CAIRO – 9 May 2017: Libya’s plethora of non-governmental groups which use their varying resources to exert influence on politics and decision-making, which happen mostly in the framework of government, are in many ways a result of the fact that Libya has yet to set its priorities regarding political pluralism.
Political pluralism is a participatory type of government in which the politics of the country are defined by the needs and wants of many. The central question for classical pluralism is how power and influence are distributed in a political process.
In concept, a politically pluralistic society provides space for all groups to have their voices heard, and individuals and groups exert enough influence to, hopefully, ensure that the needs and wants of most sectors are met. It also holds that no one ideology should be imposed on all sectors, and rather that the needs of both the majority and minority are met.
The concepts of pluralism can be applied beyond politics, and in culture and society include stable democratic principles, a good standard of life, vital practical democratic norms, skills and traditions, and most important of all, a society of tolerance which allows for divergent thinking.
Should all its requirements be met, political pluralism would seem to offer a sturdy framework to support a diverse society. In application, however, it doesn’t always work that way and no one ideology is suited to every nation.
In the case of Libya, the application of political pluralism resulted in the rule of militias in the Libyan Parliament, absence of normal social life and absence of the rule of law. It cannot be argued that having militias in parliament is conducive to good governance, and arguably pluralism itself is not suited to some cases – perhaps, including that of Libya.
In attempting to attain a pluralistic society without a foundation of democracy, elections and political parties, Libya found that instead pluralism exacerbated the ideological differences between its many groups and, without disarmament, militias were able to forcibly defend radical ideologies.
To dig deeper into the reality of political pluralism in Libya, Egypt Today spoke with Zahra Langhi on the sidelines of the Regional Youth Exchange Programme hosted and conducted by the Swedish Institute in Alexandria, Egypt in late April.
Langhi is the cofounder of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP), a movement advocating for women’s socio-political empowerment and peace building. As an activist she has advocated for both human and women’s rights, and she is also a gender specialist.
Langhi was invited to the conference to participate in one of the panels, discussing “Participation and Pluralism: the Libyan Case.”
How do you see pluralism in Libya?
Pluralism is meant to be wider than just a political aspect; it should be cultural, social and gender based. Our societies should accept pluralism. In the Libyan case, we focused more on pluralism politically in elections and the formation of political parties, and this happened due to the deprivation of effective pluralism in past decades. Nevertheless, pluralism enriches political life when it includes social and cultural life. Neglecting both social and cultural aspects of pluralism negatively affected political pluralism in Libya.
Does pluralism affect identity? Is there a state of excessive political pluralism in Arab countries, especially in the Libyan case?
After the revolutions of the so-called “Arab Spring,” we need a new definition of the national state and we need to redefine the concept of “The Nation;” we need decentralization of authority and more engagement of tribal minorities. We have been poured and ruled with Arab nationalism that consequently affected nationalism on the state level, and other identities. “Collective Identity” was negatively affected because of that.
Consequently, tribal minorities in Libya, like El Amazigh, have demands related to their identity. So now we need integration of different identities under one Libyan umbrella. We should not be forgetting about our tribal identities, we should preserve them and focus on them culturally while adopting a strategy of real national integration. We need to redefine the concept of “collective identity” under the national flag of the Libyan state.
The challenge now is the necessity of creating a balance between the partial identities and the national ones, along with no discrimination. Examples of collective identities in Libya are the Amazigh identity, the tribes of Barqa region and the Tabu identity.
Reflecting on what you said, did a pan-Arab identity and favoring it cause the recent rise of tribal identities over the national one and tribes’ demands, or does the problem lay in the amount of marginalization they faced in past decades?
Indeed the problem is in decades of marginalization, which resulted in what we see today. The lack of development projects in certain regions, civic and cultural engagement are what caused the rise of minorities’ identities over the national one in the Libyan case. It is also important to bear in mind that pluralism has so many aspects, not only political or ideological.
Can democracy cope with the tribal nature of Libya?
“Tribes,” as a social component, are meant to enrich the political life of the Libyan nation, yet our political tendencies do not necessarily have to be tribal. The main reason behind the abortion of the Libyan case [for change] is the chaotic, excessive presence of weapons in the hands of militias and the lack of rule of law. Militias have a huge amount of money and armaments that make them stronger than the Libyan state’s institutions in some cases. King Mohamed Idris El Senoussi had a wise strategy in contributing to the Libyan tribes in building the modern state of Libya after independence. Tribes are not an obstacle for building a new state; on the contrary, they have a very important role to play in peace building. Yet, militias are an obstacle.
In your opinion, what are the most dangerous ideologies forming a challenge for re-building the Libyan state now?
I find all radical Islamist movements’ ideologies threatening in all aspects. I find their ideologies threatening in all aspects, and some militias are only criminal, not ideological. The political conflict in Libya is controlled by two main pillars, one is ideological and the second is purely material. The culture of looting is what is driving the conflict between groups in Libya today.
How do you see the international dialogue between young people today, hosted by the Swedish Institute?
The Swedish institute gives an excellent opportunity for dialogue on all aspects and topics between young people from mainly North Africa and Europe. The world is facing the same amount of challenges nowadays, most importantly the crises of identities both regions and the lack of opportunities of political participation available for young people in their countries.