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Libya 2013: A tale of two revolutions

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A year ago it was easy to draw a line between those who were for the revolution and those who were against it. Twelve months later and that line has been rubbed out and redrawn so many times.

Rhiannon Smith
10 February 2013

On February 17, 2013, Libya will be celebrating the two year anniversary of the revolution which ousted Muammar Gaddafi from power and ushered in Libya's fledgling democracy. The atmosphere in the lead up to the first anniversary was characterised by camaraderie, optimism and festivity, yet this year the same period has been marked by feelings of frustration, uncertainty and disappointment.

February 17, 2012 saw huge parties in the streets of Tripoli, Libyan flags waving from every window and revolutionary music blaring across the city. Revolutionaries who had put down their guns months before volunteered to take up arms once again, heeding the government's call to provide extra security in case Gaddafi loyalists attempted to sabotage the celebrations. A year ago it was easy to draw a line between those who were for the revolution and those who were against it. Twelve months later and that line has been rubbed out and redrawn so many times that all that is left is a grey smudge that blurs the distinctions between enemy, ally and friend.

Second revolution

This year, as with last year, foreign companies are on high alert for security threats with some airlines suspending their flights over the anniversary and many expats leaving the country for the duration of the festivities. However the threat this year is not seen to be Gaddafi's fifth column, but rather what is being dubbed Libya's 'second revolution' scheduled for February 15.

Over the past few days Libya's social media forums have been buzzing with talk of mass protests organised for that day to, “correct the course of the revolution”. Although the call for popular revolt against the current regime originated from federalists in the east of Libya, their expression of anger and disappointment seems to have struck a chord with people across the country. Libyans are becoming extremely frustrated with the slow pace of reform within the country and accuse the government and GNC of being ineffective and too weak to restore security and rule of law to Libya. 

Whereas this time last year the 'thuwar' (revolutionaries) were still hailed as heroes and defenders of the revolution, a year later Libyans are becoming increasing hostile towards these men who tend to exercise their right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression at the point of a gun. Indeed there is a feeling that these revolutionaries-turned-militias are now a bigger obstacle to achieving the goals of the revolution than any force that could be mustered by Gaddafi loyalists.

Those calling for demonstrations on February 15 are keen to stress that these are meant to be peaceful protests, yet although patience with the government is growing thin and most Libyans agree that the government should be doing a better job, many are wary of this 'second revolution'. Although the intentions of the organisers may be widespread, peaceful protest, it will be all too easy for this exercise in freedom of expression to be hijacked by those who want to cause serious disruption whether they are militias, Islamists or Gaddafi supporters.

Those who are completely opposed to these mass protests argue that while the government is lacking in many aspects, it is nonetheless an elected, legitimate body and should be supported in its struggle to restore stability and prosperity to Libya. By creating disruption and chaos just two days before the anniversary of the revolution, protesters will only be making the government's bid to maintain security even more difficult.

Grinding to a halt

Unsurprisingly this is the view echoed by the government itself. There are plans to beef up security all across the country in the days before and after the anniversary, and although Prime Minister Ali Zeidan stressed that "the right to demonstrate is guaranteed”, he was also clear that "there are those who want to cause disruption and disorder. The security forces will not give them the opportunity to disrupt".

Leaflets distributed around Tripoli this week urged residents to stock up on fuel and food in anticipation of the country grinding to a halt after the February 15 protests. This suggests more is planned than just shouting slogans and waving placards, but whether supporters of Libya's 'second revolution' will be successful and achieve their aims remains to be seen.

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