The dictator is dead

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is dead – killed by one of the Lydian rebels after his hometown of Sirte fell, officially freeing the country after his 42 year dictatorship. The moment, although important, was largely symbolic, as the rebel forces have been in control since they took Tripoli – the capital – in late August. It only remained for them to oust Gaddafi’s forces from his two remaining strongholds Bani Walid and Sirte, both of which are now in rebel hands. The fight is up.

Or is it? Militarily yes, but Libya has a long way to go. Having been under a dictatorship for more than 4 decades the country has no civil infrastructure – no independent
judiciary, no political parties and no electoral system. That means that all of these things have to somehow spring into existence before an election can be held. And that won’t be easy.

The people responsible for all this are the members of the National Transitional Council (NTC), a body of assorted technocrats and politicians that represents the political wing of the rebels. The NTC’s Prime Minister, Mahmoud Jibril, has pledged elections within 8 months of the killing or capture of Gaddafi. We will see if this happens – but it is unlikely given the amount of organisation that will be needed. It is also questionable whether, having fought so hard for power, the NTC will want to give it up.

Having said all that, there is reason to be optimistic. Libya is on the right track. The NTC are making all the right noises at least, and with Gaddafi out of the picture it is hoped that his supporters will give up and go home. If elections do happen, however slowly, Libya will finally be a democracy.

Even elections pose threats, however. Libya is a deeply divided country, both along ethnic and tribal lines. How this would translate into a stable and representative government is hard to envisage. The other problem is the popularity of Islamists. An Islamist or Islamic party is likely to play an important part in the new government. That would potentially endanger the hard-won freedoms of Libyans, especially women, and sour relationships with the West. And yet there is hope. People have died for freedom, their relatives are unlikely to give it up now.

This is a brief article, written from the poolside of a hotel and for my school’s newspaper. Proper blogging will resume shortly, Luc

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.

A new country

Over night Libya’s rebel army made the much-anticipated advance on Tripoli and we awoke to an almost-finished battle for the city. The rebels used a two-pronged approach, coming both from Ziltan to the West and Zawiya to the East, forcing Gaddafi’s forces to fight on two fronts. As of this morning the rebels were claiming to hold 80-90% of Tripoli, although the BBC was struggling to verify these figures. The rebels’ political wing, the National Transitional Council (NTC) – now recognised by most countries as the legitimate government of Libya – says that there are only ‘pockets of resistance’ left in the capital, although gunfire and heavy weaponry can still be heard throughout the city.

Everyone is now almost, if not completely, certain that Gaddafi is going to go in the next few days. Last night his most influential sons Saif al-Islam and Mohammed were captured and are now being held. This leaves their father even more isolated. And as I write there is a gun battle outside Gaddafi’s main compound in Tripoli – where it is conceivable he could be. The rebels say that they plan to secure Tripoli by Wednesday and are confident that once this happens the regime will fall.

So Gaddafi’s effectively gone and his forty-two years of dictatorship are over. This is surely a reason to celebrate. But more difficulties lie ahead. Libyan society is very tribal and divided. These divisions have been held together by Col Gaddafi’s iron grip, but in the manic days ahead they may once again rear their heads and fighting may break out. As well as this, troops once loyal to the regime may continue to oppose the NTC, even when they have no-one left to protect. And even if fighting does come to a swift end it will be extremely hard to bring democracy to a country that has not experienced it for four decades. The NTC has been fighting for control for five months now and it would not be surprising if it was reluctant to give it up. This means that the move towards free and fair elections will be slow and painful, even if everyone acts nicely.

There are two big problems facing Libya’s immediate future – NATO and Islamic extremism. The former seems to be sticking around while the rebels call for it to leave, which is slightly awkward as they are on the same side. NATO seems intent on claiming some of the glory, although in recent history many of its heads of state have been very pally with Gaddafi. By sticking around, unwanted, they it is doing more harm than good to its reputation. Journalists in the UK have been quick to remind politicians and the public of the lessons of Iraq. I think this is a bit of an over the top comparison. NATO did not invade Libya, it prevented the massacre of innocent civilians and helped topple an undemocratic and ruthless regime. It did not deploy troops. Crucially, it was invited in. Nevertheless, it should not surpass its mandate of protecting civilians. It also should not try to demilitarise Libya, or impose any of its other ideas about government as it did in Iraq. If it leaves Libya a few days after Gaddafi it wíll have done a good job.

One of the jobs the NTC will have to do in the coming weeks is decide who should be allowed to run in elections, whenever and however they take place. There are two groups who may be causes for concern – ex-Gaddafi supporters and religious fundamentalists. It is unclear what the NTC will decide or how the public views the two groups and integrating them into the new society of Libya will be very difficult. But legally excluding either will only lead to more political strife, especially after Gaddafi’s repressive rule. Safeguards must also be put in place to prevent another breakdown of the constitution and ensure that no one person takes complete command.

It is clear that Libya is at a turning point – and one from which there will be no return. If the next few days and weeks go smoothly it is reasonable to hope that Libya can reach a state of peaceful and functional democracy. Keep your fingers crossed.