Hope Springs from Youth and Local Communities in Libya
Since 2011, United States Institute of Peace (USIP) engagement in Libya with research, community dialogue, and trainings in conflict resolution and facilitation has found many youths eager to reach across their country’s communal divisions. “Salim,” a Libyan 24-year-old university student, works energetically with charity organizations in the city of Misrata. He asked that his real name not be published to avoid being targeted by those who would oppose his peacebuilding efforts.
When Libyans revolted against the Qaddafi regime in 2011, Salim and his fellow Misratans fought Qaddafi’s forces. It was “a battle against oppression,” Salim said, meant to bring freedom and hope.
After Qaddafi’s ouster, fighting continued across Libya. Salim and other Misrata youth battled armed groups from communities that had defended Qaddafi. Three years after, militias were still feuding, and the Misrata faction was holding more than 50 Bani Walid men as prisoners.
Salim had friends from Bani Walid. Late in 2014, fighters from the two factions met for talks, and Salim took part. “I realized that those personal connections to these guys (from Bani Walid) were still important to me,” Salim said. “And talking with them, I understood that their own situation was not simple. If they fought for the Qaddafi regime, it was because somehow the regime coerced them to take up arms, or sometimes because they felt threatened and with no protection.” Salim helped negotiate the Misratans’ release of seven Bani Walid youth.
Believing that Libya’s post-2011 violence was ripping the nation’s social fabric, Salim withdrew from further fighting—a step that some of his former comrades might regard as treachery. “I refuse to take part in an act of vengeance,” Salim said. “That is not what 2011 was all about, and if we can be reminded that our aspiration was freedom and a better life, we might start thinking differently.”