Libya in transition | Inquirer Opinion
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Editorial

Libya in transition

/ 04:49 AM August 29, 2011

Moammar Gadhafi is still at large, but the rebels have practically taken over Tripoli and are conducting mopping-up operations to clear the capital of Gadhafi loyalists and consolidate their hold. Now the real work begins: how to normalize the situation and rebuild a country coming out of more than 40 years of autocratic military rule. Would Libya take the road to democracy? Or would the defeat of Gadhafi merely result in chaos and anarchy?

The first problem is Gadhafi himself. Having entrenched himself for four decades, he has maintained some popular support among hardcore loyalists that could pose enough threat to make the transition difficult. His death armies in fact still roam the streets of less important Libyan towns and cities, and whether their boss is in or out of power, they constitute a threat to hapless civilians.

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A bounty has been put up for Gadhafi, and many are hoping it would lead to his capture for him to face charges and account for his rule. His trial, if ever, would be the first test for democracy for the new Libya.

The next problem is financial and economic. Western countries control the frozen assets of Libya and should make sure they go to the National Transition Council, the interim government authority, to cover expenses that will help normalize the situation, rather than worsen it, which would happen if the money goes to armed groups loyal to different personalities who have worked to oust Gadhafi. The temptation for these groups to break up and then divide Libya among themselves is strong; it may result in the country’s oil assets being carved up according to special interests, which would pose a particularly pressing problem for global oil security. Already, petroleum prices have gone haywire as supply bottlenecks worsened because of the instability in Libya.

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But of course, the main problem is political. Analysts have called this early for a roadmap to political change as Gadhafi’s ouster poses a unique opportunity for political change and nation-building in the Arab world. The difficulty here is historical. The Arab Spring is barely eight months old and not much lesson can be derived from such short historical distance as to provide political prescriptions for a new member of the Arab democratic club, if ever there would be such a club.

But at least lessons have been learned from difficult democratic transitions elsewhere so that Libya could do no worse by making the first moves toward political normalcy and democratic institution-building, such as lifting the ban on political parties, removing press censorship, and releasing political prisoners. It is also important to set a timetable for the formation of a consultative council to draft a new constitution and to have it ratified at the soonest possible time in a free and open referendum. Since Nato member countries helped the rebellion against Gadhafi, there’s the impression that his ouster is sponsored by the West, not popular and democratic. Nato and the United Nations therefore should press for democratic institution-building at once, so that whatever regime will be put in place after Gadhafi would reflect the will of the Libyan people and have their support.

Democratic institution-building of course should take into consideration the culture and social make-up of Libya. In Afghanistan, the US-style presidential system that has been put in place in the post-Taliban era has proven unwieldy since the country is a loosely controlled tribal society. Considering the peculiarities of Arab societies, perhaps a parliament could be established and timetables along this line could be set in Libya.

Part of the problem in establishing democracy in Libya is the fact that the long iron-fisted Gadhafi era has either weakened or altogether destroyed civil institutions. The NTC is a loosely constructed coalition of forces, sectors and tribes that have formed a united front in order to kick Gadhafi out. In the next weeks, the coalition may suffer rifts as a result of partisan interests and inevitable personal clashes among its leaders. It is important therefore for the Nato member countries to impress upon the coalition that it can not risk disintegration for that would mean the disintegration of Libya too.

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TAGS: Arab Spring, hardcore loyalists, Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, National Transition Council, Nato, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Tripoli
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