Libya after Gaddafi

Bichara Khader
Professor in the University of Louvain, Director of the Center for Study and Research of the Modern Arab World (CERMAC) in Louvain
Bichara Khader

Bichara Khader

After the flight of Ben Ali from Tunisia and the forced resignation of the Egyptian President, Mubarak, the fall of the Libyan regime took a turn for the worse with the wounding and execution of Gaddafi. The Libyans welcomed the tragic end of a mad, megalomaniac and capricious tyrant. Personally, I would have preferred to see him arrested and brought before the courts of his country in order to account for his disastrous handling of a country so rich in both men and resources and to lift the veil of secrecy covering Libyan capital deposited abroad and finally to reveal numerous secrets which would be compromising for some Western leaders especially for those who had been presented as models of legality and military justice.

The National Council for transition has inherited a country torn apart by air attacks and savage bombing, an economy weakened by cronyism and pillage and a society destabilized by tribal and regional divisions. Above all, it has received a legacy of a shattered state with no effective institutions, no independent judiciary, no political parties, no trade unions and no professional organizations.

Gaddafi in his delusions of grandeur created a Libya in his own image which became the "Jamahiriya" with popular committees dedicated to the cult of the leader and whose Green Book became obligatory reading in all schools and the Bible of the entire country.

Worse still, the country became a family fiefdom where resources were held by the chief and the family members trained to succeed him.

Unlike the Tunisians and Egyptians who have to change the regime, the Libyan Provisional Government has to rebuild a devastated, spoiled and impoverished country. In the final analysis, it is an advantage: it is better to build a new building than to restore an old one. Nevertheless, the task ahead is colossal.

The provisional government has set up institutions capable of overcoming regional and tribal differences and ensuring certain required balances in an impartial setting. National reconciliation must not limit transitional justice. To rebuild a country on new foundations, forgiving and forgetting are essential. The militias must be disarmed. The new army and the new police force should be composed largely of young people. The setting up of public services requires experience to which the international community can contribute. Nevertheless, the fundamental task in hand is to rebuild civic culture.

To create a country with functioning institutions will take time. However, one must avoid disenchantment among the Libyans and respond to the impatience of youth. That is why it is of the utmost importance to hold elections to decide a National Assembly as soon as possible. The provisional government must hold office for as short a time as possible: it would be a bad sign.

The are many dangers facing the Libya of tomorrow: the return of the demons of regionalism and tribalism, the inability of the new army and new police force to secure the external borders and guarantee internal security, competition between militias, the return to cronyism, the unequal sharing of oil wealth, differences regarding the very nature of the state (centralised, decentralised) or the parliamentary model (Presidential, parliamentarian or mixed?)

Libya is a conservative Sunni country and there are no divisions between Sunnis and Shiites. In the upcoming elections, the pragmatic Islamists will do well, as has been the case in neighbouring countries. On the other hand, radical Islamists will be a very small minority. The country has no major conflicts with its neighbours but its southern borders are porous. Libya must provide itself with sophisticated means of surveillance but not necessarily with an army equipped with heavy weaponry. There are many problems facing Libya but the country is vast (three times bigger than France) and contains important oil reserves. The country has the advantage of having 1,200 kilometres of coastline and an abundance of remains of ancient civilizations that can quickly transform it into a first class tourist destination. In short, the country is lacking neither determination nor resources. What is still missing is a solid democracy. On this depends the future of Libya.