In 2011, we knew that the transition to a democratic Libya would be complicated. Ten years later, we can see that it was a failure.
In 2011, Khalid Albaih’s cartoons on the Arab Spring went viral in the Middle East and North Africa. In this series for Al Jazeera, he revisits some of his work, reflecting on the difference the past decade has made for the people of the region.
I grew up in Doha, not knowing much about Libya except for Muammar Gaddafi, whose popstar attitude – expressed in his extravagant fashion choices and feminine bodyguards – made him the Michael Jackson of politics in the region. For me it was Saddam Hussain with a fashion sense and more kids.
Gaddafi had a strong hold on power for 40 years. Despite his support for revolutionary groups and ideas abroad, such as the Black Panthers and the Polisario Front, in Libya, Gaddafi was brutal towards those who opposed him.
For years, Libyan youth was seen as apolitical, largely because of the way Gaddafi viewed his enemies and because the country was seen as financially stable compared to the rest of the Arab world.
But in early February 2011, they proved the world wrong. Libya had been hit by the same flames of anger that had ignited the Arab Spring in Tunisia a few months earlier. And it turned out that being financially comfortable was not a substitute for freedom.
The country fearlessly rose up against Gaddafi, sounding the alarm for dictators in the region: if the Libyan people were not afraid of Gaddafi, that meant that none of them were safe either. . I continue to believe that the protests in Libya were the catalyst for regional governments to turn to extreme violence as a means of quelling the uprisings.
In early 2011, I remember looking at grainy Al Jazeera cellphone images of protesters throwing their shoes at a cartoon of Gaddafi engraved on a wall. The existence of the cartoon was enough to show how much the public’s fear of it had been shattered. Street art meant that someone dared to risk their life to create it. The fact that the artist had time to draw it and that people were protesting and filming it was a clear indication that the revolution was real.
Then what happened next happened too quickly: the NATO-led air intervention and the death of Gaddafi at the hands of the rebels in October 2011. But the fighting never stopped because, from the army to the system judiciary, there had been no independent institutions in the country and the unity among the Libyan tribal society was weak. It was a fact that, unfortunately, Gaddafi was Libya.
The transition to a new democratic Libya would be complicated. That’s what this #khartoon I drew in 2011 was all about.
Today, in 2021, we see that the democratic transition has been a failure.
Libya, as a unified state, finally collapsed in 2014. Meanwhile, the distribution of Gaddafi’s arsenal among local factions backed by geopolitics, the refugee crisis, human trafficking and the re-established slave trade, ISIS (ISIS) and the inability to unite the fighting factions made the situation even more complicated.
Ten years later, the situation in Libya is still a Rubik’s cube of complexity – an ongoing game, a puzzle that remains unsolved. Yet hope still remains. Spring will return.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.