Ayat Mneina
Last updated: 28 November, 2012

“It is not only incredibly infeasible to organize such large payouts, it is also harmful to the progress of the country”

The approach that the new Libya seems to be taking towards the years of pain, humiliation, and frustration sustained during the former regime, is one that raises alarm. Not long after the official liberation of Libya did the National Transitional Council and the subsequent governing bodies began making announcements promising compensation to Libya’s freedom fighters for defending their country, to those held as political prisoners under the former regime and most recently, veterans of the infamous war on Chad in 1987.

Many other propositions like these have been made in the past few months, some making headlines, others quickly fading, and perhaps even more never surfacing into the public arena.   Most of these announcements have been outlined so loosely that they potentially apply to thousands of Libyans. It is not only incredibly infeasible to organize such large payouts, it is also harmful to the progress of the country.

Let us re-frame this approach. If Libyans take it upon themselves to serve their country, not motivated by the anticipation of gaining cash rewards (should they survive), then why pay them?

Furthermore, most Libyans have sacrificed for Libya; either during the past forty-two years under Gaddafi or during the revolution. Should they all be compensated monetarily? If so, how do bravery, courage and patience translate into Libyan dinars? How does one put a price tag on the ultimate price paid by thousands of Libyans over the past four decades?

If the ultimate sacrifice one may make for their country is with life, then isn’t the ultimate prize the victory of a free Libya, liberated for all Libyans to mend and rebuild a modern state and begin to enjoy the rights that they bravely fought for?

Why is it that instead of being grateful that we survived and successfully achieved the universal rights and freedoms that others around the world continue to fight for, we wish to sell out and receive compensation?

Compensation is not only inappropriate, it is reminiscent of the former regime.

When we remember the horrific tragedies inflicted on the Libyan people and the world during the rule of the tyrant and the subsequent cowardly method his regime used to weasel itself out of sanctions and buy silence, shouldn’t we wash our hands clean of it? If compensation is how those criminals tried to make it up to the families who lost their loved ones, should we – the victims of the former regime – engage in the same dealings? The idea of compensation has been permanently tainted, an association that Libya – free from all of the crimes and injustice of its past – should stay away from for good.

It is possible that some of the recent attempts to compensate various groups in Libya were intended to help mend some of the wounds inflicted upon them, to help the healing process. It is also easy to see how such a mindset could prove destructive. We run the risk of having everyone looking to be compensated, developing a sense of entitlement where personal gain is more sought after than the gain for Libya. This shift in focus from what the original goals of the revolution were may serve to benefit the Libyan individuals who are lucky enough to have the ‘wasta’ to actually cash in their struggles for money. More importantly, it is dangerously distracting an already fragile road to a prosperous Libya for which we were all willing to fight and die for not long ago.

Unfortunately, the strong tradition of tribal justice, that was exploited by the regime and in some cases used to pit different tribes against each other as they vied for Gaddafi’s approval or attempted to avoid his wrath, continues to interfere with Libyan society. The notions that the law rests in the hands of the tribes is something that complicates the government’s simplest duties.  By extension, tribal relations are certainly a factor in terms of compensation; which tribes to satisfy and which to ignore largely rests on the amount of pressure (using threats or force) that they can exert on the government.

Cultivating – or rather reviving – such habits so early on in Libya’s chance to shine will tarnish the country’s immediate potential and permanently hinder future generations to come. Gaddafi and his regime were notorious for their shortsightedness, greed, and sheer corruption. Why are we so eager to go down that road again? Libya has wealth, a wealth that could ‘compensate’ every citizen, but it seriously lacks a responsible, organized leadership needed to do so. Even if effective leadership existed in Libya, we would be completely narrow-minded to begin thinking of our own personal gains before considering the country’s development; something that would benefit us all moving forward.

Personally, I believe that most Libyans share the above concerns and would put Libya before themselves. However, I am deeply disturbed with the overall silence there is towards decisions like these. Details of compensation programs are not understood nor are they discussed openly, or made accessible to the public. It is obvious that there is no set structure or regulations regarding what should be a very serious responsibility that the government is choosing to take on at such an early stage of transition. Who is eligible, why and how much are things that appear to be inconsistent, sudden, and quick to fade into the background which make the entire process questionable.

In fact, it appears to be a charade that some have been orchestrating not to help those deserving to be compensated, but for money to disappear. Corruption was a serious ailment before and will surely prove to be a struggle now so it is not beyond me to entertain the idea that this is yet another façade for large amounts of money to be transferred from the wealth of Libya to the deep pockets of certain citizens. Whether or not this is occurring out of habit (that they practiced this before the revolution) or a new found discovery by those jaded in the past who seek redemption, the bottom line is that is dangerous to us all.

It would be more beneficial for the government to be prudent at this stage of development, to be very picky with how revenues are spent and where Libya’s money is allocated, making sure the majority of it being invested in the country. That is, spending on our infrastructure, education systems, health care, security – on our future. Top priorities in Libya now include instating justice and eliminating injustice; two things that no amount of money can buy.

Should the government seek to acknowledge the exemplary actions of its citizens, why not commemorate their merit in a way it can be preserved in our history? The adoption of official merit systems would respectfully honour our heroes and allow for the redirection of focus to the true goals of the revolution.

This issue, although not largely contested and perhaps not the most pressing is one that must be discussed. I think it is imperative that the government is held accountable for this and for all of Libya’s struggles – which are ultimately its responsibility. This phase will not be easy or simple and I am more than willing to do my part as a Libyan citizen, but reckless thievery is despicable and must cease before we can be honest about Libya and the way forward.

Bottom line, Libya should steer clear of compensation. It should insist and demand that any such notions be dismissed immediately – at least until Libya can call itself a country that serves its people, guarantees their safety, and presents them with ample opportunity to thrive.