Libyans react to Saif al-Islam's call for a constitution
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 10/05/10
Libyans are giving mixed reviews to a call by Saif al-Islam al-Kadhafi to draft a constitution, with some voicing support and others scepticism.
The younger Kadhafi, whose father has ruled Libya for over 40 years, is widely seen as one of Libya's most prominent advocates of openness. He made his call for a constitution on May 5th while speaking at the American University in Cairo (AUC).
"The constitution is vitally important to realise prosperity in Libya. Therefore, the country has to speed up its steps towards reforming its administrative system," he said.
"We have to seriously and extensively review our way of government," he added. "This is the first priority."
There has been no constitution in Libya since the proclamation of the "people's authority", which according to the elder Kadhafi's Green Book bans the setting up of parties or the election of law-makers or a president under the rationale that "the people" alone should govern themselves.
The younger Kadhafi told attendees at the AUC event, who included Libyan expatriates and high-ranking officials in Egypt: "[W]e have neither a constitution in Libya, nor any form of political culture, nor community participation. There has been a history of lack of trust in the central leadership, and no one can resist the military rule in Libya."
"We are in need of a competent government. Our problem in Libya is competence. We have started from scratch and we'll soon have local administrations and municipalities," he added.
The younger Kadhafi acknowledged that "civil society in Libya is very weak" and that "one of the most important challenges we are now facing in Libya is how to build a strong civil society that works for the service of the country".
Libyan businessman Khalid Buraei said that the call for a constitution "is a good step". "We hope that [the constitution] will find its way towards implementation in the hopes that it will put an end to the chaos that the country is experiencing," he said. "We trust in [Kadhafi's] intention."
Journalist and rights activist Khalid Mohammed Mehiri said, "This is not the first call, and won't be the last."
"The street no longer believes these empty words," he added. "How can he talk about a constitution while the country is on its way into an abyss?"
Mahir Ahmed, a university student in Tripoli, also voiced doubts.
"This is a dream, but I'm more inclined to say that it won't be realised," he said. "Saif al-Islam couldn't even defend his own newspapers, which were forced to pull back. We will wait and see if he'll be able this time to honour this promise, which we heard from him a year ago. However, I think he's serious this time."
For her part, Libyan women's rights activist Hanan Qabbaj told Magharebia that "the features of the expected constitution are clear and don't need any speculation: Rehashing of the same old things in new formulas. They may even add more red lines, so as to bring us back to square one. We think that we won't make any progress."
In the course of speaking at AUC, the younger Kadhafi also revealed that the charity organisation that he runs is Swiss, rather than Libyan, and that it was registered in Geneva "because it's difficult to register organisations in Libya. It's an independent organisation that includes a unit for human rights, clearance of land mines and the treatment of addiction."
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