Is Libya free?

On the face of it the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Dig a little deeper, though, and the conviction behind the answer wanes a bit. So let’s evaluate.

Yes, Col Gadaffi no longer holds power. Therefore, Libya is free from the tyrant who ruled it by fear for the past four decades. He is no where to be found but his spokesmen still say that he is in Tripoli, while a few members of his family have escaped to neighbouring Algeria. More likely he too has fled, or returned to Sirte – his hometown – where his loyalist troops are expected to regroup and make a last stand. The rebels and the NTC (their government) have issued an ultimatum to the fighters in Sirte: give up, or face an all-out assault. With Tripoli firmly in rebel hands, it is almost impossible for Gadaffi to come back, but people are still scared. That fear will not abait until he is either captured or killed. Again, Libyans are controlled by fear.

So if Gadaffi can not come back, why is there so little international celebration? The world, and many Libyans, are daunted by the problems that could now arise – primarily, what to do with Gadaffi loyalists. Even without their leader, Gadaffi’s army pose a huge threat. For many years they will remain the best trained and best armed men in the country. Naturally, they will do all they can to derail the NTC and any following government in a bid to reinstate Gadaffi or various members of the old regime. They may disrupt elections, or attack ordinary civilians. In short they are dangerous people. And yet there is very little than can be done with them. An Iraqi-style devolution of the army would no doubt lead to the same sort of insurgency as in Iraq, further destabilising the country. It is better to keep the army in its official role, but the NTC will have a lot of reconciliation to do. Libyans, meanwhile, may feel that they have been let down by the keeping of Gadaffi loyalists in positions of power.

Another forceful blow to freedom has not been given much press time. The NTC is not an elected body. It is the self-proclaimed political leadership of the rebel forces. Not one vote helped it into power. This is a big deal. If Libyans did not elect the NTC, how are they ever going to remove it from power? And having fought so hard to gain office, why would the new politicians willingly leave? Luckily the Council is so far making all the right noises (some may say to secure the release of frozen assets). They have promised free and fair elections within eight months of Col Gadaffi’s capture. This is undoubtedly a good sign, but seeing as no one knows where Gadaffi is the Council could conceivably be in power for years before an election is held.

And even if elections do happen in a timely manner, what is to stop someone else from seizing autocratic power? The electoral system would be so new that the opportunities for abuse would be manifold. Of course, the UN will monitor goings on, but what can they do to ensure fairness? Not a lot. Also, it is highly likely that an Islamic or Islamist party will take a majority of seats in a new parliament, leaving many moderate Libyans feeling at best distanced from politics – at worse persecuted over their religion.

For Libya to be free four things need to happen: the capture or killing of Gadaffi, free elections (including freedom to run for office and a comprehensive electoral role), effective maintenance and control of the army, and the preservation of secularism. Not a hard task, then.

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