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Opinion: The unwarranted international demonising of Libya and Benghazi

British security analyst Richard Galustian takes issue with the way Libya is being portrayed in the international media and by some foreign governments.

After the fall of Tripoli in 2011, Western politicians were guilty of painting a rosy and unrealistic picture of what would happen next. Outside observers with a superficial knowledge of Libya, its history, people and culture instantly assumed the post-Qaddafi era would be devoid of problems.

The West, in its eagerness to secure lucrative contracts and justify its involvement in the uprising against Qaddafi, peddled lies to the media. It chose to ignore Libya’s recent history of intense political in-fighting, and this has resulted in major governance flaws which will take years to overcome.

Unfortunately, the Western media continues to see Libya’s political and security problems in simplistic terms. The rebels, many of whom made great sacrifices to rid the country of its old tyrant, are now depicted as the ugly face of the post-revolution era. These insurgents – who until recently could do no wrong – have suddenly become criminals who are jeopardising the security of Libya.

I am shocked by the naivety of Western governments who did not realise that it would take at least two years for Libya to recover from a bloody civil war. Today, still awash with weapons, some of which have been supplied by Western states, Libya needs to achieve political stability before state institutions and the police, in particular, are strong enough to implement overall security.

As a veteran of many conflicts, including Iraq and Afghanistan, I know that a no-nonsense, cogent approach is required to understand countries in a post-revolutionary state. Libya is unique and has its own issues to resolve.

It is the job of the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to protect British subjects and British interests. However, sometimes its cautious approach is too extreme and can be detrimental to our national interests. Of course, we are all mindful of the tragic loss of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens in September 2012 and the recent appalling assault of two British women in Benghazi.

However, the FCO assessment of Libya, and especially its current advice about Benghazi, contradicts the reality on the ground. I am aware that readers would weigh the claim of a lone British businessman against our state institutions. But there is no substitute for first-hand experience. I have been living in, and travelling across, Libya for the past 14 months and, prior to that, visited the country regularly since 2007.

My frequent recent trips to Benghazi, as well as my decision to stay there for weeks on end in defiance of Britain’s FCO travel advice, has always been carefully measured. In stark contrast to what may appear to some as suicidal on my part, I have always felt very safe in Benghazi and I have also been privileged to rely on the friendships of ordinary Libyans.

My Libyan friends have been very disappointed with the harsh British rhetoric on Libya, particularly the demonising of Benghazi. They point out the abnormal violence and other gun-related crime that takes place on a more frequent basis in supposedly conflict-free parts of the world. Why is it that thousands of criminal acts take place in the USA, including mass shootings, and yet Libyans are demonised?

Libyans only ask for fair and honest media coverage. They do not differentiate between acts of crime and terrorism, and describe all incidents as the result of domestic political conflicts.

Perhaps we are all guilty of unrealistic expectations from a country that stands at a crossroads. In our eagerness to exaggerate Libya’s challenges, we fail to acknowledge both the resilience of its people and the country’s determination to resolve internal differences through peaceful means.

In the words of US President Teddy Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.”

The credit belongs to the Libyans who are actually in the arena and are striving to achieve a strong and unified state.

Opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the Libya Herald

Article by Richard Galustian, Libya Herald.

This article was originally published here.


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