Why we need better stories about Libya
However, as the Libyan opposition movement fractured and the country descended into civil war, any sense of unity quickly evaporated. As armed groups and militias proliferated, local power struggles over political affiliation, geography, religion, historical grievances, prejudices and of course money multiplied. . Keeping track of who is fighting whom and why is far from straightforward.
One war too many
One effect has been the hyper-polarization of the national media environment, making it difficult for international observers to separate fact from fiction in the absence of reliable local reporting. Officials and militia leaders pressure journalists to align with them, while disinformation and hate speech are used by all sides as weapons to wage war.
By some estimates more than a third of Libyans “don’t trust any media source” and have become less open to talking to journalists, such as Ulf Laessing, journalist and author who has covered Libya since 2011, experienced firsthand: “In 2013-14, people were still curious and more open to talk to us, the conflict had not really taken hold and there were still independent voices, but hardly anyone wants to talk anymore.
Perhaps because of these factors, there is a lack of editorial will at the international level to engage with Libya in depth. The articles rarely go beyond a summary of the latest violence or geopolitical maneuvers, with the inevitable catch-all language reminding us of the country’s division between rival administrations and renegade warlords.
But that’s only part of the story. “The reporting is very macro level, it does not speak to Libyans,” says activist and researcher Asma Khalifa. “There is nothing about Libyan resilience. There is a problem with how this conflict is described. We are very invisible, unless we are doing something really bad.
Considering the multiple wars raging in the region, this may be a case of “conflict fatigue”. Yemen is regularly reported as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, while the extreme brutality of the Assad regime in Syria has shocked audiences around the world. As Libyan analyst Tarek Megerisi points out, on the other hand, “when we talk about Libya, it’s always a question of security. It is either something for military experts who analyze the last weapon used, or for political analysts who think the whole world is a chess board. The human side never comes out. It is as if Libya is one Arab conflict too many. “