A University of New England political science professor will travel to Libya this spring on his third United Nations mission, this time to help that country make the transition to a democracy after 40 years of dictatorship under Moammar Gadhafi.
Ali Ahmida will serve as a consultant to U.N. personnel there, helping them identify and understand regional and tribal politics, and to foster reconciliation efforts in the wake of the 2011 ouster of Gadhafi.
Libya remains a war zone in many places, and the latest in a series of Western-backed governments is locked in a power struggle with an Islamist-leaning parliament. In the last two weeks, more than 86 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in clashes in southern Libya among tribes, government forces and former Gadhafi loyalists, according to The Associated Press.
Ahmida will be in Libya after the spring semester and again in the fall to consult with the 200-person U.N. special political mission there, established in 2011 by the U.N. at the request of Libyan authorities. The workers are headquartered in the capital, Tripoli, with offices in Benghazi and Sabha.
Ahmida was raised in Libya, leaving the country to go to university in Egypt and eventually settling in Maine. He visits the country about twice a year, for work and to see family, and has published extensively on Libyan politics, including several books that were banned under the Gadhafi regime but “are selling well now,” he said.
He will also lead a conference in May in Tripoli on how the country might create a truth and reconciliation commission, which has been used in many other countries emerging from brutal violent pasts.
“I’m a very strong believer that if there is no dialogue, no (reconciliation) commission, there will be no Libya. (They) will have continuous conflicts like Iraq or Somalia,” he said. “I think if we could heighten awareness (through a reconciliation process) that maybe that will lead to some compromise to invite the million (in exile) to heal the wounds a little bit and have people focus on the rebuilding.”
Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch issued a report saying Libya’s interim government had faced “multiple challenges” last year, such as dealing with “myriad armed groups” that are imposing their authority in parts of the country, people detained without trials, and authorities’ inability to conduct proper investigations into a wave of assassinations and attacks that have rocked the country since the war.
Since the fall of Gadhafi, Libya has had no functioning military or police, and relies heavily on unruly militias in keeping law and order. Some groups of fighters, however, resist government authority and one has even taken control of the country’s vital oil installations and ports in the east.
This is Ahmida’s third time working with the United Nations. He was one of five scholars to speak to the U.N. Security Council on conflict resolution in Africa on June 7, 2004, and one of six scholars commissioned to assess the role and performance of a U.N. developmental program in four Arab countries in early 2008.
His mix of native experience, an outsider role and academic rigor position him well for the role, he said.
“When I go there, I put on my American hat. Here, when I engage my audiences, I’m seen as Libyan Ali. I love the fact that I am both,” he said.
Unlike many expatriate Libyans, he did not seek a role with any of the transition governments, allowing him to navigate shifting political and cultural waters.
Ahmida said the path to a democratic Libya will be long.
“It’s going to take a lot of tireless good work by people both inside and outside,” he said.
Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at: