A new blog by the British ambassador to Libya
By: Petter Millett
An orphan, Pip lives with a blacksmith in Victorian England. He dreams of becoming a gentleman. Through many ups and downs, he learns lessons about love and friendship, loyalty and injustice, disappointment and happiness. His experiences eventually make him a better and happier person.
This is the theme of Great Expectations, one of the most famous novels by the great Victorian author Charles Dickens.
What has this story got to do with Libya? On the face of it, very little. But the fact is that the signature of the Libya Political Agreement in Skhirat on 17 December has raised Great Expectations.
Expectations that life for the Libyan people will get better. That citizens will be able to enjoy peace and security. That the wealth of the country can be used productively to bring quality of life to all parts of the country: everyday things that are important like jobs, education, health.
This theme can be explored further by looking at some of the best quotations from the characters in the book.
“I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into better shape.” Libya has certainly been bent and broken after 42 years of dictatorship and almost 5 years of turmoil and chaos. The advent of a Government of National Accord offers the prospect of a “better shape”.
The future shape of the economy will be a crucial factor. The country is almost bankrupt and is spending more than it earns. The cost of putting bread on a Libyan family’s table is getting higher. The new government will have to help the National Oil Corporation to rebuild the oil and gas industry and increase production. The Central Bank will then have to ensure that Libyans in all parts of the country feel the benefits of this wealth.
“Ask no questions and you’ll be told no lies.” Libyans should ask lots of questions. And the new government should be open and honest with them. People need to be realistic about their expectations. Rebuilding a country that has been so badly damaged and whose people have suffered so much is no easy task. It will take time to make ordinary people feel better off.
“We need never be ashamed of our tears.” There has been too much cause for tears in the last few years. The hopes raised by the 17 February revolution have been disappointed. Too many Libyans have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. The situation in cities like Benghazi where schools and clinics are unable to operate is a cause for shame.
“Suffering has been stronger than all other teachings.” Libyans have learnt too many lessons the hard way. For example, the spread of Daesh has brought suffering to many parts of Libya. Defeating the terrorists and extremists should be a top priority for the new government.
“There is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.” Libyans have had more than enough injustice. Efforts have been made to unite the country in the past but have failed. There is nothing wrong with failure, provided we learn from it.
“I loved her against reason”. Just as Pip in the story continues to love Estella, so Libyans continue to love their country. And they have every reason to do so.
Turning great expectations into long-term happiness is the task of the new government. The Prime Minister and his team need to tackle the challenges and manage people’s expectations.
Satisfying the Libyan people’s great expectations will be a major boost to the government’s popularity; equally failed expectations are a powerful driver of discontent. Communicating the vision and getting the balance right is tough. But rest assured that Libya’s friends stand ready to help.