Post-Qaddafi Libya

  • 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.

Frank Anderson and Thomas R. Mattair

Mr. Anderson is president of the Middle East Policy Council and Dr. Mattair is the Council’s executive director.

There are many things that could go wrong in a post-Qaddafi Libya. The 20th century does not provide too many happy models of post-revolutionary political development. In Libya, divisions between east and west, Arab and Berber, tribes, secular and Islamist forces, and victorious rebel forces and defeated Qaddafi loyalists provide faultlines on which fragmentation and internal conflict could easily arise. Even if that does not happen, there is still the potential for extremism and corruption to rear their heads.

Libya has never had a government that successfully served and protected its people. The Ottoman, Italian, and post-independence governments all settled into corruption and ineffectiveness. Qaddafi’s government surpassed them all in its negative performance. For decades, students of Libya have written about the absence of the building blocs for democracy. There was no tradition of transparency or rule of law nor were there  political parties or civil society.

Yet the revolution has from the beginning provided positive surprise after positive surprise. Home-grown revolutionaries became steadily better organized and effective as they fought their way across the country. Darwin worked very quickly on the battlefield. The fighters were backed up by spontaneously created voluntary organizations that  provided food, medical care and communication services. Benghazi has remained secure and well-governed.  Liberated towns and villages have not descended into crime and chaos. Instead, citizens have organized to provide security and essential services. Despite persistent concerns about Islamist extremism and tribalism and revenge-based atrocities, there was very little evidence of any of this. There has been a widespread popular desire for positive change, a growing sense of national identity, a growing understanding of democracy, and a Transitional National Council that has produced a sensible roadmap for democracy.

Today, Tripoli-based rebels and rebels from the mountains to the west have quickly taken control of large sections of Tripoli, where the new seat of government will be. The rebel movement includes thousands of Libyans educated abroad or trained by international oil companies and banks in Libya, preparing them to help establish an efficient government administration and a modern economy. Happily, they will also have substantial resources to finance efforts to improve life for all Libyans.

The immediate tasks for a new government will be to provide security: to take control of all of Tripoli, prevent reprisals against regime personnel, and protect infrastructure and military sites throughout the country so they do not fall into the hands of saboteurs. It will also have to take control over the many militias that emerged to fight the regime and try to integrate them into a national army and police in which there will be room for members of the existing security organizations. A new government will also have to make room for trained employees of Qaddafi’s government in a new structure that will provide good governance.  It will have to overcome east-west, Arab-Berber, and tribal divisions that Qaddafi manipulated during his years in power. In the meantime, it will need to establish transparent rules and processes to support commercial activity and economic development that will benefit all of Libya’s six million people. The United States, Europe, and the Gulf Cooperation Council states should help, but should recognize that it is primarily up to the Libyans themselves.

Libya’s descent into dysfunction in past decades has been due in part to its nature as a rentier state. Qaddafi’s state was able to use the income from the extraction of oil and gas in order to finance an oppressive apparatus that perpetuated its control over the people of Libya. The state did not need to distribute income equitably in order to provide welfare in exchange for popular consent to its rule. It did not have to establish a bargain whereby the people paid taxes for services. Libya’s new government should aim to move beyond the model of the rentier state. It should use the revenues from oil and gas exports to diversify its economy, promote local economic development, and employ its citizens. To start, tourism, light industry, and knowledge-based industries should be promoted.

All of this presents challenges to a new Libyan government, but there are reasons to be optimistic. One significant advantage to the Transitional National Council is its learning from its own experience and from the larger Arab Spring. Unpopular governments can be overthrown by the people. That lesson should instruct them as they establish a post-Qaddafi Libya.

  • 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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