Simon Martelli and Imed Lamloum, AFP
Last updated: 22 October, 2011

Libya faces optimism and uncertainty in new era

With Moamer Kadhafi gone, Libya’s new leaders begin the mammoth task of building a country overrun by militias, divided along tribal lines and scarred by 42 years of dictatorship, but analysts voice cautious optimism.

The most immediate task for the National Transitional Council is to disarm the country, awash with weapons from the eight-month conflict, and to integrate the disparate and heavily armed militias that won the war into a professional army.

There are also the longer-term challenges of institution building, resolving political disputes and implementing policies that do not alienate the different factions and tribes, especially the ones that played key roles in Kadhafi’s downfall.

The tribes in the east, militias from Misrata and the Berbers in the west are among those likely to demand prominent positions in Libya’s new political scene, for the sacrifices they made during the insurgency.

Interim premier Mahmud Jibril warned earlier this week that politicking among the victorious rebels risked plunging the country into chaos, saying a power struggle was emerging between Libya’s new leaders before a new constitution has even been written.

“We are heading towards a political battle, but the rules of the game are not clearly defined,” Jibril told a meeting of former rebel forces convened to discuss the establishment of a new state based on the rule of law.

“We went from a national battle to a political battle, and this should not have happened before the creation of a state,” he said.

At the beginning of September, the NTC issued a “constitutional declaration,” unveiling steps to be taken on the path to a free and democratic Libya.

The document envisaged the formation of a transitional government, within one month of the country formally being declared liberated, which would be charged with organising general elections after eight more months.

No independent institutions or political parties were allowed to develop under Kadhafi, meaning the country’s power structures must be built from scratch.

“For the moment, people are sticking to their tribes and their regions because of the uncertainties,” said Waheed Burshan, a local leader in Ghuryan, southwest of Tripoli.

“Kadhafi has gone now. So a huge part of the risk has gone too. But at the same time, up to now, the people have not seen anything of substance, in terms of political structures, that they can work with,” he warned.

One concern is the place of Islam in the new political set-up, though most Libyans insist that the form of Islam most widely practiced in their country is moderate and tolerant.

Islamists, many of whom were persecuted by Kadhafi, are likely to hold important positions, with the founder of the now-disbanded Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), Abdelhakim Belhaj, already heading Tripoli’s military council.

The NTC must also repair the destruction wrought by the conflict, both physical and social, especially in the Kadhafi strongholds of Sirte and Bani Walid, both besieged for weeks and evacuated by most of their inhabitants.

The conflict also seriously damaged an estimated 10 percent of the country’s vital oil infrastructure. The government hopes to reach pre-war production levels by the end of next year, although some experts doubt this is possible.

David Hartwell, a senior analyst at IHS Jane’s Defence, says the NTC has succeeded in maintaining law and order in Tripoli and Libya’s other major cities, by engaging with Kadhafi-era bureaucrats and even former police and security officials to keep basic services running.

“This has prevented an Iraq-style collapse of civil society and given Libyans few reasons to be unhappy with the TNC,” he said.

“Nevertheless, disarming the population and keeping disputes in the political arena will be a challenge for the still potentially fractious NTC,” he added.

For now, analysts are confident that, with the goodwill of the international community, its vast oil wealth and the removal of a feared and hated leader, the new Libya can prosper.