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Libya: Identity and legitimisation still needs official paperwork

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In the aftermath of the revolution, many Libyans are confronted with significant bureaucratic hurdles. Unable to travel freely, procure a passport, and secure necessary paperwork.

Sara ElGaddari
21 May 2012

I was born in Benghazi in 1981 and spent my formative years between family homes in Benghazi and Marsa al Brega. We left in 1991 and did not return, until 2003, when I travelled solo to my home city via Tripoli. My shiny new green passport was subsequently confiscated whilst I was checked and registered on several security lists.  Since then, my trips to see relatives have been similarly fraught with bureaucratic red tape and have proven extremely stressful experiences.

I mention these traumatic encounters because I, as well as many other Libyan citizens, are now faced with bureaucratic hurdles that prevent freedom of travel within and outside of the country. Indeed, according to Iman el Gamaty, residents in cities such as Benghazi are unable at present to even procure a family book, let alone a passport. The family book, as a collection of marriage, birth and death certificates of each family is an essential pre-requisite for any form of identity card, as well as employment, educational and other paperwork. Whilst I recognised in an earlier article that the interim government continued to face competing demands on its resources, I would like to take the opportunity here to urge the bureaucracy, on behalf of many families in and outside of the country, to make this a top priority.

My father in England, like our family members in Libya, holds only Libyan citizenship and therefore cannot enter or leave the country without major difficulties (I will clarify here that he does hold valid documentation allowing him to reside in the UK). In London, the Libyan Embassy does not currently have either temporary travel documentation or passports to issue for Libyans trying to travel home. In the words of an Embassy staffer (who shall remain anonymous); “It’s chaos here at the moment”. At the same time, my Uncle Awad in Benghazi is struggling to get the necessary paperwork to attempt to travel outside of the country. Without this official paperwork, and unless you hold dual nationality, many are prevented from travelling, reuniting with family members and vitally, cannot assert their right to determine the course of their own lives and explore their new freedoms. While my father, like others since February 2011, can find their way into Libya, they will not be able to re-enter European states, including the United Kingdom, unless they hold valid return travel documentation.

The new political leadership must listen, and respond to, the frustrations of its citizens, as a foundation stone of the democratic reform process.

In the coming weeks and months, this column would like to explore issues of democratic expression, individual rights and the potential for the establishment and growth of a civil society infrastructure across the region. Simultaneously, I would like to challenge current widely-held notions that the revolutions that have occurred, and the uprisings that continue, are either unpredictable or unforeseen. I invite you, the reader, to participate using our Arab Awakening ‘You Tell Us’ section and to share your experiences on the issues that we will highlight every week.

I’m honoured to have the opportunity to write for openDemocracy’s Arab Awakening section, and in so doing, I hope to draw attention to emerging ideas and opinions from people across the region. I firmly believe that North Africa will be, and indeed already is, at the forefront of political, civil and social change in a new era that questions what it means to be a free human being in the 21st century.

This article is part of Arab Awakening's This week's window into the Middle East.

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