Avenues and Obstacles in Post Jamahiriya Libya
Published Thursday, May 10, 2012
Running a country that has remained under the iron fist of one man for the last 42 years is an unenviable task, and the National Transitional Council (NTC) and its interim government are already facing many challenges. The battle for full control of Tripoli is not over yet. The capital - like other major cities - remains a highly volatile city in which guns have become easy to procure and angry young men roam its streets, using such weapons without regulation. The raging gun battles in the aftermath of its fall paved the way for a precarious calm. Security issues pose the most critical challenge for the stability of Libya in the post Jamahiriya era.
It should be pointed out that the NTC is facing the decentralization of multiple armed groups operating on the ground under its responsibility. Some of these groups, however, declared early on that they are autonomous and their relationship with the NTC is merely one of tactical coordination in the field. The control of these multiple armed groups, each with diverse ideological backgrounds and various tribal and regional affiliations, became a crucial challenge to the NTC. Libya needs a comprehensive process of demilitarization, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of these groups within the emerging security and armed forces. To this end, the NTC’s members must assure people and protect them from arbitrary exaction, revenge attacks, human rights abuses and criminal deviation. If the NTC proves unable to provide Libyans with security and basic services, it risks losing whatever credibility it has left. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the NTC and its government to take a stand against any instability and violence that might be fueled by opportunistic factions using tribal, ethnic and religious narratives. Security should also be extended to the rest of the country after securing the entire coastline. Trafficking and smuggling goods, oil and weapons across the Libyan-Tunisian border is one of the main challenges for the NTC. It has seen its authority challenged by armed groups involved in such activities that will risk compromising its relationship with the neighboring Tunisia. Furthermore, the process of securitization and stabilization by the nascent Libyan security forces of what was known as “the gates” of Libya to sub-Saharan African countries, such as the city of Sabha, which encompasses important reserves of water and oil, and the towns of Gadhames (southwest of Tripoli, near the borders with Algeria and Tunisia), Ghat (southwest of Tripoli in the Fezzan province) and Kufra (located in the southeastern Cyrenaica) remain fragile and should also be consolidated.
In the mid-term, the second challenge is to nurture a Libyan civil society after more than four decades of dictatorship characterized by an entrenched clientelism, systematic suppression and successful cooptation. While the development of associational life is still uncertain, it is obvious that civil society actors will have a role to play in the new path Libya will take. Actors of this burgeoning Libyan civil society will try to lead the country in many different directions since the discord about the future role of the state, rooted in ideological, tribal and regional bases, has become more palpable. The political and security vacuums left by the fall of the “Brother Leader” are filled by warlords questioning the sources of legitimacy of the new masters of the country and devising the embryonic emergence of Libyan citizenry. The latter is dramatically challenged by the tenants of religious zealousness.
On a less negative note, the issue of the economy could work in the favor of Libyans, due to the oil wealth, un-freezing of financial assets, the small-sized population and the limited external debt of the country. The NTC must agree upon how best to rebuild the shattered economy and an infrastructure that was laid to ruin under Gaddafi. The Libyan people can set a precedent in the Arab world by becoming a citizenry that has successfully overthrown a domestic dictatorship, liberated itself and built simultaneously the structures of statehood and national identity, service delivery, good governance, rule of law and personal cultural development.
Thirdly, the NTC must not waste any time in the restoration of confidence and deliverance of justice to victims of war and violence. It must erect a new legal framework that seeks a judicial law reform to ensure that people who were subject to torture and extrajudicial punishment, including families of the disappeared under and during the aftermath of the fallen regime, are both rehabilitated and compensated in some form for their suffering. More recently, the law issued by the NTC which immunized the perpetrators from the rebels’ side of war crimes from any legal accountability is wrong, unfair by all human rights standards, and distorts the image of the new Libya. To avoid building a defective justice based on amnesia rather than responsibility, the NTC has at its disposal lessons from history and inspiration through the broad range of mechanisms already applied in bids to achieve transitional justice, with varying degrees of success, in countries such as South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Spain, and Portugal.
The fourth obstacle is the problem of inclusivity, or the ability of the new leadership to establish a common ground that is shared among the various political players. In a country that has been run by a one-man show, there are legitimate concerns that its political development has been stifled. There is no doubt that there are different tendencies within the population and that the rebels do not have among themselves any common ground. A small minority would say that “Islam is the solution,” while others will look toward models of “liberal democracy,” and still others will look to something like Turkey or Indonesia; both are democracies, yet with flaws. Though tribal identities remain strong in various parts of the country, tribalism is exaggerated in Libya. First and foremost, it is a matter of identity, family, and regional and national loyalty. The uprising and its aftermath have indeed reflected the aspiration of the people to express their Libyan national identity and their longing for freedom. Concepts of authenticity, liberation, tradition, modernity, the West, nation-state, Islam, and identity have started to be tackled, as reflected in the constitutional roadmap set by the NTC. A genuine national dialogue should be established to develop a consensual vision on these issues and the future course of the country. Transformations will have to be reflected within institutional change in education, in the media, and in politics. Power must indeed be redistributed from the political executive to the various institutions within the state, between the public sphere and civil society, and within civil society itself. This entails establishing effective political parties that reject any religious, ethnic or tribal bases, independent judiciaries, election boards, unhindered media and a functioning legislative body. While organized actors –Islamists, the army and paramilitary groups– are emerging as the key players who can provide, hopefully, stability in the immediate future, reform and change are likely to follow a more tentative course.
The fifth challenge is achieving balance between legitimacy and efficiency as a bulwark against pervasive corruption and authoritarian deviation. Libya must attain a balance between efficacy - the running of agencies and delivery on one side - and credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the Libyans on the other side. Figures known for their moral integrity and credibility in the former regime, many of whom have precious insight into the running of the country, should neither be eliminated nor removed. It would constitute a grave mistake, as was the case in Iraq when the collapse of the state bureaucracy was precipitated by intimidation and revenge, and the now infamous policy of De-Baathification.
Legitimacy is absolutely the number one benchmark for this transition. In other words, the decision-making process must be an expression of negotiation, persuasion and consensus rather than majority or unanimity, as the personalities involved in this process are vital for the success of a peaceful and forward-looking transition in Libya.
In the face of these challenges, the aspiration for empowerment is now breaking free from the shackles of fear and making change a reality. This must be based upon building democratic institutions and enhancing society’s confidence in these institutions’ ability to protect a pluralistic democratic order from its potential detractors. In a country lacking a well-articulated civil society and history of political participation, transition is wrought with a degree of uncertainty and trepidation. Of course, the Libyan people are looking for a sweeping transformation of the political landscape, but a long road lies ahead before a constitutional Libyan democracy establishes itself in the country. It will take time and require great patience and perseverance.
Most importantly, Libyans should seek to organize themselves in accordance with the principles they have seen succeed elsewhere in the world. This, in turn, will allow for both national development and personal freedom. Toppling dictatorships, robust as they were, will prove less difficult in the long-run than building a democratic, accountable and equitable system of governance.
Noureddine Jebnoun is a faculty member at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.