From the core to the fringe? The political role of Libyan youth during and after the revolution

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In 2011, Libyan youth activists - armed and unarmed - were at the core of the revolution and vigorously demanded the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Many harbored idealistic expectations for a rapid transformation of the country and immediate and genuine inclusion in political and economic processes. The first transitional elections took place in July 2012. It seems that the political representation of youth in Libya was higher during the revolution than in the formal institutions of the “New Libya”. How has the political participation of young Libyans evolved during and after the revolution? Youth political participation refers here to the meaningful and effective inclusion of relatively young people in the decision-making process. This broad youth definition includes anyone between 15 and 35. Youth political participation can be divided into consultative, youth-led or collaborative youth participation (Lührmann 2013: 16, based on Hart 1992, Landsdown 2010, Karkara 2011). In this paper, the main focus is on collaborative youth participation, which refers to young people being effectively included in regular political decision-making processes (e.g. as voters, as Members of Parliament (MPs), as members of political parties or advocacy groups). In many countries, we can observe the following phenomena: Youth tend to be active on the streets, but continue to be marginalized in formal decision-making bodies. In transitional processes, significant frustration is likely to arise if youth are not included in new formal decision-making procedures. This might have a destabilizing effect on the democratization process and accelerate conflict dynamics. It is therefore important to understand barriers to the political participation of youth. Barriers can be found on various levels - individual, organizational and structural (UNDP 2008: 6). This approach will serve as the analytical framework for the second part of the paper. This paper draws on three field visits to Tripoli that included discussions with Libyan civil society representatives, MPs, civil servants as well as representatives of the international community.1 The empirical analysis is enhanced with data from the 6th Wave of the World Value Survey. The conceptual framework draws from a recent publication on youth political participation on behalf of UNDP (Lührmann 2013). As of spring 2014, the political situation in Libya has become highly chaotic and all formal governance institutions are highly contested (Lacher 2014). Hence, this article addresses the revolutionary period in 2011 and the brief period of relative calm in post-Gaddafi Libya until the ouster of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in March 2014.


Anna Lührmann

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