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.

On the home stretch

Just before I went to bed last night, the BBC News cast were examining the front pages of today’s papers and wondering if the newspapers would be left red-faced when Tripoli fell over night and their headlines were out of date before the last copy was off the press. It was indeed a possibility. It was, however, not to be so.


Libya fighting map

 

This is not a bad thing. In fact, the rebels opposing Col Gaddafi have made huge advancements in the past few days. On Friday they finally captured the much fought-over coastal towns of Ziltan and Zawiya and quickly pushed out Gaddafi’s forces. This was highly significant, as these two towns give the rebels control of the coastal road which links the rebel strong holds of the East and Misrata in the West to Tripoli, the capital and Col Gaddafi’s seat of power. The loss of the road also means that Gadaffi’s supply lines have been cut and puts even more pressure on him to go.

Another big breakthrough came from inside Tripoli. The city had so far lain dormant but on Saturday night violence errupted on the streets. There were reports that gunfire was exchanged before Gaddafi’s forces quashed the rebelious citizens. However, the fact remains that Col Gaddafi now faces resistance in his own back garden and he is surely getting anxious. With the taking of Ziltan and Zawiya, it can not be long before the main rebel army arrive in Tripoli.
This in turn means that Gaddafi’s days are numbered, much more than they have ever been. The final possibility of his survival as Libya’s leader has been snuffed out and, much like his counterpart in Syria – President Bashar al-Assad – he has crossed a line of no return. So the question now shifts. We are no longer asking if Gaddafi will go, but when. It seems the answer is soon. His own regime is weakening by the day, with continued defections and a lack of supplies. And if the rebel forces capture Tripoli, the game will surely be up. So then the next question arises. What comes after Gaddafi? Post your theories as comments.