Love At the Ballot Box

As Libya's civil war recedes and elections loom, love is the new battleground for citizens' hearts and minds

In late September 2021, the prime minister of Libya's unified government in Tripoli, Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibah announced that his government would establish a marriage support fund. He proposed giving 40,000 Libyan dinars (worth around $8,700) to each new Libyan couple upon marriage, and he found 1 billion Libyan dinars ($217 million) to fund this proposal. Supporters of the fund argued that it would facilitate marriage for young Libyans rocked by deteriorating economic circumstances—an issue central to the country's 2011 revolution. Shortly after the fund's launch, Dbeibah participated in a state-funded mass wedding. 

Not to be outdone, the competing Tobruk-based House of Representatives—which withdrew its support from the unity government in September—put forward its own parallel spending program in October. It passed a bill granting up to 50,000 Libyan dinars (around $10,800) to every Libyan family, newlywed or not, while explicitly excluding those that had received a grant from Dbeibah's program. 

It's unclear where the competing bill will go, but as institutions jostle for primacy in Libya ahead of elections, supporting Libya's young population is a key concern. With almost half the country under the age of 25, nearly 50 percent of young Libyans unemployed, and many young Libyans transitioning from the battlefield to civilian life, the country's dueling institutions increasingly focus on rebuilding the family unit, and they are using it as the basis of patronage. 

Access to marriage is a political concern with a long history throughout the Arab world. More than school graduation or employment, marriage still functions as youths' chief rite of passage into adulthood, and the high cost of getting married—from dowries to expensive weddings—coupled with stagnating wages has left millions feeling left in limbo

Libyan politicians are turning to the national treasury to provide relief. It remains to be seen if their spending solves the country's problems, or only their own.

This article is part of the series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.

Azim Wazeer

Intern, Middle East Program