AFRICANGLOBE – Five years after an uprising killed Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, residents in the capital spoke about how they have grown to miss the longtime strongman as the frustrations of daily life mount.
“I hate to say it but our life was better under the previous regime,” Fayza Al Naas, a 42-year-old pharmacist, told reporters referring to Gaddafi’s more than four decades of rule. Now “we wait for hours outside banks to beg cashiers to give us some of our own money. Everything is three times more expensive”.
During Gaddafi’s rule the country had free education and health care and the government spent billions of dollars from oil revenues on social programs. Homelessness and illiteracy were almost wiped out in 2011, according to data from the World Bank and the United Nations.
The country’s income per capita was at US$12,000, which is one of the highest in the region. The country also had one of the most progressive laws in the region concerning women as it supported their right to work and dress as they like since the 1960s, which was unprecedented at the time in many Middle Eastern and African countries.
For the past five months, forces loyal to the unity government have been fighting to expel the last remaining militants from Sirte, with support from U.S. airstrikes since early August.
Meanwhile, other forces loyal to the eastern parliament and led by the controversial General Khalifa Haftar seized key oil terminals to the east of Sirte last month. This allowed Libya’s National Oil Company to resume crude exports.
Gen Haftar, who presents himself as Libya’s savior in the face of a growing extremist threat, is a hugely divisive figure.
While his forces have ousted most of the extremists from Benghazi his detractors accuse him of working toward the single goal of seizing power to establish a military dictatorship.
“Libyans are forced to choose between two extremes: either chaos with militias and ISIL as the dominant forces, or military rule,” Libya analyst Mohamed Eljarh of the Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East said. “No other convincing options are on offer.”
The persistent chaos has also enabled human traffickers to step up their lucrative trade in the Mediterranean nation, with hundreds of refugees drowning off the Libyan coast after trying to get to Europe.