Libyan Civil Society: Capacity Building Urgently Needed

Human Wrongs Watch

Libyan civil society organzations (CSOs) are now faced with three key challenges: internal development of knowledge; focus on holding new authorities accountable, and conversion from emergency-driven organizations to development-driven ones, according to a survey.

**Credit:Bernd.Brincken | Wikimedia Commons

Conducted by the Amman-based Foundation for the Future* (FFF), the survey “Assessing the Needs of Civil Society in Libya” recalls that in February 2011 was initiated in Libya an uprising which progressively opened and transformed the country’s political and societal spectrum.

Namely, the removal of the 42-years-long dictatorship undid an extremely restrictive legal and political framework which was prohibiting, among other, any sort of gathering of the civil society.

It is impressive to note that as soon as the field of possibilities expanded, that is to say as soon as Benghazi fell under the control of the opposition, CSOs started mushrooming, accounting for a genuine craze of the population to take part in the reconstruction and development process needed in Benghazi and more generally in the country,” says FFF.

“In this regard, emerging CSOs were principally focusing on emergency response providing medical supplies and food to populations in dire need due to the ongoing conflict and halt of the economy.”

Armed Factions

The following is a summary of the related report by the Foundation for the Future:

The quest for Gaddafi’s removal, and the resulting state of armed insurgency, produced a number of armed factions which now represent a potential destabilization factor which will have to become a focus for the authorities as well as for civil society.

As fighting was put to an end, with the concrete removal of Gaddafi, a new task surfaced: collecting weapons to disarm the various militias accounting for an unprecedented number of heavily armed ex-combatants with no clear understanding of what their future could be and how their reintegration into the society could happen.

Solving this issue is key to prevent future revival of violence. Resurgence of hostilities would indeed be a terrible destabilizing factor not only for Libya but also for the region. Hence the necessary mission for authorities as well as for civil society to rehabilitate combatants and to work on a cohesive dialogue to bring back national unity.


It was noticed that one of the major political challenges for Libya now that a transitional period has begun is to reach national unity and cohesion. Indeed, the NTC movement was initiated in and by people from Benghazi, yet it now has to prove a united and coherent front in order to be representative of the whole country and to extinguish any risk of intestine conflict or worse, civil war, over power between various tribes and/ or political and regional coalitions.

Furthermore, until, and even after, elections are held and an interim government appointed, the country has to be built from scratch. There is indeed no parliament or electoral supervision body in Libya.

The scars from Gaddafi’s regime are numerous as the regime was probably one of the most repressive to have been overthrown in the region this year—no political parties whatsoever, no trade unions, no independent press or CSOs.

The Newly Constituted CSOs

Those are just some of as many challenges with which authorities are faced today, but which have to be equally taken into account by the civil society as issues to get involved in, not only for the sake of Libya’s future, but also because when those issues are resolved, CSOs have a base on which to thrive.

It is quite safe to say that since they emerged at the same time, the CSOs which have survived their first few months of operation have all reached a similar level and are all facing issues, challenges and opportunities that are consistent.

As such, currently the dominating Libyan organizations are mostly related to the personalities of their founders, while most of the small and youth-led ones are still far from getting enough support and access to CSOs networks and capacity building opportunities.

On the other hand, a large number of organizations stopped their activities mainly because they couldn’t come up with a clear agenda and mandate due to lack of experience, gradually decreasing motivation after the end of the revolution, or because they had to resume their regular occupation (work, studies) and could not find enough extra time for non-profit work.


It was noted that although most CSOs seem to suffer from a real lack of funds, they share a common skepticism about international donors, which they fear will earmark their donations in order to promote their hidden agenda. They consequently claim they will only accept international donation if it is completely unconditional.

Local sources of funding, however, are quite limited and only available through members’ contributions and individuals’ donations. The latter are particularly scarce at the moment since people have a tendency to focus on their own economic survival. Another source of income CSOs hope to be relying on would be government funding.

There was a consensus among representatives met in November that in the end training and transfer of experience is much more important at this time than pouring money onto the Libyan civil society.

They did acknowledge thereby that they desperately need the “know how” to actually manage and use funds efficiently and that funds should be mainly directed at building the capacities of CSOs to be able to transform their ideas into professional and meaningful projects.

In order to do so, they requested support to build their organization’s vision, mission and goals, as well as strategic planning, project development and management, leadership and consensus-building, training of the trainers, civic and political education, advocacy campaigning, corruption and government monitoring, English language, and computer and new social media skills, and so forth.

Women Participation

Meetings held in Benghazi and Tripoli underlined the encouraging fact that many activists are fully committed to advocating for political and social participation and empowerment of women.

Many activists such as journalists, judges, leaders or representatives of movements and networks have, for instance, explained how they wanted to combat social exclusion of women and the system of traditional culture, obstacles to women’s participation in politics as voters and candidates, and advocate for the role of women in the political sphere.

It is indeed a sphere women want to be included in, as government employees and representatives, but also as elected members of assemblies (They call for quotas to be set up).

The women met also requested trainings on constitutional matters in order to be able to voice their demands as the new constitution is drafted. In fact, at least half of the people met were highly motivated women eager to fight for their rights and remain as involved in the transitional period as they were during the insurgency.

However, those women are not necessarily representative of all women and classes where much work remains to be done. There is indeed, for instance, a certain lack of knowledge among the Libyan women with regard to their rights as prescribed in international agreements and conventions. Moreover, in the Libyan male-dominated patriarchal society, women leadership is very weak and close to being un-advocated or un-lobbied for.

Episodes of Violence

Furthermore, with the recent episodes of violence, violation of women’s rights has escalated, with numerous accounts of violence strategically targeting women and girls (use of rape, intimidation and persecution as a weapon of war).

Women of all ages have been an integral part of the uprising. Thus, the promotion of the role of women will be central to the post-conflict stabilization of the country and the creation of an inclusive civil society in Libya.

Although, as noted by the University of Tripoli “The transitional authorities have made women’s empowerment a priority and also have promised a bigger role

for women in public administration”2, and two ministries have been allocated to women, there is a need to remain vigilant and to hold new governing authorities accountable.

In this context, the Foundation will seek to organize a conference, in cooperation with the University of Tripoli, which will gathering a coalition of women’s representatives, leaders and civil society organizations of women actively engaged in public sphere to come out with propositions and recommendations for the government.


The Foundation for the Future’s report also develops further on the education of youth and the political and civi participation needs, and provides a set of conclusions and recommendations.

According to these, the issues facing civil society and the transition are very specific to Libya, a country where there has been no constitution, no political system, and no civil society.

The tribal cleavages of the society will have to need to be toned down and kept out of politics in order to build a consistent government representative of the country as a whole. The role of the Diaspora, bringing fresh experiences and know-how, will also be decisive in helping the country get rebuilt and the civil society empowered.

At the end, it is the greatest challenge for the civil society to create the democratic mindset in Libyan people from public officials to layman.

Historic But Precarious Moment

Among other key conclusions, FFF says that Libya is living a historic moment that is extremely precarious since all institutions, infrastructures and even the constitution have to be built from scratch. The Libyan civil society is in a similar shape as it needs training, building, strengthening, in other words shaping.

However, and although the achievements to be accomplished are daunting to say the least, members of the civil society met in Tripoli and Benghazi proved and demonstrated enthusiasm, determination, motivation and commitment.

*The Foundation for the Future is an independent, multi-lateral and not for profit organization, created in 2005 and fully committed to promoting democracy, Human Rights, the Rule of Law and reforms through supporting Civil Society Organizations’ (CSOs) relevant initiatives in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at large. 

Read full report on Libyan CSOs. Other Surveys by the Foundation for the Future: Tunisia: “Civil Society Optimistic Yet Vigilant”; and  Egyptian Civil Society: “We Need a Secular State”

**Credit:Bernd.Brincken | Wikimedia Commons

Also read:

‘Libyan Society Falling Apart Without Anti-Gaddafi Glue’

Holding Libya Together?

The Arab Revolt – What Next?

‘Liberated’ Libya, Now Under Foreign Tutelage

Libya – “A Revolution Is Not a Cocktail Party”

Libya’s Revolution: Tribe, Nation, Politics

‘The Morning After Qaddafi’

Libya: What Will Happen? (After NATO’s Victory Ceremony)

That Big Business Called Libya!

Who Will Replace The Libyan ‘Mad Dog’?

Libya: ‘Market Lords’ Rush In

2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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