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The challenges for Libya now Gaddafi is gone

People in Libya are desperate for change and the new government will have to manage expectations carefully. AFP/Abdullah Doma

The relegation of Moammar Gaddafi to the meat-locker of history is a significant exorcism of Libya’s past.

Whether it would have been better for him to face trial is a moot point. It’s doubtful that too many Libyans will be having an existential crisis over the ethical circumstances of his death. They would never have truly felt free if Gaddafi had slipped away somewhere or wound up in The Hague, only to keep up his grandstanding rhetoric.

Running Libya

What does remain though is the question of how the new Libya will be run. Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya system was purposely designed to prevent any effective power in governance and the legislature was a rubber stamp charade.

A hasty “Interim Constitutional Declaration” was made by the National Transitional Council, undoubtedly at the behest of the West, but basically Libyans will have to come up with a completely new blueprint as to how their nation will operate.

The basis of Sharia law for the judicial system (as it is in most secular Arab nations) will not be too hard for the West to accept. But the spectre of hard-line Islamic groups waiting to swoop on elections will be more difficult to swallow.

Ensuring security

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Chair of the National Transitional Council, has declared Libya free, but his challenges have only just begun. EPA/Sabri Elmhedwi

And it’s not only the legislature that offers uncertainties. The executive, especially in the context of ensuring security in the new state, is just as problematic.

The mistakes of Iraq, where the dismissal of the armed forces, the police and anybody with a connection to the ancien régime caused a civil meltdown, must be avoided in Libya.

But how can the old cronies and state security apparatus be seen as credible enough to carry on their roles now?

Weapons on the loose

Related to this question of security is the need to demilitarise the country. A major issue with the short to mid-term prospects for stability in Libya is the weapons proliferation that has occurred during the fighting.

There are now countless thousands of pieces of military hardware in private hands: hands that now have the experience to use them.

There are obviously no paper records of who grabbed hold of what during the revolution and a lot of that equipment will be squirreled away because Libyans now know that being heavily-armed is a way to defeat tyranny.

Of particular concern are the whereabouts of up to 20,000 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that the Gaddafi regime stockpiled over the years. These are unaccounted for following the months of chaos and over-running of military facilities.

Weapons such as these leaking out onto the black market are of grave concern to NATO. One man parked at the side of Heathrow Airport could cause mass-casualties with just a single example of such a device.

The access to weaponry will also be a factor in the pursuit of any sectarian conflicts.

Tribal divisions

Gaddafi was prone to fan the flames of ethnic and tribal rivalry within Libya but his absolute power also kept a lid on any escalation.

Now that he is gone it will be a big challenge for the NTC to seal these divisions. It is not an impossible task, but all it will take is one group of hot-heads tooled up with some heavy weapons and the foundation of a united Libya will crack.

Impatient for improvement

The Libyan people want change to come now. EPA/Sabri Elmhedwi

But beyond governance and guns lies perhaps the biggest challenge of all: patience.

When you’ve lived for two generations under a tyrant and then thrown him off it is entirely understandable that you expect things to get better.

The citizens of Tunisia and Egypt anticipate the same. The pace with which real improvement can take place though is likely to be slow.

A shattered economy, a narrow export base (albeit a lucrative one), an emasculated intelligentsia and no experience with democracy will make next few years painful for Libyans.

It certainly won’t be tomorrow that everyone is in possession of a car, an air-conditioner and a well-paying job.

The future is definitely there for Libyans who want to seize it, but they will need to grasp the nettle before they can hold the laurel.

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