By Vanessa Tomassini.
“We hope that the big countries will find a real solution to the Libyan crisis. We wish for more serious solutions, especially in eliminating administrative centralization. I do not support the federal system, but it is better than the current situation. The problem in Libya is the centralization of power and not the people: no solutions will be achieved by exchanging personalities only. The conflict in Libya is mainly economic, so there must be a fair distribution of wealth among all regions and cities. Even for parliamentary elections, from my point of view, if the parliament is in Benghazi, there would be no solution, and if it is in Tripoli as well. Therefore, we must focus on these points in any upcoming solutions.” Tell us Mahmoud al Soqoutri, Mayor of Misrata, with whom, in this extensive interview, we try to understand the latest developments in the North African country and draw attention to the fundamental role of municipalities when everyone is focusing on Governments and Prime Ministers.
Thank you, Mr. Soqoutri, for accepting this meeting. Everyone is talking about Governments, forgetting about the municipalities. How is the work of Misurata Municipality progressing?
“There is a vacuum between the government and the citizen, but this government has started with some measures, it is true, simple but very important, such as transferring competencies and giving some powers to the municipalities, but these steps are considered insufficient so far.”
What are the last projects you implemented inside the city? And what are the next goals?
“Things in Libya are going centrally, we as municipalities only ask for projects, and press for their implementation, and consider that we have achieved good things, especially about roads, there are some projects decisions have been issued to implement, and start contracting with some companies for that. We maintained some deteriorated roads, repaired some basic infrastructure, restored some schools and a central garden within the municipality. These projects are not huge due to the weakness of resources granted to the municipalities. Misurata General Hospital went through maintenance, and there is a young administration in the hospital that has a positive role, indeed. Maybe it is not according to international standards, but from my point of view, it will be the best locally, at the level of Libya.”
With the advent of Ramadan, Libya is experiencing an increase in prices. Does it also happen to Misrata? What measures can the Municipality take to prevent this from happening?
“The market is the one who controls prices through supply and demand. That is a market economy or a free economy. There are no subsidized goods and products so that we can monitor prices. Usually, prices rise at the beginning of Ramadan and then decrease at the end of the Holy Month, and we as a municipality cannot control prices.”
What are the needs and hobbies of young people in Misrata? What activities are proposed to keep young people away from guns?
“In Misurata and Libya in general, sport, especially football, is the most common thing gathering Libyans. Second, I think good loans must be provided to young people to carry out projects that provide many job opportunities for young people”.
Was the support for marriages well received by youth people in Misurata?
“Yes, it is a good step, but the decision is not well-organized. We wish, before issuing the decision, if there was a well-studied plan in terms of the beneficiaries’ priority for the marriage support grant. Also, there was no clear and fair distribution mechanism between regions and cities, and in any case, it is a decision whose goal is more political.”
Misrata has fought many wars since 2011, and you count many martyrs and wounded. What is the Municipality doing to help these young people and their families?
“Yes, these many wars created difficulty and crisis in dealing with the many divisions and bodies in the city. But this issue is a central one in the first place. There is a Ministry that has to follow up on the matter and disburse funds and aid to these families. Since the February 2011 Revolution, many families need attention and support, and we feel embarrassed in front of them”.
If in six months – as many are saying – Libya goes to the elections, would Misrata be ready?
“Misurata, like most Libyan cities, has differences and diversity on the issue of elections, but I think that the majority in our city mainly support holding parliamentary elections, or going towards parliamentary and presidential elections at the same time”.
What do you think of the current political situation in Libya? What are your feelings, and what is the solution in your opinion?
“The majority of the people are not satisfied with the current political situation. There is a kind of political blockage. The current political bodies and the controversial personalities represent a big problem, and their presence will not solve the crisis. Therefore, I think that these personalities and bodies must be removed until we find good solutions. Wealth must be distributed equitably among all so that the people’s demands are not exploited by any party to grow the political crisis.”
Did the political and military competition between Dabaiba and Bashagha affect the city’s social fabric?
“There is no conflict on a tribal basis in Misurata. Both Dabaiba and Bashagha have supporters from various parties and social components inside the city. I am not against Bashagha as a person, but against the project he brought. There was great fear in terms of security, but thank God the crisis passed peacefully, and now things are going well.”
Do you believe that the Municipality of Misurata can help in the mediation efforts between the two Prime Ministers since they are both from the same city?
“Yes, we tried as a municipality to hold meetings and bring the parties together, but unfortunately, it is very complicated as they represent two different projects that cannot be combined. I say bitterly, we failed in this matter”.
How do you live the situation in Ukraine? Are you worried that there are still foreign mercenaries in Libya and perhaps one day a war could break out in Libya due to their presence?
“The crisis in Ukraine is of interest to all countries in the world, and Libya is part of it. Mercenaries and foreign fighters are a large part of the Libyan crisis, but this war may be a positive pretext for the expulsion of foreign mercenaries (Wagner) from Libya.”