Next Century Foundation Secretary General, William Morris, examines the Libyan issue in the context of the attitudes and inclinations of the wider Middle East. To listen to the podcast click here.
Covid 19 is the nowadays issue, and family meetings and conversations among friends aren’t free of it. You cannot fail to think about the extent of its impact on everything that surrounds us, our social life, our mental health, and certainly, economic conditions.
For some people it’s a subject for contemplation. Who among us hasn’t given a thought to how this tiny thing, that one cannot see with the naked eye, could make the world stand on one finger, make the world stand still. A “sick leave for the environment”, an environment which has been functioning day and night for thousands of years, so that we may live the life we aspire to. I don’t deny the negative aspects, but it’s also important that we do not exclude the bright side of the existence of this pandemic.
Admittedly, one of the things that I’m always thinking about – particularly after we saw the response of the developed countries to this disease, which did not satisfy many of their citizens, especially with the large number of deaths and infected people that increases daily in high proportions – is how the developing countries, especially those facing internal conflict, will deal with this pandemic?
We will shed little light on Libya, which, after having a revolution against an authoritarian and dictatorial government, that was part of a series of so-called “Arab Spring revolutions” that started in the sister country of Libya, Tunisia in 2011. “Arab Spring” is a meaningless name, as after these revolutions, these countries are now living an autumn that hasn’t come to an end. The fall of its fallen leaves is represented in many human lives lost. Libya is passing through civil war that targeted all Libyan cities and towns, until fighting eventually moved to its capital, Tripoli.
Tripoli has been facing conflicts that lasted for more than a year now, which led to a population over stacking at its center; as many citizens living in its suburbs were forced to leave their homes in the search for security in the city center, in addition to a previous presence of many other displaced people from other cities that had also come in search of security in the capital.
On March 14, 2020, Mr. Fayez Al-Sarraj, the head of the Presidential Council of Libya, announced “the state of emergency” after the outbreak of the disease in the world, especially in neighboring countries, and took many measures, including closing borders and airports, suspending studying in schools and universities, closing all restaurants and shops, and imposing some regulation in grocery stores and bakeries to limit the spread of the disease. A lot of people have made the attempt to adhere to the new regulations and commitment to social distancing, which included not gathering in mosques and holding prayers at home. However, there were no sufficient medical preparations (in terms of medical staff, emergency teams, sterilization teams, and availability of PPE) to receive cases. Consequently, on March 24, 2020, when the first case was recorded in Tripoli, there was an obvious confusion among the medical staff, after the symptoms and travel history of that patient were confirmed with the diagnosis of Corona virus infection. This confusion continued, and was made worse by the security situation and the state of war the city is passing through and that included targeting the Khadra Public Hospital, where a health isolation center was supposed to be established.
Nearly two weeks after registering the first case, a medical committee and a sterilization team were formed and transformed one of the health centers into a center to detect suspicious cases, and set up a health isolation center to receive critical cases in a hospital in Tripoli, and provided medical personnel and care staff to deal with moderate and non-critical cases at their homes, and of course, supplied the hospitals with the personal protective equipment needed. In addition awareness programs have been established targeting all media and social media, and training courses for medical staff and volunteers, and all of that under the supervision of the CDC in Tripoli.
Also, Libyan embassies in most countries took care of the Libyan community abroad, and one of the procedures they use is to test people wishing to return home, and in cases where the sample was positive, they would be isolated in hotels paid by the Libyan authority, and if it was negative, they’d be allowed to return home on condition that they isolate themselves in their homes and refrain from mixing with their families and friends for two weeks.
All of these procedures maintained a low rate of infections and also very low mortality rate. The total registered case was 70 infections and 3 deaths in two months, and the cause of death of these three people was the presence of underlying health problems in addition to infection with coronavirus, and the percentage of cases that were cured was very high. According to reports from Tripoli CDC, it’s likely that the reason behind the low infection rate is probably the genetic factor of the patients and the strain that infected this region is different from the strains that infected Asia, Europe and America.
From my point of view, what was the main reason behind these numbers were the measures that the state launched and the people’s commitment to it. Whereas, as soon as there is a little easing off from from both the state and the citizens, especially since the return of the Libyans from abroad, and the entry of travelers in legal and illegal ways, and their lack of commitment to the self-isolation imposed on them, the number of infections have reached 90 cases in the last week of May alone. The question now is: Is this because of the state’s negligence and corruption or misbehavior and irresponsibility of the people? I want to place the blame on the citizens, but is it possible to put the blame on them in this very bad security situation in which homes are not completely safe, where the death rate of people as a result of shells falling over their homes is much higher than the death rate as a result of corona virus?
Osama Mohamad, a loyal supporter and friend of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, talks in Arabic to Lina Kay and William Morris about Libya’s future prospects, Saif al Islam’s chances of ever being elected, the processes of living in peace, and the difficulties that face the many groups involved.
William Morris and Lina Kay discuss the many issues plaguing the Middle East presently. Issues discussed include: Yemen, Libya, Iran, the UN and the USA (with Arabic subtitles).
Hala London Radio writes: Catch up on this special edition of Hadith Al Sa3a as Lina chats with William Morris about the latest in Libya, striving for peace, and Next Century Foundation (of which William is the Secretary General). The video is in English and you can watch it below:
Ahmed Shebani, President of Libya’s Democratic Party, has contacted the Next Century Foundation to say that the Democratic Party is calling for a peaceful demonstrations in Martyrs Square, Tripoli, to demand that the UN envoy to Libya to be declared persona non grata.
In a statement, the Democratic Party claims that the forces of General Khalifa Haftar (pictured) have been bombarding Tripoli for over five weeks now, yet the international community is not doing anything tangible to stop the violence.
The Democratic Party statement says that both the United Nations and the European Union are unable or unwilling to come to the help of the suffering civilians in Tripoli, which is creating a climate of deep mistrust of both organisations among ordinary Libyans.
The statement goes on to claim that while both the UN and the EU had been so quick to sanction some Libyan individuals for allegedly not complying with international law, both organisations failed to condemn General Haftar’s conduct let alone issue any sanctions against him personally.
The Democratic Party statement concludes by saying that “Libya is being accelerated towards a failed state because of such double standards”.
The Democratic Party adds that it would like to appeal to the United States of America to stand by the forces of democracy in Libya.
On the 18thNovember, a conference to discuss the future of Libya was held in Palermo, Italy. The previous conference had been in May, held in Paris by the French President Emmanuel Macron. Elections this December in Libya – a vaunted outcome of the Paris summit – have officially been ruled out by the UN Special envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame. This is hardly surprising since the country still lacks electoral law, not to mention violent militia infighting that would likely prevent safe elections. Instead, Salame has claimed that Libya will host a National Conference in early 2019, with elections projected for the spring. He blamed both sides of Libya’s political divide – the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the West and the House of Representatives (HoR) in the East – for trying to postpone a vote while over 80% of Libyans support elections.
Indeed, Libya is still a severely divided country. Rifts between the European powers played out on Libyan soil only postpone an already agonisingly slow UN-led peace process. Italy supports the internationally recognised GNA headed by Fayez al-Sarraj while France (along with Russia, Egypt and the UAE) supports General Haftar in the East, who presides over the HOR. Both are ineffectual rulers. While Prime Minister Sarraj of the GNA has very little influence outside of Tripoli, General Haftar is a law unto himself.
Despite feigned benevolence from the international community, the majority of the powers involved are driven primarily by self-interest. Libya needs fresh political parties its people can get behind, not incompetent governments imposed by the UN or undemocratic war lords. Unfortunately, however, no other Libyan representatives from alternative political parties were invited to Palermo. Many of Libya’s key political factions were excluded, and by key factions we do not just mean the Muslim Brotherhood or the warlord people smugglers. There are plenty of genuine Libyan factions that deserve to be included. If different political parties or blocs are not included in these mediated dialogues, then there is a very little chance that Libya will haul itself out from this political stalemate.
Financial motives of international powers are also hard to separate from the political situation. While the Libyan energy market has thus far been dominated by the Italian energy company ENI (the gas pipeline conveniently lies in the west of the country), the French energy company Total has recently began to expand its shares in the market. Libyan oil is cheap and can easily be exported to Europe, ensuring that vested interests are always attempting to influence Libya’s domestic agenda.
The headlines surrounding the Palmero conference indicated where international attention was truly focused. As the first political initiative of the new right wing populist government of Giuseppe Conti, all eyes were on the presence – or absence – of world leaders at the event. Already on its first day former Italian PM Matteo Renzi deemed the Conference a ‘resounding flop’ as it became evident that the likes of Macron, Trump and Putin were no-shows.
This kind of politicised rhetoric is unhelpful, and draws attention away from the real issues faced by Libya. The GNA has almost no control in the West and relies heavily on militia support. The south of Libya is caught up in fighting between Tuareg and Toubou militias. General Haftar is tightening his iron grip in the east, having seized oil ports from the National Oil Corporation in the summer. Civilians live in a climate of fear and lack basic commodities.
There is a fine line between the necessity for genuine international attention on problems faced by Libya and self-serving intervention by greater powers. Perhaps next year’s National Conference in Libya will be more inclusive of Libyans themselves, rather than just providing an opportunity for others to show off their diplomatic stature. The international community – as a unified whole – must support and empower the Libyan people. A solution for peace will not be possible without their total involvement.
Photo above: Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj, Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya and Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord.
Since the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has remained in a persistent state of crisis. Western politicians and media have largely failed to understand developments during this period and the nature of the divisions in the country are now such that external observers have repeatedly lost track of who is in charge of what, and this confusion shows no sign of abating. The Next Century Foundation wishes to provide some much needed clarity regarding the current situation in Libya.
The entrenched divisions in Libya are reflected by its myriad political factions, who each claim to have authority over the region. The international community has done little to diffuse these tensions by supporting whichever faction best suits their vested interests rather than prioritising the interests of the Libyan people. Currently, there are four main political factions in Libya:
Other, arguably more influential, centres of power in Libya are its financial institutions. Saddiq Kabir, for example, is head of the Central Bank and responsible for paying the salaries of many Libyans. Mustafa Sanalla is head of the National Oil Corporation and Abdullmaged Breish is head of the Libyan Investment Authority.
It should also be noted that General Haftar recently attempted to oust Saddiq Kabir from his position as governor of the Central Bank but was unsuccessful. He accuses Libya’s Central Bank of funneling money to extremist groups and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The external interference in Libya from countries near and far has done little to encourage a quicker resolution to the conflict. This is particularly evident in the way General Haftar’s support comes more from abroad than at home. Egypt, for example, has been supplying his forces with training and various weapons, even carrying out direct air raids in Derna against Haftar’s opponents. At the same time, the UAE are operating their largest foreign military base in Al Khadim, 100 kilometres east of Benghazi. In much the way Iran have entrenched a military presence in Syria aimed at lasting into the future, the UAE have identified the chaos in Libya as too good an opportunity to miss for extending their regional influence.
France, on the other hand, has been hosting conferences in Paris aimed at fostering dialogue between General Haftar and al-Sarraj, all the while providing General Haftar with extensive military support during his endeavours in Derna and beyond. It would not be overly cynical to suggest that France’s main concern regarding Haftar’s quest for leadership is the financial benefits it could accrue through Libya’s oil. With such a multitude of foreign actors behind one man, Libyans have good reason to fear that they will be the ones benefitting least in any eventual political settlement.
The complexity in the east is mirrored by the chaos along the southern border. Since 2011, the constant state of flux in Libya has made it very easy for neighbouring countries like Chad and Sudan to infiltrate the 1500-kilometre-long border as and when they like. There is no longer any effective government presence in the south, only ongoing struggles for authority and control amongst local militia forces. Since 2014, the presence of Chadian rebel group FACT in the southern Fezzan region has only increased: they have been reported to have taken temporary control of key areas in the city of Sabha for example. Counterbalancing this is the similarly sizable Sudanese presence in the south. Fighters from JEM, a Sudanese opposition group, have been fighting alongside Haftar’s forces. The various forces pulling against each other in the south highlight the difficulty that any central Libyan government will have in regaining full control of the area in the future.
On May 29th, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a summit in Paris with representatives from Libya’s four political factions: al-Sarraj, Haftar, Saleh and al-Mishri. Each representative endorsed a motion to hold elections in Libya on 10th December, when the mandates of the High Council of State and the Tobruk Parliament will run out. It was also agreed that by 16th September a constitutional basis and electoral laws would be established.
Whether these elections (if held at all) will be fruitful, however, is another matter. In May of this year twelve people were killed in “an ISIS attack” on the headquarters of the Electoral Commission. Nor is it likely that there will be agreement on a draft constitution any time soon. A constitution is vital for providing a consensus around the rules and legal framework that would govern the elections. Particularly in Libya, elections in the absence of a constitution would be more likely to exacerbate conflict rather than resolve it. However, despite the relative consensus over the necessity for a constitution, there is still division over its content. Some Libyans want a referendum on the current draft constitution while others want a completely new text. There are also reports that the constitutional committee was abandoned after it became apparent that its leader had dual Libyan-American nationality. Whatever happens, once an agreement has been arrived at it is essential for the international community to support the decision of the Libyan people, 1 million of whom are registered to vote in December’s elections should they take place.
On 14th June a coalition of armed forces seized the largest oil terminals in Libya’s eastern oil crescent, resulting in many civilian causalities and damage to infrastructure. General Haftar has since accused the Central Bank of channeling money to the militia leader responsible for blockading the oil terminals. Although General Haftar’s LNA was successful in recapturing the facilities on the 25th June, he announced that management of the facilities would be transferred not to the internationally recognised National Oil Corporation, but to a different NOC in the east. In retaliation, the official NOC imposed a force majeure on the oil terminals; 850,000 barrels a day were blocked from exportation and Libya lost over an estimated 900 million dollars. On the 11th July Haftar was made to hand back control of Libya’s oil ports to Sanalla’s NOC following a letter from US President Donald Trump that threatened legal action over Haftar’s crippling of Libya’s oil production. Although this relieved the immediate crisis, it brought to the fore underlying frustrations in Libya over the distribution of wealth and the plundering of resources. These concerns need to be addressed in order for political reconciliation to progress. The situation also highlighted the need to protect the country’s wealth so that – despite the political turmoil – public services will continue to function.
Although the upcoming elections are heralded as a positive step forward by many, it is difficult to see how they will bring about any fruitful change while the country is so fragmented. If there is no constitution then corruption and political violence will only flourish. Divisions in Libya will also remain entrenched while international powers continue to exploit the region and prevent self-determination of the Libyan people. There is little point in diplomats congratulating themselves on rhetorical commitments to elections and ongoing dialogue, for there will be very little to congratulate until Libya reemerges as a functioning state.
Indeed, the situation in Libya remains desperate. The al-Sarraj government has had three years to create some stability with a view to peace, and has yielded no results. Lawlessness in Tripoli is rife and the government turns a blind eye to foreign aircraft landing on Libyan territory at will. There has been a scarcity of bread, fuel, and electricity in the capital for years now, the Central Bank is regularly late in paying the salaries of much of the Libyan population, and the drafting of the new constitution has suffered numerous setbacks.
Compounding the humanitarian crisis are the large numbers of refugees being trafficked through Western Libya from Chad, Niger, and Sudan. The position of the GNA in western Libya is also weakened by the growing threats of militias who control other nearby cities such as Misrata and Zintan. Exasperated by the lack of constructive change under al-Sarraj’s government, they plan to march on Tripoli to incite change in the capital.
All of these failures are pointing in the direction of a change, a fresh approach in the governing of Libya. Whether the international community has enough credit to install a new government in place of al-Sarraj is doubtful considering their underwhelming track record. Nor can we be certain that the international community has the will to implement such wide-sweeping reform in what is now an even more divided Libya. The best hope for a Libyan government to reassert its sovereignty over the whole country is to find ways of making compromises which generate goodwill amongst the key domestic actors. General Haftar agreeing to allow four oil export ports to reopen is an example of this. At the same time, the kind of decentralised style of government which was so prominent in Libya following its independence must be the foundation from which oil rents can be fairly redistributed to help address dire living standards. Gradually, local authorities could coordinate with each other on the security front and move towards a unified national force. By no means is it an easy task, but it may represent an encouraging starting point on the way to rebuilding what is a terribly torn country.
By Ardi Janjeva and Isobel Thompson
On 29th May 2018, France convened an international meeting on Libya, bringing together representatives from its four divided political factions. This included Aguila Saleh (the Chair of the House of Representatives in Tobruk whose Prime Minister is Abdullah al-Theni), Khalid al-Mishri (the head of the High Council of State in Tripoli which was originally the old congress), Fayez al-Sarraj (the head of the internationally recognised Presidential Council) and General Khalifa Haftar.
General Haftar, commander of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), has taken control over much of eastern Libya. He has command of the strategic port city of Tobruk and Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi. In late June Haftar also took control of the city of Derna in a ground offensive by the LNA. This followed a two-year siege by Haftar’s forces and hundreds of civilian casualties.
The main division in Libya, therefore, is between the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in the West, headed by al-Sarraj, and Haftar’s forces in the East. Macron’s goal for the summit was to get all four Libyan sides to commit to an agreement under the auspices of the UN and to start arrangements for staging elections before the end of 2018. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no tangible results have come from this meeting. A similar meeting between al-Sarraj and Haftar in July 2017 also produced no positive outcome. It is becoming clear that these summits on Libya are heralded more as a diplomatic accomplishment for France rather than a genuine breakthrough in the conflict.
Despite encouraging open dialogue and peaceful conflict resolution, however, France has maintained its controversial support for General Haftar for the past three years instead of backing the GNA, which was implemented by a UN-led initiative in 2015. Almost immediately after Macron’s summit at the end of May it became apparent that France had provided General Haftar with reconnaissance aircraft to help his forces advance on Derna.
Why, then, is there such a discord between Macron’s rhetoric about peace and diplomacy on the one hand, and his provision of weaponry to a particular side of the conflict on the other?
During the summit in May, Macron was keen to promote a quick presidential election in Libya, supposedly as a means to centralise the government and reduce tensions in the region. Many are arguing, however, that elections cannot happen until there is a constitution which would provide a set of rules and a legal framework to govern the elections. Many Libyans are afraid that elections in the absence of a constitution will only catalyse conflict rather than resolve it. It is likely, therefore, that France’s ambitions for a quick election in Libya are part of a coordinated step with the UAE and Egypt (Haftar’s other international supporters) to facilitate the General’s takeover while the GNA is weak.
France ultimately sees Haftar as the ally who could best serve its interests in Libya, which is why they have supported the consolidation of his control in the east and are vying for his success in upcoming presidential elections. From a geopolitical standpoint, France wants to have a dominant international presence in Libya. Having had brief direct administrative rule from 1944-51 over Fezzan in southern Libya, it is keen to maintain a close presence in the region which is rich in reserves of oil, gas and minerals. This would also allow France to extend its influence over the nearby countries of Chad, Mali and Niger.
Macron is also keen to compromise Italy’s interests in Libya, and chose a strategic moment for the summit (announcing it only a week beforehand) at a time when Italy was occupied with its own changing government. Despite Rome’s attempts to maintain a presence in Libya and curb the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean, its influence in Tripoli has waned of late. Italy’s ties with western Libya had previously been through the city of Misrata, which is now largely autonomous and ruled by militias opposed to the GNA. France and Italy are also leading foreign stakeholders in the Libya’s hydrocarbons sector and have competing business interests in the country’s oil revenue. Therefore, by supporting Haftar France not only provides the military general with legitimacy but also asserts itself as the leading international actor in Libya’s internal politics and stands to gain financially. Haftar also presents himself as the military strength of Libya against terrorism, an image that France is keen to propagate. He claimed that his recent offensive on Derna, for instance, was in order to relieve the city of ‘terrorists and those who carry weapons against the LNA’.
At a time when Libya needs unity and stability more than ever, international players like France need to prioritise the interests of Libyans above their own. Upcoming elections will be undermined if a constitution is not put in place to guarantee a safe transition to a centralised, democratically elected government. France needs to use its influence to smooth divisions in Libya, not exacerbate them.
“And, sir, it is no little thing to make mine eyes to sweat compassion”, (William Shakespeare, Coriolanus).
This is my last blog post for The Next Century Foundation. During my time at the NCF, I addressed several hot issues, speaking about different situations and topics, even very controversial ones, which have sometimes generated harsh reactions. I suppose it is inevitable if you are speaking about politics, human rights, dictators, victims or perpetrators. These social fabrications give us a social identity and lead us to often take on conflicting and controversial positions, dictated by interests, simple visions or specific goals. In such circumstances, the “political animal” inside each of us reveals itself trying to impose its own point of view.
However, in spite of the ideas and values that humans can have, every person is made up of feelings and emotions. Before being classified as political animals, humans are sentient beings, with emotions and feelings which define us and make us unique. The same sort of emotions and feelings that are gradually being extinguished with the frenetic and uncontrolled evolution of this world. And today, I want to talk about this. Today I want to talk about who we are. Today, I want to write about the emotions, hopes and feelings that define us and how this world is changing them. And I will do it by speaking through the lense of one of the generations that, more than any other, is experiencing this change in full; a generation that particularly expresses the contradictions of our society but also the dreams and the betrayed hopes: my generation, that of the Millennials.
We live in strange times. Times of great uncertainties, immense fears, incessant and fast changes. I am the son of a generation that has been living through the golden years of development, where entrepreneurs would invest in the job market and believed in the value of their employees. Years where politicians would constantly strive to find new ways to improve people’s lives. The high level of births, the prolific job market, the certainty of the future, the first and the second car, big savings, the summer holidays by the sea or in the mountains. And then the great investments, the incentives to progress, research and development, the high general morale, the man on the moon, the hope for a future of well-being for everyone.
But sometimes expectations about the future are bigger than what reality has to offer and, just like a bubble that swells excessively, sooner or later reality explodes right in your face. And here, all of a sudden, we have a system where the excessive well-being and the immeasurable potential of the third industrial revolution clashes with the individual economic interest. The big industries and multinationals come into play and alter the balance. Human greed grows stronger and stronger while the big multinationals knock on the doors of politics for some “boosts”. And there you go; the first agreements born to maximize profits by damaging workers’ rights; national factories shutting down to re-open in those countries where labor costs 1$ a day, or renegotiating workers’ union achievements with politicians in exchange for a few bribes or support during election campaigns; the high transnational finance getting hold of large company shares and becoming the main protagonist of a new global perverse game. The cost of labor for multinational companies drops dramatically while working hours increase. As a consequence, the price of produced goods decreases. Small and medium-sized businesses close or fail for they cannot compete with similar standards, whereas those able to make it through are the big names of industry or those entrepreneurs who, through criminal support, have managed to reach out to and influence politicians to get some extra procurement contracts or personal favors. The West becomes the center of unbridled capitalism, with no rules, with no ethics or respect. Everyone for themselves. It is against this backdrop that my generation, the Millennials, is born. The first true generation without any clue about its future.
The final blow comes with 2000 and all its technological capacity. It started with the first mobile phones and laptops on a large scale, up to smartphones and tablets. Technology moves; the great giants of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon develop; technological power becomes incredibly significant. And here’s Black Friday, the purchases with a click, the ads in every corner of the city, superfast transportation and trains in the underground every minute. The illusion of a world as a global, super-technological and limitless village is born. A sense that all this frantic lifestyle is necessary and inevitable emerges.
The savings of our parents are spent in this super-technological world while employment becomes more and more an urban legend. The new contemporary frontier of slavery 2.0 is born. Jobs poorly paid with meal vouchers; fixed-term contracts; easier layoffs; unbearable working hours. The prediction of Charlie Chaplin in his movie, Modern Times, comes true. Man becomes a productive factor with no rights, little money and a need to spend money without worrying too much about the future. It is the betrayal of the dream of a global Californication that we all expected: a happy world with more freedom and less problems to think about; a world where everyone can work and build a better and sustainable future.
But man’s greediness has shattered this dream. The betrayal from a global political class of spineless servants of high finance and powerful world lobbies has sanctioned the end of this dream. And while constitutions drown in an ocean of decay, my question is, what is left of all this?
On the one hand, there is an army of clueless kids, educated in the best prep schools which are financed by international magnates, who repeat as robots notions of economic and political theories aired on televisions and published in newspapers by those same people responsible for such a global delirium. Those same theories that legitimized the unbridled capitalism that is crushing us; theories such as those of the great industrialization or those that ultimately justified the plundering of the marvelous African countries or wars of interest such as those in Iraq or Libya.
On the other hand, there are people who live in the moment, who believe in what the World tells them to believe, only able to find their own identity in the television culture of the Big Brother, phony talk shows or in the trashy pop-porn culture spread throughout the day by MTV. George Orwell’s predictions have never been so true, huh?
And then, what remains is a people of perfect strangers.
I turn around every day, in the train, on the bus, down the street, and I see hundreds of people far away. People with a blank look on their face, lost in the void or on the screen of their smartphones. Lonely, sad, aloof people, with not much of humanity left; people walking quickly through the streets remorselessly hitting whomever is in their path because they are too intent on continuing their virtual conversation with someone miles away; people unable to express emotions or feelings; people too busy masking their loneliness behind the perfect image of their virtually perfect life on Instagram; depressed people no longer connected to reality; people who get together and break up through a telephone because they are incapable and afraid of meeting or knowing each other in a normal, real, natural way. And finally, people unable to associate, to connect, to unite and resist the power, or to oppose unjust decisions.
So what is left of feelings, of humanity, of us being people? For some reason, I’ve always been afraid to answer this question. Particularly, in the last period of my life.
During my time at The Next Century Foundation, I have been able to reflect a lot on politics, religion, people and the complicated relationships that bind us to each other and that bind us to society. I have not really ever considered anything I am writing right now. Not because I did not think about it but rather because this complex machine of intertwined relations, politics, economy, religion and power is difficult to fully understand and, above all, to make it work. And in this sense, in the end you end up accepting it because you understand that things are almost always impossible to change, peace will always be difficult to establish, power will always preserve itself and religion will always be used as a political tool to manipulate the masses. So, almost passively, you end up accepting the status quo of things. Almost like a condition of the universe, immovable and immanent. Everything has always been this way and it will always be this way.
At least until this World decides you are the next target and this status quo affects you in person, lashing out at you with all its strength. And then everything changes. You withdraw, let yourself down, look for explanations, seek yourself and your role in the world. You frantically turn around to find yourself, unsuccessfully. And you cannot help but compare your situation to that of the contemporary world, that of a world that perhaps will never change; and that of the Millennials, that of a simple person surrounded by lonely individuals, unable to sense or feel emotions in one of the largest cities in the world. You wonder if maybe it is just the natural order of things that you eventually have to accept, because perhaps that is how it works, because it has always been and will always be like this. In the last few months of my life, I have been looking for an answer to this question, without luck.
Until something happens; that deus ex machina you need to get you out of trouble. And here comes the answer to your questions. Something that helps you to understand; something like a trip to Holland, a beer with a trusted friend, an exhibition of an artist or walking in the rain in the streets of London without a destination. And it is at that precise moment that when you look into people’s eyes – those you’ve been so reluctant about or that you’ve lost hope in – you suddenly see something different, something you’ve never seen before, something that changes your perspective. And you can suddenly feel a vibe, a feeling, a sparkle that leads you through their eyes. And, like a flash in a pan, you are able to feel all the power and the emotions that each of them has locked within and that can be conveyed through their story or personality. Pure energy, pure emotions, pure humanity. The people’s smiling faces at the Tulip market in Amsterdam; the encouraging wink of a friend down at the pub that – around a pint and some good indie-rock in the background – shows you the right way of looking at things; the power of humanity in the symbolic life scenes of Banksy’s works that lead you to reflect on the true nature of people and humanity; the feeling of the rain falling on your skin in the gray of London’s streets that brings you back to life and connects you to reality again. Your prospects start to change and now you can see things differently. Suddenly you can find an answer to that question in that stream of people and things around you.
And, like a flashback, everything suddenly made sense.
During my time at the Next Century Foundation, I met ambassadors, Lords, religious leaders; I even spoke to the World for 2 minutes before the UN Human Rights Council. All exceptional experiences. However, I now understand that none of these experiences would have made sense without a particular detail that each of them has in common, the confrontation with people. Before the NCF I had not realized how even simply talking with people is essential; how much people can express through their words, their looks or their smiles. And, above all, I had not realized how effective it is to be able to talk with them to try to solve problems.
This is exactly what humanity is. Humanity is talking, confronting each other, solving problems together, uniting different and opposite perspectives. When you can achieve that; when you can take your eyes off your smartphone for a moment and you turn around; when you abandon the social and political fabrications for a moment and drop the mask they gave you, it is only then that you see potential and opportunities in those stranger’s faces rather than indifference and solitude. In that precise moment, you can hear the flow I was talking about earlier. And you understand that that potential is unimaginable and terrifies governments and institutions, and shakes the establishment. Just like the stories I tried to tell you about so far in my articles. And whether it is the Christmas truce or the international mass mobilization for the death of a young man in Egypt, you realise it is all about looking at the world from another perspective. If some people managed to refuse to fight, to kill and be killed, on European soil a little less than a century ago, destroying the socio-political fabrication of wars; if some people managed to get together to protest against a fierce dictator in Egypt without being afraid of the consequences; if one man could revolutionize his country after being imprisoned for 27 years, upsetting the entire institutional set-up based on violence, lies and terror; if other great men like Martin Luther King or Gandhi or so many others have managed to mobilize millions of people around an idea of peace, justice or freedom, then we too can change this mad world.
It is all about being able to channel those vibes into positive, collective paths. And you can only do it through dialogue, confrontation and associationism. Talking and dealing with people, precisely. Alexis de Tocqueville once said that the only way to resist power in a positive and constructive way is through the democratic instrument that starts from the bottom, by means of associationism from the municipal level, from small realities.
People are the solution to the world’s illnesses. And the positive dialogue that you can have with them. Social Capital. It is so simple. The greatest evils of our generation come from this absurd lifestyle that is offered to us in the form of well-being, technology and comfort. Loneliness, depression, indifference, hatred and division are all the fruit of a society that tends to divide us and speculate on our collective incapacity to react, associate and confront each other. It is that simple, and we are the cure.
It is possible. And you can find the proof around you. Turn off the TV, put down your smartphone for a moment. Go down the street, talk to people, listen to what they have to say. Take a hike in the park, maybe in the pouring rain. Try to feel something. Go to the pub, read a newspaper and comment on the news with bystanders. Have a coffee or a beer with them. Ask them how they are and give them a smile. Everything will change, everything will be different.
And speaking of smiles.
Once, a bearded man told me that if you try to smile while walking down the street, this will positively influence your attitude towards others and, above all, your self-confidence. I will never forget those words. I recently tried to do it often and, I’ll tell you something, it worked. If you try to walk down the street smiling at the people you meet, most of them will reply with a smile. And you will feel different as well, more secure, more positive towards others and the world. It’s all about that. Those emotions and feelings I was talking about before. They can come out, if triggered.
We only have to reconsider our values, our priorities for a moment. What we want from life and what we are looking for. And above all, remember who we are and where we come from, always. Love every single rise and fall and take them as an opportunity to grow and improve yourself and the world around you. I think this is the solution, the cure for the ills of mankind. Creating a community of people based on diversity and dialogue. Only then can we overcome all this. And we, Millennials, have boundless potential to do so.
By the way, I have gone too far. And now it’s time to conclude this post.
My time at the NCF gave me a lot. I grew up a lot professionally but mostly as a person. I owe you a lot, William and Veronica, to your kindness and warm welcome. I was welcomed and treated like a son. You gave me a lot to think about and work on. You gave me a smile in tough times and support when needed. And for this, thank you.
Then there is you, Rory, William and Yousef. Some young minds full of passion and desire to change things. You are fantastic. Every day, I saw in your eyes that power and passion of which I spoke about right above, waiting just to be fully exploited. And I know you’ll find a way to do it, it’s just a matter of time.
You were my second family here, in this gigantic crazy world of sharks. I’ll never forget that. And I’d like to conclude this blog post with this thought, while sipping my double espresso in some coffee shop somewhere in London and listening to these fantastic notes of Redemption Song, one of Marley’s masterpieces. He succeeded! He succeeded in uniting people around words of peace and hope. Like Hendrix’s solo or Mercury’s unique voice or even the Boss playing a piano version of Thunder Road. This is the right time, the perfect moment.
Ciao NCF, a presto!
Luctor et Emergo ex Flammis Orior, Per Aspera ad Astra
#lastblogpost #peoplehavethepower #believe #change #ciaoncf
There are four governments in Libya now:
And the international powers watch Libya burn. None bar Italy actually have an embassy in Tripoli. The rest of us watch from afar, though it was us who created this mess.
Italy has her reasons for being more proactively engaged of course, the migrant issue being chief among them. The river of migrants from Africa cuts for the coast through chaos-ridden Libya, and hence through the Med to Italy.
A side-issue here. Italian PHD student Giulio Regeni was beaten to death in Egypt in January 2016. Apparently overzealous members of the security services had been prompted to ruthless murder because of his having met Muslim Brotherhood members as part of research for his thesis on trade unionism.
Italy broke off diplomatic relations with Egypt in protest. So Egypt used its influence over General Haftar of Libya to get him to turn off the tap and stop the migration to Italy. Which Haftar, who had clout with the traffickers, rapidly did. As a consequence, Italy renewed its diplomatic ties with Egypt in September 2017.
Meanwhile, ironically, someone Haftar had no power over re-commenced the trafficking. Haftar had cut migration to a trickle. Now, once again, it is a flood.
We the people of Europe pay a price for the Anglo-French adventure in Libya. Unless, that is, you favour the continuation of this gruellingly cruel migration route
But have any of us the courage to have a diplomatic mission in Tripoli, Libya? No. Well only Italy amongst the countries of the world, and they have no real choice.
Understandable, perhaps. They all left for good soon after the US ambassador was murdered in Benghazi.
But now the killing of the wonderful Chris Stephens in 2012 must be put behind us. It’s time to go back, and go back we must. It is an easy and economical step for which there may be huge dividends, and without which the tide of migrants will almost inevitably continue. It is a step we can and must take.