Post-Gaddafi Education: Libya’s Next Challenge

October 25, 2011 • Blogs, The Globalist Notebook • Views: 2040

by Charley Locke:

Muammar Gaddafi’s violent death on October 20th officially ended his 40 years of rule in Libya and propelled the country into an uncertain but hopeful time of change. One of the most immediately contentious issues in Libya is the role of religion in public education, serving as an indicator of Islam’s possible role in the new government. With a literacy rate of 87%, the highest in Northern Africa, Libya’s population is relatively well-educated. Indeed, since his 1969 coup, Gaddafi had instituted compulsory and free public education through high school.

A view of the city center of Tripoli, Libya’s capital and largest city. (gordontour/Flickr Creative Commons)

Yet Gaddafi’s educational system was also hugely inconsistent and corrupt, as Dr. Feisel Krekshi discovered on his first day on the job as the new dean of Tripoli University. Aided by young students eager to return to school from the front lines of the rebellion, he discovered war prisoners, intelligence files on students, and a suspicious suite near Gaddafi’s favorite lecture hall containing a Jacuzzi, queen-size bed, and gynecological examining table. Krekshi is also determined to clean the corruption and ineffective teaching from the university, describing the faculty as “90 percent contaminated” by Gaddafi’s Revolutionary Committees, which previously ran higher education in Libya. Indeed, Krekshi has vowed that “people who called us rats,” those who expressed opposition to the rebel forces, “can’t stay with us.” Some pro-Gaddafi professors have already fled following student protests.

Such vehement attempts to settle old scores have reached beyond the quad to the playgrounds of Tripoli as tensions between Gaddafi loyalists and revolutionaries resonate in their children. Gaddafi’s regime had attempted to insure loyalty through financial means, and many residents of impoverished neighborhoods remained true to Gaddafi until given word of his death. According to Abdullah al-Ashtar, a local school official in Tripoli, Gaddafi’s loyalists of all ages must keep resentment towards revolutionaries “in their hearts” in order for Libya’s wounds to heal. It is a tall order for provoked students on the schoolyard, some of whom have refused to sing the new national anthem.

Unlike the ideological repression representative of Gaddafi’s era—students at Tripoli University were hanged for dissident beliefs in the 1980s—current leaders, such as the secular Mahmoud Jabril, who is serving as temporary Prime Minister, have promoted ideals of religious tolerance and moderation. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the Transitional National Council, has called for a “united and not divided” Libyan people, without “any extremist ideology, on the right or the left.” Yet many individuals, including some able to show outward indications of faith in Islam for the first time in 40 years, have criticized Jabril’s temporary government for being too secular. In a speech in September, Jalil attempted to deny these claims of secularism, explaining his position in “seeking to establish a state government by law and welfare—and Sharia, Islamic law, should be the main source of law.”

As Libya moves forward into the first weeks and months of independence after Gaddafi’s death, the debate over secularism in education will continue to serve as a harbinger of future issues to be resolved in the new government. Mahmoud Shammam, spokesman for the Transitional National Council, has spoken of the government’s respect for “the right of people to express their views peacefully” in “the new Libya,” indicating an openness to discussion and a possible shift into a more tolerant model of Islamic government, striking a balance by offering more rights and opportunities to women and minorities while remaining under Sharia law.

Charley Locke ’14 is in Calhoun College. She is the Globalist Notebook Beat Blogger covering issues relating to North Africa. Contact her at charlotte.locke@yale.edu.

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3 Responses to Post-Gaddafi Education: Libya’s Next Challenge

  1. Rahul says:

    The international media, influenced by the Americans and the British through their respective mouth-pieces, CNN and BBC, has successfully painted Gaddafi as a hard-core dictator, tyrant or whatever you want to call him. However, the media has, as usual, also failed to show the kind, giving Gaddafi we never heard of. Gaddafi unlike most dictators has managed to show his humane side, the very side we dream of seeing in other dictators.
    One wonders whether the forthcoming democratic rule the Libyans cry for will improve life for them? Only time will tell…
    Meanwhile let us get to the unknown facts about the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi:
    1. There is no electricity bill in Libya; electricity is free for all its citizens.
    2. There is no interest on loans, banks in Libya are state-owned and loans given to all its citizens at 0% interest by law.
    3. Home is considered a human right in Libya – Gaddafi vowed that his parents would not get a house until everyone in Libya had a home. Gaddafi’s father has died while him, his wife and his mother are still living in a tent.
    4. All newlyweds in Libya receive $60,000 Dinar (US$50,000) by the government to buy their first apartment to help start up the family.
    5. Education and medical treatments are free in Libya. Before Gaddafi only 25% of Libyans are literate. Today the figure is 83%.

  2. Jarvis Lunt says:

    A timely and eye-opening report. Let’s see more like it. This week’s election in Tunisia, the first since this year’s Arab Spring and has provided an encouraging example: an orderly election with a moderate Islamic party winning a plurality and seeking a coalition with secular parties. After 44 years of Ghaddafi, will Libya follow the example of tis neighbor to the west? Or is it more likely to follow the example of Algeria in 1991, where an electoral victory by an Islamic party prompted a military coup, or more recently, of Gaza? Outside the U.S., a “democratic” vote runs the risk of revealing what the electorate actually wants.

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