As Moammar Gaddafi’s brutal 42-year rule over Libya appears to be coming to a violent expiration, there are growing concerns about how the interim Transitional National Council (TNC) will guide the war-ravaged country going forward.
International Business Times spoke to an expert on Middle East affairs to discuss Libya and its post-Gaddafi future.
Dilshod Achilov is a professor of political science at East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, Tenn.
IB TIMES: Assuming the National Transitional Council (NTC) takes complete control of Libya fairly soon, what are going to be the principal challenges ahead in establishing a new government?
ACHILOV: To start paving the road for a (potentially) future democratic Libya, NTC is facing the following short-term challenges that demand immediate attention:
*Maintaining the unity of the NTC and averting possible contentious conflict among its leaders which could risk further civil unrest.
*Bold, thoughtful and responsible moves to arrange free, frequent and fair elections
*Ensuring fair access for candidates to run for a political office
*Avoiding (and deterring) conflict of interest problems. In other words, the NTC must address potential tribal-based political discrimination that could undermine democratic elections (in which NTC elites may solicit their close allies to run for political offices). *Address the ideological and cultural differences between West (Tripoli) and East (Benghazi); maintaining national unity will be central in moving forward. The TNC will be walking on a thin rope to accomplish this.
*Starting a solid ground for deliberation on a new Libyan constitution which will frame the institutional arrangement of the ‘new’ Libyan. This is arguably the most important and the most pressing challenge for the TNC in the near future.
IB TIMES: Do you expect the first post-Gaddafi government to be something resembling a democracy?
ACHILOV: Not entirely. At best, the new government will be, I call it, “probationary democratic” which will be tested and closely watched both by the revolutionary forces in Libya and the international community.
It is important to delineate the three critical stages of democracy-building. For a state to become a fully-consolidated democracy, it needs to pass three critical stages: (1) starting point, (2) transitional period, and (3) consolidation. Right now, phase one has been successfully accomplished in Libya. The hardest part (stages 2 and 3) lies ahead.
As we speak, the NTC is now in charge of starting the “transitional phase” to a democratic rule. This “transitional phase” can take years, not months to pave a solid road for democratic consolidation. The transitional period involves building free democratic institutions, strengthening civil society (creating uncoerced space between people and the state), ensuring the rule of law, curbing corruption, maintaining security and facilitating civil and political rights.
Libya did not have any functioning political parties or a social culture/experience of political contestation against the state apparatus. From this perspective, building democratic institutions will take time with rough learning curves ahead. We should expect road-blocks during the “transitional” period. Eventually, the level of success of the transitional phase will determine the prospects for “democratic consolidation” in Libya.
IB TIMES: Does the TNC have any Islamic militants among its membership? Or are they largely a secular group?
ACHILOV: The TNC’s leadership has a complex mix of political ideologies which include those who envision a wider role for Islam in shaping the new Libyan government. While we do not have in-depth information on the TNC’s leadership, there is no sufficient evidence that suggests the presence of religious militants in the TNC ranks.
What is good though, the current TNC leadership comes with international experience (whose members lived outside Libya) who are versed in Western liberal democratic systems and who can associate with democratic institutions. I think this “international experience” of TNC officials is an important antidote to deter radical networks (e.g., Al-Qaeda) that could undermine democratic transitions.
However, it is critical to include the voices of moderate Islam in the process. Excluding the voices of emerging Islamic institutions who seek to function in the political arena could be detrimental for Libya. The inclusion of all political voices, including moderate Islamist leaders, will be instrumental in promoting civil liberties and political rights.
IB TIMES: The new government will of course have to rebuild the country’s vast oil infrastructure and industry. But do you expect Libya to develop more industries to diversify their economy?
ACHILOV: Yes, and it has to. Economic reforms will be imperative. Libya has long been a rentier state (i.e., heavily relying on oil profits). Diversification of industries will be essential for economic well-being as well as for the liberalization of financial markets.
In some respects, the demolition of the oil complex/infrastructure (due to war) may serve as a catalyst for the new Libyan government to speed up the diversification process (on the premise that it may take months or years for Libyan oil to come back to surface again – after the heavy damage done during the civil war).
IB TIMES: Relative to other Arab countries, how wealthy and advanced is Libya (prior to the civil war, that is).
ACHILOV: Libya was far well off, and perhaps the richest, state in north Africa (prior to the civil war). While one could see the abundance of luxury cars and fancy shopping centers, the social infrastructure (schools, universities, other social services) of Libya, however, hardly qualified as “advanced”.
Economic development was uneven. The distribution of wealth and investments on social institutions were poorly managed by Gaddafi’s regime. It will be imperative for the TNC and future Libyan government to start investing heavily in strong social infrastructure.
IB TIMES: Black (Sub-Saharan) nations seem to be skeptical and resentful of the TNC. Will the new Libya government have to reach out to Black Africa in order to solidify its legitimacy?
ACHILOV: We need to see it as “a two-way street” relationship -- the Sub-Saharan nations will have to reach out to a newly formed Libyan government in the near future. Normalizing diplomatic relations for both sides will bear mutual strategic benefits. While it is hard to predict the future, it is more probable to expect that the current resentment would not last long.
The TNC has received wide legitimacy from the international community. Apart from deepening legitimacy, the TNC will need to fare well with sub-Saharan nations in order to maintain regional security and stability in the long run.
IB TIMES: Gaddafi’s family members are reportedly in Algeria – what is their status? Are they trapped in a kind of limbo? Or do you think they will find safe passage in some other country?
ACHILOV: Gaddafi’s sons (those who are still alive) will be wanted and hunted by the revolutionaries. Gadhafi’s wife and daughter may still be wanted for questioning, as the dark secrets of Gaddafi regime are slowly unraveled. Finding a safe route to escape future questioning is possible; but it is not going to be easy for Gaddafi’s family to either rest peacefully (that is, live in peace outside Libya) or for the rebels to bring them back to Tripoli for questioning.
IB TIMES: Historically, how has Libya gotten along with its immediate neighbors, Egypt and Algeria? And how will these relationships change Post-Gaddafi?
ACHILOV: Due to his unpredictable, arrogant and mostly irrational character, Gaddafi had mixed relations with his Arab neighbors. In post-Gaddafi Libya, Algerian incumbent elites are troubled to see pro-democratic movements taking deeper roots, which threatens the Algerian autocracy.
Egypt, on the other hand, will likely develop closer ties and co-support one another in shaping the new political landscape of North Africa. Yet, both Egypt and Libya are and will be “in transition.” With this in mind, we should not discount future roadblocks or unpleasant surprises that these two governments may encounter.
At the grass-roots level, however, the popular discourse in Algeria, Libya and Egypt will have a lot in common in sharing and agitating for further political changes.
IB TIMES: During Gaddafi’s 40-year reign, what was the basis of his support?
ACHILOV: During his long tenure, Gaddafi enjoyed “an imposed support” from the Libyan nation -- not a genuine popular approval. The basis of his support was the “no alternative” perception to Gaddafi’s regime. There were no political parties; no opposition; no active civil society institutions that challenged state policies. It was so because of Gaddafi’ harsh-handed concentration of power.
The Libyan people saw him as an “infallible”, “untouchable” and “uncontested” leader. If we go back three years and imagine asking an average Libyan citizen whether Gaddafi’s fall was imminent (or that his regime would fall in 2011), we would get a unanimous “no” for an answer. Most Libyans would predict that Gaddafi’s sons would continue the legacy of his father’s rule. In short, the basis for Gaddafi’s support was “threat and fear-driven policies” and concentration of power which controlled the public discourse.
IB TIMES: Do you expect Gaddafi loyalists to remain in Libya after the new government takes form, or will they be eliminated? Driven out?
ACHILOV: In the near future, the loyalists to Gaddafi ‘s regime will likely remain in Libya (unless vigorously targeted by the TNC). I don’t think they will be totally eliminated. At best, the successors of Gaddafi’s elites will try to form a political opposition by garnering political support (especially among wealthy tribal networks who were close to Gaddafi). But this will be too dangerous at this current time. Thus, it is more probable to expect that Gaddafi loyalists will pursue a low-profile, “wait and see” strategy to stage a possible comeback in the future. The loyalists are likely to wait for future failures and shortcomings of post-Gaddafi government.
I don’t think, however, that a Gaddafi-type of regime will come back in the near future.
Moreover, it would not be fruitful for the TNC to totally eradicate Gaddafi loyalists. Driving them out will do more harm than good. The best solution is to integrate and win them (Gaddafi loyalists) back. Instead of driving them out to live overseas, the TNC should encourage all to be part of shaping the future of Libya. National reconciliation, not national vengeance, is what Libya needs the most right now.
IB TIMES: Does the NTC have unanimous support among the Arab and Mideast (now that Iran has reached out to them)?
ACHILOV: As evidence suggests, not all Arab states have full confidence in the TNC -- although almost all Arab countries accept the TNC as the legitimate caretaker government of Libya. But we need to emphasize that the authoritarian Arab states (Syria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, etc.) still fear the spill-over effects of the Libyan civil war.
It will be a highly uncomfortable, insincere (to a great extent) and weary relationship for authoritarian Arab nations as they engage in diplomatic relations with the TNC in weeks/months to come.