Abdullah Elmaazi for the Libyan Youth Movement
“Unity places on our shoulders huge responsibilities and compels us to envision countless duties ahead. We must, therefore, prove worthy of it, safeguard it the way we do our independence, embrace it with care and affection and nurture it with love and devotion so that it may lead us on the path of progress, triumph and achievement.” – King Idris Al-Senussi of Libya, April 26th 1963.
There is an old Chinese curse that proclaims ‘May you live in interesting times’ and interesting times are defined as times of turmoil and uncertainty. We Libyans are certainly living in those times today. While concern for the future is natural, this is also the time for a postmortem of the past era out of which the nation is assuming to have emerged from. The shadows of the past are bound to remain overcast on the horizon, for at least some time.
A peep into the past is bound to release some light for a better appreciation of the current and future dynamics unfolding- where we can unmistakably conclude that post-Gaddafi Libya has emerged into a disturbingly divided society- distinguished more by regional, tribal and sectarian differences and less by common identity. This manipulative politics of divide and conquer is a malevolent and cowardly tool used by colonizers and tyrants alike throughout Libya’s history to consolidate their respective grip and longevity of power.
Today the burden of the dictatorial legacy is permeating through the ranks of society of free Libya, acting as an inherent obstacle to healing the nation’s wounds even after the institutionalization of tyranny has been relegated to the dustbin of history. Long-term grievances have a way of persisting through the generations where no resolution has been reached thereby embedding in the provincial psyche to only reappear with renewed potency at a later date. Somehow the vicious cycle of grievance and counter-grievance must be broken if we are to move on to rebuilding the nation.
Our founding fathers, in their infinite wisdom in pursuit of Libya’s national solidarity had a vision of unity as far back as the country’s independence in 1951. Foresight of the time dictated that circumstances in Libya ushered in independence within a federal system. Once those circumstances changed, Libya’s democratic institutions of the time followed the procedures stipulated for amending the constitution.
Of course, circumstances have changed unrecognizably since then, Libya’s founding fathers embarked on a mission to dismantle the barriers created by foreign colonialists. They saw national unity as a divine blessing rooted in the constitution and a right of every Libyan to pursue for the good of the nation. It is this “call to arms,” which King Idris made in his speech on the eve of Unity day in 1963, which we need to resurrect and adapt to the modern Libya that is reeling from years of dysfunctional and chaotic leadership.
Today this vision of national unity remains the only practical way to a strong, united and prosperous Libya. The values of decency and honor in the best national interest, that our founding fathers espoused, are undeniably a sound foundation that older generations can identify with and younger generations can reconcile with.
Whether present day Libyans decide to subscribe to the founding fathers vision of unity as seen befitting the circumstances of Libya in 1951 or those in 1963 will depend on how Libyans today decide on what is best suited for their present circumstances. Such a decision will also need to heed the wishes of all Libyans in the different regions.
On the 26th of April, Libyans of all political persuasions will be celebrating the unity of common national heritage the unity of their shared experience of struggle against colonialism and tyranny and the unifying power of the bond of love which ties them to each other and to their homeland.
One of the organizers of this call for unity is Zahra’ Langhi describes this day as “a moment in history when Libyans reached consensus not as a moment when unilateral decision was made to abolish the federal system; again not to send the wrong message that this is a call against federalism. This initiative of Libyan Unity is a call for the need to build consensus transcending ideological dichotomization and partisan politics while maintaining political and cultural diversity and inclusive citizenship”.
There is a need to stress that this is not a nostalgic attempt go back to Independence Era. However, we need to acknowledge that the founders of the Independence State managed to build consensus among each other while not falling into partisan politics nor ideological dichotomization. What lessons need to be learnt here?
Organizers wish to stress the need to build consensus amongst citizens-as was previously achieved during the Independence Era- not in an effort to go back but to go forward taking the lessons learned from the founders of the Independence state. Questions like “How was Libyan identity defined then? On what basis was the Libyan State in the Constitution built?” need to be addressed. The factors that constituted Libyan Unity –whether they were monolithic or heterogenous- need to be discovered in order to reconcile the diversities of Libya.
Langhi describes the need to redefine the Libyan identity into a more universal identity that is post-colonial, post-Nation State, and post-conflict, firmly rooted in a global world and supports a more inclusive citizenship, coveting Libya’s rich cultural mosaic.
A roundtable meeting is to be held in Tripoli on April 26, 2013. For more information please contact organizers Abdullah Elmaazi, Zahra’ Langhi, and Mohamed Alaswad on the designated Facebook page here.