Post-Gaddafi Libya: doomed to anarchy?

Thu 01 Sep 2011 01:41 GMT | 05:41 Local Time

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An article by Azad Garibov, expert at the Centre for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

After four decades of rule and six months of battle with rebel forces Muammar Gaddafi is sure to fall, but it is not clear what the National Transitional Council (NTC) is going to bring to the nation. Now the people of Libya are enjoying the euphoria of victory over Gaddafi, but it will fade quickly to leave the main question: what happens next in this energy-rich country? Will the rebellion bring democracy and development or anarchy and instability to Libya?

It is inevitable that Tripoli’s complete fall will bring with it new challenges and questions for the future of the country. There are a lot of obstacles before the NTC which acts as de jure leader of the rebel forces, to build a stable and democratic state in post-Gaddafi Libya. First of all, there is strong ethnic, tribal and regional split in the country. While the Libyan people are almost entirely Muslim and predominantly Arab, they are comprised of hundreds of tribes that speak different dialects of Arabic and preserve their internal autonomy. There are also Berbers in the Nafusa Mountains, Tuareg in Fezzan province and Toubou people in the Cyrenaica part of the Sahara Desert. Even though all these groups participated in the rebellion against Gaddafi, they fought independently on different fronts and now have plenty of weapons in their hands to uphold their own particular interests in the new Libya. Freed from the Gaddafi regime, which used an iron first to control all these tribes and ethnicities, it will not be easy for any new government in Tripoli to make them accept its authority.

Possible east-west competition also raises serious concerns for the future of Libya. Throughout its history the country has seen long-lasting competition, if not rivalry, between the two main provinces – Cyrenaica in the east and Tripolitania in the west. The rebels mostly represent the east and Benghazi – the centre of the east, served as the capital of the rebellion for six months of fighting against Gaddafi. Therefore, the west might probably resist the authority of the east which will become another obstacle on the way to building post-war stability in the country.

Furthermore, the NTC itself is not a strong unified body, but in fact, a loose collection of different factions – Islamist and secular, former members of the regime and longstanding exiles – who do not have many interests in common other than getting rid of Gaddafi. It is very doubtful whether the NTC will be able to bring everyone under a single banner after the fall of this unifying enemy. History has repeatedly shown that it is easier to unite different forces of the opposition to fight a common enemy – in the Libyan case, Col Gaddafi – but after the victory former allies begin to pursue their own interests and objectives and consequently fight one another. In Afghanistan in 1992, different armed groups involved in fighting to overthrow the Najibullah regime became locked in a struggle for power that pushed the country into a long period of destructive civil war and anarchy untill the Taliban conquered and pacified most parts of the country. The same – continuing civil war among the former anti-Gaddafi allies – can easily happen in Libya as well.

Now there are simply too many weapons in the hands of rebel groups, part of which were supplied by foreign states to fight the regime and part were captured from Gaddafi’s weapon stockpiles. Such an amount of weaponry beyond the control of the state raises questions about the future of the security environment in post-Gaddafi Libya. The security vacuum and lack of strong leadership also raises concerns about the security of Libya's advanced weapons, chemicals and explosives, and the danger of them falling into the hands of different extremist groups.

Moreover, as a result of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42 years of rule with an “iron fist”, Libya has few political institutions and lacks almost any civil society that can facilitate the smooth transition to democracy.  As the experiences of recent years in Afghanistan and Iraq have clearly demonstrated, it is much easier to depose a regime than to build a stable government in the country, especially from the remnants of a long-established dictatorial regime. So, Libya can easily face the Afghan or Iraq-style collapse into anarchy as well.

Even if the NTC can achieve and effectively maintain control over the whole country, it will be very difficult to repair the economic infrastructure damaged during the civil war. Imminent problems with water supply, electricity, and many other basic needs will play into the hands of any group that wants to undermine the central government in Libya. The new government that will be formed in Tripoli cannot rely on oil revenues in the short and medium term either, since the destroyed infrastructure means it will take at least three years for oil production to reach the pre-war level.

The NATO air campaign may have helped the rebels a lot to depose Muammar Gaddafi, but the majority of Libya’s problems cannot be solved by bombing. There is a serious ethnic, tribal and regional split in the country, the NTC itself is a loose opposition alliance with the sole unifying goal of deposing Gaddafi, there are too many uncontrolled weapons in the hands of different rebel groups, the country lacks the traditions of political institutions and the economy is devastated as a result of the civil war. With all these problems ahead for the building of a new Libya with a stable government, it seems that the state of war and instability in this country will not end in the near future. Even after Gaddafi’s death or capture, the country will remain unstable, any central government will not be able to spread its authority to the whole country, anarchy and insecurity will remain widespread.




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