On Wednesday, September 7, the Middle East Institute hosted US Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID Mark Ward, and Director of Community Stabilization at International Relief and Development Travis Gartner. The discussion, titled “Rebuilding Libya: A Status Report on the Humanitarian Situation on the Ground,” was held at the International Press Club and addressed Libya’s present and future challenges.
Ambassador Cretz began by highlighting the Libyan people’s determination in opposing the Qaddhafi regime. He commented on the International Conference in Support of the New Libya, held in Paris on September 1: “There certainly was a sense of pride in talking to the TNC leadership; the international community was simply amazed at the courage that the Libyan people had shown in taking to the streets and fighting this dictator that had suffocated them for the past 42 years.” The primary purpose of the conference was to plan future steps for Libya and identify areas of need; to secure and stabilize the country, including demilitarizing citizen militias and absorbing them into Libyan state security; clearing explosives and weapons left behind by the Qaddhafi regime; and searching for Qaddhafi and his remaining sons, Saadi and Saif. These key individuals, Cretz said, pose a continued threat to the future of Libya. Progress continues to be made in security and work is ongoing by Libyan security forces and NATO.
The second priority area is the Libyan economy. Ambassador Cretz reiterated the need for frozen Libyan assets to be made accessible to the National Transitional Council (NTC) in order to bolster the new Libyan government’s budget. Cretz stated that before the revolution in Libya there had been $150 billion worth of active contracts between international parties and the Qaddhafi government. Now the NTC is working towards reviewing and reinstating these contracts, especially those concerning the extraction, refinement, and export of oil. The NTC, which Cretz says is gaining recognition from the international community, is officially recognized by 65 nations, including many (though not all) of its African neighbors, the GCC, the Arab League, NATO and the United States. Ambassador Cretz emphasized the importance of US support of the NTC and reminded the audience that many uncertainties and obstacles lie on the road to democracy in Libya. “The final goal is that we are committed to helping the NTC pave the path to peaceful and inclusive democracy. None of us can predict what that democracy is going to look like. It’s probably going to be messy as they try to put this country together again.”
In the question and answer session, Ambassador Cretz was asked when the US would reestablish a physical presence in Libya. Ambassador Cretz replied that the US Embassy in Tripoli had been badly burned during the conflict and the US was recalibrating its diplomatic approach to Libya before returning to the country. Ambassador Cretz was also asked about the repayment of NATO expenses incurred during the Libyan Revolution. He responded that it would be premature at this point to discuss repayment and that that discussion should wait until after Libya is stabilized. Reflecting on US support in the future of Libya, he added: “The key to this is that it’s going to be Libyan led. And we’re not going to dictate terms on how they will proceed. But we’ll be there to help should they need our help. And at the end of the day, maybe five or ten years from now, or maybe sooner, we may have a conversation and say that there is a democracy in Libya and the US had a role to play in it. I think that we’re all very proud of that.“
Mark Ward, Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID, began his remarks by stating that there is no humanitarian crisis in Libya. To the credit of many Libyan citizen volunteers, he said, aid has been distributed throughout Libya with relatively little disruption. Youth have pitched in with street cleaning and administering water; engineers have been involved in technical endeavors such as restarting water pumps, and the Libyan citizenry at large have come together to help their communities in many ways. Ward explained that the primary humanitarian need has been medical. He commended NGO efforts on the ground as heroic, with medical assistance arriving throughout the conflict to re-supply clinics in Tripoli, Misrata and other cities. USAID also sent multiple large health kits that can sustain 10,000 people for 3 months. Regarding access to food, USAID has sent $15 million to Libya via various food programs, and its role is now changing from providing humanitarian aid to helping to stabilize the political transition. Ward also mentioned that the NTC is working to safely transport migrant workers and refugees back to their home countries, and USAID has assisted in the movement of 300,000 people through airlifts and other means. Priority areas for the future outlined by Ward include training civil society organizations on how to operate and interact with press and training leadership and local media. The primary goal is to fill gaps in Libyan expertise to foster a robust civil society, and Ward noted that these were the gaps that Libyans themselves identified. With Libyan citizens ready to begin grassroots initiatives, it is important for the international community to support them in order to create lasting change.
The third and final speaker at the event was Mark Gartner, Director of Community Stabilization at International Relief and Development (IRD). Gartner discussed IRD’s supportive role in Libya as the first NGO in country during the crisis. Although the IRD initiative was a small group of three or four staffers, with the help of many Libyan volunteers, they were able to administer $11 million dollars worth of aid. This is a telling example of the determination of the Libyan people and the success of cooperation efforts between outside NGOs and ordinary Libyans. Gartner also highlighted the tensions among Libyans (east versus west and rural versus urban) that may threaten to disrupt the transition process. From an NGO perspective, he stated, it is imperative to earn trust from all Libyan citizens, and to assist them in returning to everyday life. Gartner outlined the primary areas of focus for NGOs as fostering citizen involvement; determining priorities; building local capacity; and reducing instability drivers.
This event summary was written by Shreen Khan, an intern in MEI's Programs and Communications Department.
Assertions and opinions in this Summary are solely those of the above-mentioned author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.