Guest post by Frank Talbot
On December 17th, the much-anticipated Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was signed in Al-Shkirat, Morocco. The international community congratulated the Libyans involved in the negotiations for their courage and pledged increased support to the nascent Government of National Accord (GNA). The mood back in Libya was much more reserved. Outspoken opponents of the deal labeled it as foreign intervention. Some, such as the presidents of the competing legislative bodies, pushed for their own hastily conceived agreement – calling it the Libyan-Libyan agreement. But what did the public think?
Shortly after the LPA was signed, a popular Libyan media outlet, EAN Libya, posted on its Facebook site the question “Do you support the signing of the agreement in Al-Skhirat to end the conflict in Libya?” This post garnered more than 3,000 Comments and nearly 20,000 Likes. The Libya Reverb Project analyzed the comments section of this post in which we learned that 41% of the comments supported the LPA, 12% opposed with the remaining 47% not sure. This last group was the most interesting as some important themes emerged from our analysis. Namely that the public is lukewarm on the agreement because they feel they don’t have enough information to form an opinion. This lack of information also relates to both the affirmative and negative comments to the same post. A prominent theme found in our review of these comments was that opinions focused on personalities – those associated with, or in opposition to, the agreement as well as the individuals appointed to the presidential council and tasked with forming the cabinet of ministers.
Since the beginning of December, we have been monitoring the Facebook pages of popular Libyan media outlets to identify prominent themes and their reverberations among Libyan discourse. Not surprisingly, the most talked about issues relate to Security/Crime and the Political Dialogue. However, economy-related posts hold steady as another prominent theme – mostly relating to the rapid decline of the Libyan economy. Further, the most Shared Facebook post in December related to a story of corruption involving a public official. While there are limits to what social media discourse can tell about the attitudes of the average Libyan, it does shed some light on what the public sees as the most pressing issues. The new government should address these issues in any public outreach strategy.
Over the past month, we have also monitored three prominent Facebook pages affiliated with the GNA – Faiez Serraj (Prime Minister), Ahmed Mitig (Deputy Prime Minister), and GNA Media. All three pages have increased their fan base and have maintained a steady flow of content. Ahmed Mitig has the highest number of followers; however, this is mostly due to his long-standing status as a well-known politician from Misrata. The GNA Media page has shown the most rapid growth in the past month with more than 14,000 new followers. While efforts to increase interactions with the public via social media by these entities is a positive sign, the majority of posts by the pages continue to be general statements providing limited nuance or new information to the broader conversation among the public.
On January 19th, more than 30 days after the signing of the LPA, the United Nations published the full text of the agreement. On the same day, the presidential council released the names of the cabinet of ministers comprising 32 individuals. These two developments will likely shape the discourse among Libyan social media in the coming weeks. Based on our analysis of previous discourse, it is probable that public conversations will again focus on the personalities associated with the new government and less on the plans and efforts by the government to address the most pressing needs of the public. This focus is unfortunate, as a personality-driven conversation about the new government will continue to be primarily based on notions of equal distributions of power. Such conversations may benefit the GNA by increasing its legitimacy among the general public, presuming the public views the ministries as fairly distributed. However, the GNA must make proactive efforts to inject into the public discourse its vision for how to solve Libya’s most pressing issue. This is key for its long-term success and ability to affect positive peace in Libya. At the top of the list, and what Libya’s new government should be talking about, are the issues of Security, Crime, Anti-Corruption and Economic Recovery.