Former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday called on Libyans in Malta to support the island’s efforts to bring about unity between the two rival factions in the North African country.
“Within our neighbouring country, divisions between those who were once united in toppling the Gaddafi regime have grown steadily deeper,” he said, adding that terrorist organisations, such as Islamic State, were profiting from such divisions.
Speaking at a conference called ‘Libya, an unfinished revolution’, organised by the Kite Group and Leading Talks, Dr Gonzi said he would have rather met just days after the fourth anniversary of Libya’s February 17 revolution to celebrate the benefits reaped after the ousting of the regime, which sadly were not to be.
According to journalist Mary Fitzgerald, who addressed the conference, the ongoing conflict has even split up families and friendships.
Ms Fitzgerald, an analyst specialising in Libya who has been reporting from the ground since 2011, spoke of the effect of the conflict on Libyan people.
When four years ago she crossed the Egyptian border and walked into a revolution, Benghazi was being declared liberated. Benghazi was proud to have given birth to a revolution but four years on, the city was wracked by fighting.
“The bitter conflict has even split families and friendships as they disagree on what caused and what is the solution to the crisis,” she said.
The figures from recent months are grim. Many have been displaced, killed or have left the country. There are acute shortages of fuel and basic food, while power cuts are a daily reality and in some areas people are even using firewood to cook. Libya is facing an economic collapse in the coming years with falling oil stocks and depletion of reserves.
“People are talking of two governments. However, Libya is not governed by any of them but by fear,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
It reminded her of when in northern Ireland people used to warn each other: ‘Whatever you say, say nothing’.
People are talking of two governments. However, Libya is not governed by any of them but by fear
Most Libyans, she insisted, were fed up with the bloodshed and a particular weariness had crept in.
In his speech earlier, Dr Gonzi spoke of the continuous conflict which frequently brought news of horrible atrocities perpetrated by people who used religion to justify inhumane actions.
“Do we turn a blind eye to all of this? Do we resign ourselves to what appears to be an inevitable collapse of a country rich in history, culture, heritage and resources?
“Worse still, do we surrender and give way to those who hold that Libya can only survive under a dictatorship that is free to threaten, kill, victimise and torture everyone into submission?”
There were no easy answers and no simple solutions, he said.
The international community, especially Europe, must continue to believe that Libya and its people could resolve their differences and translate the dreams that kicked off the 2011 uprising into reality.
“From the very start of the Arab Spring, which led me and my government to adopt a number of high-risk decisions in 2011, the notion was that as a sovereign people, Libyans had the right to see their will prevail, to have their aspirations expressed openly and freely,” he said. No authoritarian regime had the right to suppress people’s aspirations for a democratic state.
This is what made him decide not to return the two Mirage jet fighters to Libya after they sought refuge in Malta in February of 2012.
“I continue to hope that the competing factions understand this is the time to unite against anything threatening dignity and human rights,” he said, urging Libyans in Malta to embrace the Maltese effort to bring about unity in place of division.
Ambassador Bernardino Leon’s UN mission deserved everyone’s full support, he added. The UN’s efforts, however, depended on the disposition of all parties to compromise. The conference was also addressed by Parliamentary Secretary Ian Borg, who reiterated the importance of the UN’s mission to bring both sides together in dialogue.
MEP Roberta Metsola said the extremist group IS could only be defeated by a strong Libya but the time pressure was real. Malta could offer its unique position to find common ground and seek to support steps by Libyans to reach out to the factions. “We can assist the process without imposition,” she insisted.