By Najwa Bin Wahibah
June 26, 2013
Two years after the end of the 2011 uprising, the new Libya is still in the making and still suffers from instability and violence. The past few weeks have seen continued violence in various places, including Tripoli. On June 8, clashes between protesters and militia in Benghazi left at least 30 people dead, leading to the resignation of Libya’s army chief of staff, Youssef al-Mangoush. Militias continue to operate while the government seems unable to stop them. However, despite the violence, a large majority of the younger generation is striving to build the country of which they have always dreamed. We, the youths, are still working toward this goal.
Now, two years on, thousands of Libyan civil society organizations have sprung up, operating like busy beehives in various cities with many volunteers thanks to the energy and determination of youths.
The former military regime wiped out civil society organisations in Libya, leading many to doubt whether Libyans even had the capacity to develop a culture of civic involvement. But young Libyans, men and women, have proved to the world that they are indeed capable of building peace, that they can fulfill the demands for social justice and that they can make a better life for themselves and their communities.
When parts of the country were undergoing an armed struggle between supporters of the old regime and different militias in September 2011, Libyan youths were quick to organize. Their initiatives focused mainly on relief efforts to assist those affected by the armed struggle. Initiatives were also focused on rejecting violence and on the need for dialogue to solve problems.
For example, a group of young Libyans established the National Reconciliation Initiative to promote reconciliation between followers of the former regime and the rest of the population. Committees were formed in September 2011 to resolve the conflict in the city of Bani al-Walid without the use of arms. Although their efforts were not as successful as hoped because some local councils did not cooperate as expected, the committees were a step in the right direction.
And while media focused on the violence happening on the ground, youths were tackling issues they couldn’t in the past, like health, education and the environment.
In October 2012, the Libyan Federation for Combating Cancer organized an awareness campaign in secondary schools in many areas in Libya, including Benghazi, Tripoli and Zliten. Umm Sanad, one of the participants, says: “Breast cancer was a taboo in Libya. We didn’t know about it, [but] thanks to this campaign women [now] know how it can be detected.” The campaign promoted awareness about the disease and encouraged early detection, dispelling the culture of shame and shyness.
Youth organizations are also active in environmental protection after such groups had been very limited in number and in their activities for decades. One youth activist and member of the Oxygen Society for Environmental Protection said: “Libyan youth are becoming very active in the environment field, and awareness campaigns to change the attitudes of people toward the environment are taking place.”
The Oxygen Society for Environmental Protection for its part launched a novel campaign to promote awareness of the pollution risks of plastic bags.
The formation of such groups is a positive step and an achievement that continues to bear fruit every day, despite obstacles. For example, thanks to the work of these organizations, Libyan authorities have begun reprimanding people who cut down trees.
Libya participated in the Global Earth Hour at the end of March 2012 under the direction of youths, albeit on a small scale. And in 2013, participation expanded and lights were turned off in a number of large buildings in Tripoli, Benghazi, Beida and Gharyan. Young Libyans organizing the campaigns called on the electricity minister to participate, highlighting the dangers of global warming and encouraging the use of renewable sources of energy.
The continuing violence is depressing to many, and there are complaints by some organizations that a number of local councils in several governorates are not cooperating with youth-led campaigns and ideas. But despite these and other obstacles, youths continue on with their efforts, and have succeeded in attracting many supporters among Libyan society who believe in their goals and intentions.
The strength of the youths lies in their persistence to continue to build their nation, in the hope that the future will be better.
Najwa Bin Wahibah is a Libyan journalist and activist in environmental protection and civil action.
Source: New Age Islam publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service