Libya's new battle is getting young people into jobs
- 11 December 2011
- From the section Business
It is a sunny winter afternoon in downtown Tripoli. Martyrs' Square - known as Green Square under Gaddafi rule - is bustling again.
Libyans are returning to their daily lives after a brutal year of fighting and watching over them is twenty-three-year old Abdul Aziz Masood.
Sat in the driver's seat of his battered pick-up truck, he's armed with a 20-year-old sniper rifle.
Life for Abdul Aziz has changed dramatically. This time last year he was a student. But now he's taken on a new job - he says he needs to protect Libya until stability returns.
"I didn't know anything about weapons before the revolution," Abdul Aziz says. "I learnt how to use it [my gun], we became organized and we were able to free the country. It was able to solve our crisis."
Under stifling dictatorships, young people in the region had no power. This year has proved the opposite. But while their fighting changed the country's political direction, pressing economic issues remain.
According to the International Labour Organization, we are facing the biggest unemployment crisis in a generation. Before the Arab Spring, 22% of young Libyans were jobless. In Egypt, the figure rose to 27% and in Tunisia, 31% of young people were out of a job.
The problem is all the more acute because two in three people in the region are under the age of 30. They all need to find work but the economies do not have the jobs for them.
But the fighting this year has given young people a role. Many young people are reluctant to give up their weapons and now there is growing frustration by the public over the number of guns people are carrying and heavy weaponry still on the streets of cities like Tripoli.
But while Abdul Aziz is still holding his gun, there are others who have put theirs down.
Adam Mubarit is a Libyan who was brought up in Canada. He returned to Libya when he was 18 to go to medical school in Zawiya, just outside Tripoli.
He fought on the frontline and used his medical skills to help the injured. But he has now gone back to school and thinks everyone else should do the same.
"The ones who are still on the streets are trying to squeeze the most they can out of it," he says. "If they want to actually improve their country they would have registered for the army and followed a proper process to actually become a soldier instead of just being militia."
Power of a weapon
That is a sentiment that architecture student Reda Zaroog shares.
Reda comes from the city of Misrata, one of the worst-hit cities in the conflict. His pride in his role in the revolution is obvious.
Lined up on the side cabinet in his family's living room are a dozen or so spent bullet cartridges.
He has a surprising knowledge of weaponry for someone who had never handled a gun until this year. But he stopped going out on the street two weeks ago and wants to go back to studying.
'We've had enough of the guns and the shooting and the weapons," he says.
"We got used to taking things by the power of a weapon. So now we need people to make us believe there are legal ways, civil ways to get what we want."
Resolving economic issues
But many people believe little can be achieved until an elected government is in place. In the absence of any new policies, Libya's youth are trying to make changes.
Abdulrahman Alageli is 24. Brought up in Manchester, his parents are from Libya and he returned to the country to fight in the revolution.
He runs the Libyan Youth Forum, which helps young fighters readjust to civilian life. One of the projects he is working on is an online job centre to match job opportunities to job hunters.
"We do have a fairly educated population, there is a large, significant number of people who have degrees who are unemployed," he says. "These skills can be utilised in the rebuilding of Libya in a business sense and in the private sector."
Back to normality
But the private sector has a long way to go before it can provide enough jobs for all the Libyans who want one. Libya's economy is heavily-dependent on oil. With the largest oil reserves in Africa, it produced 1.6 million barrels of oil a day before the war and accounted for 95% of the country's export earnings.
Economic sanctions against the country kept Libya isolated from foreign investment for years. When sanctions were lifted in 2003 and 2004, investment started to flood into the country but nevertheless, Libya still has a very undiversified economy.
The wealth is in the country's oil and Libya's people may not see that for a good while yet.
"It's going to be difficult. I'm sorry to be pessimistic but lots of young people think that here is the revolution, it's done, now we're going to be rich, we're going to be prosperous," says Ali Tekbali, a Professor at the University of Tripoli and an activist.
"It's going to take some time. It's going to be lots of spending on the infrastructure, on education, on health and we're not going to see it on the pockets of the people soon."
For now though, the mood among young people is mostly optimistic. They wielded the power to overthrow a regime that stifled their opportunities.
But the challenge for the new leaders will be to meet the expectations of their young population and convince them to lay down their weapons and go back to work.