A Libyan Activist Zahra Langhi told The Stream this week that “We had a democracy with arms; that is the worst kind of hypocrisy.”
Women were at the forefront of the ‘Day of Rage’ movement that led to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s removal from power in 2011. Langhi was one of their leaders, helping to organize protests.
As a new government began to form, Langhi co-founded the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace and began lobbying for a more gender-inclusive electoral law. The end result? Women won 17% of the seats in congress in the first election in 52 years.
But they soon discovered that exclusion was the least of their problems. There was also systematic violence against women. “We had… congressmen who were either affiliated with militias or who were themselves militias… We started seeing that congresswomen were threatened and bullied physically and verbally by other representatives,” she told The Stream. This negatively impacted on the involvement of women in later governments and at voter turnouts.
In the six years since Gaddafi’s removal, eight prime ministers have come and gone while armed factions battle for power. “The root cause… it’s the unchecked militarization, it’s the flow of arms, it’s the arms anarchy,” she said. “The need to demilitarize, demobilize, and to have a rehab programme for those who are traumatized by war has not been addressed by the UN-led peace process.”
She criticized the international community’s initial roadmap, saying the democratic toolkit “focuses on rushing to elections and having a multi-party system when you don’t have real constituencies or comprehension of the idea of political parties and programmes.” She added that even the international pressure to have a free press and to draft a constitution “actually caused a further divisiveness and polarization in society.”
She said the approach so far had fluctuated between looking for military resolutions or political compromises. “We’ve been appeasing warlords,” Langhi told The Stream ahead of her appearance on the show. “It’s only created a weak centralized government that is not addressing any other issues.”
“Nobody attacked the issue in Libya from a holistic approach,” she expanded during this week’s show. “By that I mean, addressing the humanitarian crisis in Libya, addressing the human rights violations, addressing the lack of justice in Libya, the lack of a rule of law in Libya.”
She called for a “politics of inclusion.” “We need to have a fair representation in terms of gender, a fair representation in terms of generation, a fair representation in terms of culture, a fair representation in terms of all Libyans of diaspora and inside of Libya, a fair representation as well of urban and rural areas… of the capital and more disenfranchised regions and cities. I cannot only focus on women’s empowerment; I need to address the other issues as well.”
While she said the right of movement, civil society activists and ordinary citizens were all “under attack” in Libya, she added that it was important to talk about the external as well as the internal factors driving the instability in Libya. “There is proxy war at the moment in Libya,” she said. “We need to end the unilateral interference in Libya… Libya is not a piece of cake.”
Speaking about the imminent Human Rights Council resolution on Libya, she said, “It’s about time we had either a commission of enquiry or a panel of experts that monitors the situation and ends impunity in all of Libya.”
She also addressed the pending appointment of a new special envoy for UNSMIL: “It’s disappointing that… we’ve never seen the appointment of a female special envoy, someone who knows the region, who has a different kind of approach to peace building… We need to lobby the secretary general to make the process of the appointment of special envoys a process that is transparent – and not only influenced by the super powers… Women and the local communities should have a say. And our say is that the special envoys so far have failed miserably in Libya.”