Is Libya’s Future at Risk?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

Recent events in Libya have raised serious doubts about the stability and future of the nation. The ruling NTC has had difficulty meeting the needs of the people, and has made several compromises that dismay those hoping for a more liberal and free Libya.  Meanwhile, armed gangs and pro-Qaddafi remnants threaten to destroy any stability built since the fall of the old regime.  In Bani Walid, local fighters loyal to the Qaddafi regime ousted NTC forces and declared control over the town.

According to an AFP article on the website, “Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council said it adopted on Saturday a new electoral law on the basis of which the North African country will form its first constituent assembly in June. The law, announced on the NTC’s Facebook page, scraps a draft proposal that would have reserved 10 percent of seats on the 200-member General National Congress for women, in a move criticized by women’s and rights groups. The law also stipulates that two-thirds of the congress be made up of candidates from political groups, with the rest going to independent members.”

The National editorial highlights the tenuous situation in the country: “Hope of a smooth transition to national unity is vanishing as Libya’s interim government fails to control tribal, regional and class rivalries that have bubbled up across the country…..The best-case scenario, then, is that the Council is impotent. After the new elections law was passed on Saturday despite withering criticism, other Libyans will say that interim leaders are trying to cement their power. Libya has significant assets, notably the oil and gas revenue that is flowing in once again. But even money will not soothe old anger; only political vision and inspired leadership has any chance to do that now.”

Earlier in the week, the same editorial staff asserted, “Libyan leaders face[d] new tests of authority…. The ejection from office of Muammar Qaddafi and the ensuing civil war have led to a sheaf of problems the NTC has so far not managed well. Big-picture advantages such as international goodwill and the speedy resumption of oil exports have not saved the NTC from a discouraging range of domestic problems….On top of these problems, the NTC has now created a new hurdle for itself, by promulgating an election law which excludes anyone with dual citizenship from elective office, possibly even from voting….the draft election law risks alienating a important, well-connected international element of the NTC’s support. Surely the voters can be trusted to decide if they trust returning expatriates….For all its problems, the NTC has much more legitimacy, and governance ability, than anyone else. But it still has to convince the country of that.”

However, the electoral law might be the least of the government’s worries. Tripoli Post’s Umar Khan gives a compelling explanation of what went wrong in Bani Walid, citing a local source: “His account not only complicates the already confusing situation but also raises many questions on the interim government’s ability to provide peace and security to the people. He said that the intelligence network of the National Guards is very active and they have been following a few [pro-Gaddafi] groups in Tripoli and in other cities for almost three months….We have proof that some people from Bani Waleed are in touch with the Gaddafi minions and they are also trying to contact rich people to finance them.”

The events have also given hope to remnants of the pro-Qaddafi movement. In a recent open letter posted on the pro-Qaddafi website Mathaba, Dennis South (wildly!) asserts “at this moment, the day after the Libyan Jamahiriya took back the city of Bani Walid (January 24th, 2012), those millions of Americas, like myself, are shouting for joy at your success!!! Millions of U.S. citizens know — very clearly — of the plight of the Libyan Jamahiriya. And on January 24th, when Bani Walid came back into the hands of the Libyan Jamahiriya government, those U.S. citizens danced for joy! They cried tears of happiness.”

Gulf News, on the other hand, opted to repost an article by The Economist that, on the balance, was more positive about the state of events in Libya, albeit admitting that progress has been “uneasy…. Libya’s interim rulers had their first serious wobble on January 21 when a crowd of several thousand massed outside a government building in Benghazi, the country’s second city, where members of the National Transitional Council were meeting….Progress in Libya is scrappy and slow but there are nonetheless grounds for optimism. The revolutionaries on the streets are for the most part coordinating with the defense and interior ministries. They patrol residential districts and guard public buildings.”

Ultimately, there is no escaping that, as Mohamed Eljarh writes on Middle East Online, “Armed groups and militias are the main threat facing the new Libya, and putting its hope for smooth transition to democracy after toppling Gaddafi’s regime at risk. Despite the fact that armed groups and militias were clearly in control during the war against Gaddafi’s troops, they now represent threat to Libya’s NTC and its transitional government…. for Libya to progress safely in its transition to democracy, these armed groups need to be dismantled. If these groups continue to operate loosely, there will be no political, economic or social stability and it will be hard to implement any forms of transitional justice in the country. The armed militias culture represents a direct and dangerous security threat to the new Libya; moreover, they indicate a serious moral crisis among the members of those militias.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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