Libya: marked by instability

Recently the Libyan coalition in parliament has collapsed and the Prime Minister, Mustafa Abu Shagur, has been removed in a vote of no confidence. On Oct 14, the Libyan parliament elected a new prime minister, Ali Zidan, another former independent congressman.

He will presumably lead the country for the next 20 months. He has stated that the priority of his government will focus on security and political stability during this transitional stage.

This turmoil is an accumulation of events started by the Arab Spring, which overthrew long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who had ruled from 1969.  The revolution started with peaceful protests on Feb. 15 2011 in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest eastern city, where Gaddafi’s security forces brutally suppressed these protests.  The revolution would continue to be centered on Benghazi until the capitol Tripoli was taken by rebel forces later in August 2011. 

                  The Obama administration and the Democratic Senate were major proponents of intervention in Libya. Republican House of Representatives were very critical of the administration’s stance towards intervention.  They repeatedly said that the Obama administration did not provide evidence for a military intervention in Libya. After military action was authorized by President Obama, the House continually tried to pull out of the Libyan conflict by using the War Powers Act to stop the war’s funding, but the mission was nonetheless successful. With the help of other NATO countries, the Libyan rebels eventually took Tripoli in late August, and Gaddafi was killed on Oct. 20 2011 by rebel forces.

                  With a government torn apart by political turmoil, Libya focused on holding elections for prime minister. One potential candidate was UTSA professor of political science Dr. Mansour El-Kikhia. El-Kikhia whose family had strong political ties in Libya, was strongly opposed to the Gaddafi regime.  El-Kikhia’s father was the first prime minister of the eastern region of Cyrenaica, where Benghazi is located, and his cousin was the Libyan Foreign Minister under Gaddafi, but he defected and was killed for this in 1993.

Libya’s most widely publicized incident was the terrorist attack on Sep. 11, 2012 that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens.  This attack is now officially called a pre-planned terrorist attack by the Department of Defense. The attack was carried out under the veil of a series of protest done over an anti-Islamic film called “Innocence of Muslims,” made by Nakoula Basseley.

Soon after the attack, Benghazi protesters, angry over the attack on the U.S., overran the Islamist bases and drove them out of the city. The Libyan President quickly followed their example and decreed that all revolutionary militia groups must submit to the government or be disbanded.

The attack was devastating for the U.S. and appalled many students at UTSA. Boyd Garriot, a sophomore economics major considers the death of Ambassador Stevens to be “an absolute tragedy.”  “I believe we should condemn the attack as both the U.S. and Libyan governments already have,” he says. When it comes to foreign intervention, Garriot believes the U.S. should use military force “only in retaliation, never in aggression. If we treated all countries with more respect and less drone strikes, we would see fewer acts of terror like the one in Benghazi,” he says.

Alyssa Alaine, a junior history major, was similarly distraught by the murder of Ambassador Stevens “the loss of Chris Stevens was heartbreaking; his death certainly influenced Americans to question foreign policy and more importantly, our safety.”

 Concerning foreign policy towards countries such as Libya, Alaine says, “I was extremely bothered when I discovered that our government cut back security on such an infamous day, particularly in a hostile region, like Libya. However, I worry American funds that intend to help restore foreign governments, all too often, end up in the wrong hands.”

Many elected officials in congress have been advocating a freeze on U.S. aid to Libya over the Sept. 11 attack that killed Ambassador Stevens, blaming the Libyan government for the lack of security at the consulate in Benghazi. However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly said that doing this would negatively affect U.S. interests.  Clinton accuses those trying to freeze U.S. aid as believing that these democratic transitions as “ours to win or lose” and believes that the U.S. should stand with those who wish to “strengthen democratic institutions, defend universal rights, and drive inclusive economic growth.”