Opinion: Libya’s dual divide: Ex-patriates Aren’t Welcome in the “New Libya.”

A clause in Libya’s draft election laws which excludes Libyans with multiple nationalities from running for public office unless they are willing to give up their other nationality, a requirement which would be unacceptable in Europe, has polarised opinion in Libya and raised serious questions about citizenship and identity in the “New Libya”.

Tens of thousands of Libyans are dual nationals largely as a result of persecution by the Gaddafi regime which forced thousands of Libyan politicians, activists, academics, writers and business people into exile. During Gaddafi’s 42 years in power new generations of Libyans were born, raised and educated abroad. The UK is home to the largest population of Libya’s diaspora including 4,000 Libyan doctors. There are also 5,000 Libyan students studying in the UK.

Across the world there are thousands of Libyan academics and professionals including doctors, lawyers, engineers and entrepreneurs who have a lot to offer Libya, and have for a long time wished to return home.

Guma El Gamaty a Libyan analyst and former UK co-ordinator for the NTC who lived in exile in the UK for over 30 years believes dual-nationals should be encouraged to run for office saying, “this clause in the draft is clearly unfair and not good for the future of Libya because it denies tens of thousands of Libyans from holding positions where they can offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise vital to the future development of Libya”

Most developed countries allow dual nationals to hold office. It would be in violation of European human rights conventions for countries that are members of the Council of Europe to ban their dual-national citizens from holding public office.

The Council of Europe has 47 member states including the UK, Turkey and the Russian Federation. In 2008 aEuropean Court ruling against Moldova,which at the time was the only Council of Europe member state that despite tolerating dual nationality did not allow its dual nationals to hold public office, ruled that the Moldovan government had to amend the law that bans holders of dual nationality from holding public posts, including seats as MPs.

In many countries there are specific exceptions. For example in the UK ambassadors cannot be dual nationals and in the US a dual national cannot be President. However, the majority of positions can be held by dual nationals.

Simon Gentry of Campbell Gentry a UK based Public Affairs consultancy noted that “countries worried about this issue are to a greater or lesser degree in some form of identity conflict,” adding that “secure countries have much less of an issue with dual nationality as a rule.”

The majority of Libyans abroad, whether naturalised citizens of other countries or those who have mixed parentage, feel a strong connection with Libya and a strong sense of being Libyan. The idea of dual nationals being excluded from holding office in Libya has caused great upset amongst Libya’s dual nationals, particularly given their response and participation in Libya’s February 17 Uprising.

Manal Mansur a Libyan dual national said “I’m insulted that some think my loyalty depends on how many passports I hold rather than the actions I’ve taken. The problem is not my dual nationality but the mentality of resentment surrounding my dual nationality. There are many with only one nationality whose loyalties lie elsewhere.”

During the Libyan uprising thousands of Libya’s dual nationals gave their time, their skills, their money and in some cases their lives to the revolution. They lobbied foreign governments, informed the media, supplied aid and equipment through charities and initiatives and even returned to fight on the front-lines.

While Libyans holding dual nationality have been excluded in the draft, naturalised Libyans of African descent are eligible to stand.

Guma El Gamaty echoed the frustration of Libya’s dual Nationals saying “It does not make sense that an African citizen who obtained Libyan nationality 10 years ago can hold a position in Libya, whereas Libyans through and through whose families go back centuries and who have contributed so much to Libya, are denied the privilege of serving their country by holding political positions.”

Ibrahim El Mayet is a member of the Libyan Progress Initiative a non-profit organisation promoting democracy, progress and development in Libya. www.libyanprogress.org

(Source: Tripoli Post)

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