a rapid transformation of the country and immediate and genuine inclusion in political and economic processes.”

The logo of the Libyan Youth Movement.
(via Wikimedia Commons)
She also noted, however, these populations often do not receive representation and formal political power when new governments are formed, which could lead to further instability.

Mneina is the founder of the Libyan Youth Movement, an organization created during the revolution in 2011 to unify and inform Libyans from across the world. The Libyan Youth Movement was a prominent social media force during the revolution.

“Youth were at the forefront of the revolution,” Mneina said. “From joining and organizing the original peaceful protests against the regime to mobilizing in response to brutal crackdowns and eventually fighting on the frontlines. Youth also campaigned and rallied the international community for support, they facilitated humanitarian support to displaced Libyans during the conflict and contributed to the flourishing of media and freedom of expression.”

Since the revolution
Some youth gravitated toward religious conservatism in the years following the revolution. After the revolution, a transitional government was created in Libya to create a constitution. The government failed to do so, and the country broke into a civil war. Shortly after, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — also known as Daesh, the Islamic State or ISIL – entered Libya.

A faction of ISIS, called the Islamic Youth Shura Council, is based in the eastern city of Derna. The Islamic Youth Shura Council was one of the first groups in Libya to pledge its allegiance to ISIS.

Violence continues to break out between the Islamic Youth Shura Council, the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) near Derna.

On Nov. 16, IS attacked the PFG and killed three members. The Islamic State claimed it attacked an LNA unit, not the PFG, in response to recent airstrikes at Derna, which they claimed were from the LNA. The airstrikes were carried out by the United States to kill one of the ISIS leaders in Libya, according to reports

Even outside of militias, the ongoing conflict in Libya continues to affect Libyan youth. The instability caused by the split government has put additional security risks and financial concerns on Libyan youth.

“Libyan students abroad who are funded by the government are struggling to continue with their studies as tuition and support funding has been sporadic,” Mneina said. “Libyans inside the country to suffer from delayed salaries and banks unable to withdraw funds. The situation across the board is growing desperate.”

Some, like Farsi, said they believe fighting will continue until the government is restructured. 

“We are the future generation,” Farsi said. “And we are going to represent Libya. We won't put our hands down for the government until everyone takes what they deserve. We are brave people and nice people, and we're not scared of death."  

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