Building A Post-Gaddafi Libya


In a perfect world, Gaddafi would be tried fairly and Libya would emerge as a flourishing democracy free of tribal conflict and Islamist interference. Since the world is unfortunately not perfect, the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) and its international supporters must now find the ways of securing a post-Gaddafi Libya. This seems uneasy after the long reign of the tyrant.

Even if he dies prematurely or that he’s being tried or exiled abroad, Libya’s future would remain uncertain. Gaddafi could be replaced by another dictator or Libya could slide further into civil war. As the world surely learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, a gap between military operations and political planning is a recipe for disaster and this could unfortunately be sensed in the case of Libya.

What indeed to do when Gaddafi has gone? The most pressing challenge would be security. Afghanistan and Iraq are examples: there the failure to maintain public order has plunged these countries in a semi civil war status. The first challenge facing the NTC after his fall will be to protect civilians. Victorious rebels may take their anger out on the Libyans who participated in atrocities and take a revenge on those who backed the old regime. The humanitarian challenges are also daunting. Providing a shelter to the half a million Libyans who were displaced is soon going to be a priority for the new regime. In addition, providing water and electricity as well as health services to the residents of the major urban centres will be vital to maintaining public order.

The nature of a post-Gaddafi political system is also open to question. The NTC, based in the East, would indeed certainly face a challenge in asserting its control over Tripoli and part of the West. The Rebel Council will now face competing demands from the vast country’s different regions and tribes. Indeed, the country has strong tribal identities and no tradition of democracy and Gaddafi’s clan divide-and-rule policies further set Libyans against one another. Closer cooperation between the Benghazi’s based NTC and the well-armed fighters of the West is paramount to the building of a new Libya as today the West rebels do operate with a great deal of autonomy from the NTC leadership. To some extent this reflects the geographical separation and historical differences of the peoples of Tripolitania and those of Cyrenaica.

The post-Gaddafi Libya is an atomized society, which lacks a cohesive national identity as well as a competent state administration. It is thus imperative to develop the trust between the East and the West as the disintegration of Libya in two states is not an option. It would certainly push the neighbors, and particularly Algeria, to intervene on the Libyan scene. NTC leaders would be wise to demonstrate that the ousting of Gaddafi is the work of the whole nation by showing great appreciation for the contribution of the Tripolitania’s fighters to the regime’s demise. The NTC must also be kept as inclusive as possible by incorporating representatives of the Western rebels. Would local Arabs and Berbers overcome mutual suspicion fueled by Gaddafi during his more than four decades rule? The mysterious killing of General Abdel Fattah Younes, Eastern military commander, has highlighted the internal tensions as well as the fears that this young independent nation — formed only in 1951 — would unravel due to its inner factionalism.

The character of the Libyan opposition should also make us think: a coalition of western-educated technocrats, young Libyans, former jihadis, tribal representatives and former Gaddafi loyalists. The NTC is in fact an opposition umbrella group which claims leadership, but it is unclear, perhaps even to those involved, who has real authority. Many opposition leaders seem less like true reformers than like a cosy elite determined to maintain its status. In Iraq and Afghanistan, NATO proved better at defeating dictators than developing democracy. Moreover, the Libyan civil society and the media are too weak while Libya’s oil wealth is an open invitation to corruption. All of this is a recipe for conflict or government collapse, unfortunately not for a transition to democracy. By making hard decisions now, the Allies could perhaps make post-Gaddafi Libya a place worth fighting for.

The rebels and western officials say it would be unfair to claim they have made no plans for how to run a post-Gaddafi Libya safely and competently. They say they are alive to the dangers of a security vacuum and are making contingency arrangements that they cannot discuss publicly now. Rebel officials have for months claimed they are in touch with technocrats and pragmatists from the regime, urging them to switch sides at the right moment and keep the machinery of government running. Now is the moment when all parties shall explain in detail how the peace would be kept post-Gaddafi and how the country would be governed now that the tyrant has been supplanted.

Libya’s future matters not just for a population estimated prior to the war at 6.4 million but also for the credibility of Western democracies that have backed the NTC. It is also crucial for the fate of the Arab spring, which has darkened with protracted violence seen since in Libya, Syria and Yemen. Today those opposing Middle East regimes will be looking to Tripoli to see if an armed uprising can produce some results. Repressive governments in Damascus and elsewhere will be examining whether such movements can be resisted. As demonstrated in Tunis, Cairo and now in Tripoli, impossible is not an Arabic word anymore.