Sadeq Institute’s General Director, Anas El Gomati analyzes the pressing past, present and future issues in Libya.
Download PDF: After Gaddafi: Libya’s post conflict
As the Libyan revolution draws to its apparent end, and celebrations reach their climax in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square, scenes of euphoria may now begin to be hampered by questions of security. There are a number of pressing issues which need urgent attention, particularly as the hunt for the ever elusive Gaddafi continues. Whilst the ex-despot ceases to become a force to rally around, the business of state building has already begun. There are a number of serious issues of concern, which require reflection and analysis, most pertinent of them are Gaddafi’s persistent calls to fight until the end. In short, could Gaddafists acting as a fifth column wage a guerrilla warfare campaign from towns around Libya?
Safety and Security Matters
The Libyan people are recovering from the aftershock of war. The streets of Tripoli are literally lined with men, both young and old, brandishing AK-47s slung over their shoulders, heavy artillery and machine guns adorn pick-up trucks. At present, whilst there are legitimate security fears, we have not reached state of panic. As the sense of achievement in overthrowing Gaddafi fades, national and international security concerns return to the fore and must be assessed. Internationally, Libya could become an important black market as the perennial machinery of war – the AK-47 left behind in their thousands will quickly become an in-demand commodity for international arms dealers, amongst other clandestine actors. A quick response must come to the armed groups who impressively toppled a dictator, but are still carrying weapons and with little reason to fight. They must now be actively encouraged to hand over their arms to the state. Military units formed during the uprising should be integrated into the newly formed government. The NTC’s decision with regards to disarmament should be an intensely scrutinised first step towards domestic credibility, and international legitimacy. As post-conflict governments in Afghanistan, and Iraq have found (in albeit distinctly different circumstances), an indecisive and incoherent disarmament policy can threaten nationwide stability, and quell democratic aspirations very quickly. Though it is important to point out that it is not only the revolutionaries (who form a wide cross-section of society) in Libya who we find armed, it is also the followers, volunteers and armed forces of Gaddafi.
Gaddafi’s Last Men
It should be noted that a great many ‘Gaddafists’ themselves are beneficiaries of tribal patronage, but this support structure does not contain any tribal homogeneity. As such, his support base lacks a coherent unifying set of principles or ideology which bind them. It is neither a nationalist struggle, nor contains the ingredients for a populist uprising. In order to wage the most basic of guerrilla warfare campaigns, Gaddafi would need to provide clarity in vision for the future, becoming a constructive force for his supporters, something he has consistently failed to deliver over 41 years. Gaddafi would also require solid international backing and support. Venezuela, Niger, Algeria amongst others have been mentioned as potential supporters, though again none of whom are able to provide a unifying set of aims and goals. A resurgence of third worldist, left-leaning ideology and autocracy masquerading as democracy would be a feat in itself, if one could unify such disparate causes. Internally, and importantly logistically, the Gaddafi leadership would need to secure a substantial amount of buy-in as a vital support structure towards co-ordinating movement and gaining support from villages. There neither exists the appetite to prolong such a bloody conflict from the citizens of the country, nor the willingness from the few who do support him to risk their own security for a prolonged period of time. Finally, communicating with the outside world, would pose a threat to Gaddafi’s own personal security. Communication would be necessary to move between safe houses, purchase arms, recruit fighters, and maintain his leadership and is a vital component towards waging an effective guerrilla warfare campaign.
Tribalism and Regionalism
Tribal warfare, in contradistinction to the prevalent media view, would require entire blocks of support to emerge in support of an idea or symbol. The tribal culture in Libyan society has been widely exaggerated. Whilst the tribe remains an important social institution it does not carry the same weight in political terms.
Tribalism may play a role in social and civil matters, but lacks the clarity, clout or mobilising energy and political power that it played historically. Whilst there are some sensitivities between the various regions in Libya, this neither threatens to destroy national cohesion nor cause substantial issue for what is essentially, a modern, urbanised, cosmopolitan Libya – where over 2 million people (just over one-third) of the population are city-based. As for regional tensions it is too early to say that this will necessarily result in a type of sectarian regionalism. Regional issues and tensions relating to political representation do not possess a character, which mounts a political challenge to the NTC’s authority or legitimacy. In terms of security concerns, this must not therefore be overstated. Regional issues will require meaningful initiatives to ensure political representation, as well as civil society initiatives to curtail any counterproductive consequences. A national dialogue from the NTC would be a necessary move forward in order to determine in national terms, the beginning of a period of truth and reconciliation. This could be a defining period of success, which could help increase its popularity. The reconciliation process will no doubt leverage Libya’s rich religious heritage (and its moral codes), as well as its traditions of generosity and forgiveness to manage this process. For the other side, those who have had atrocities inflicted upon them; now is the time to show remorse.
Addressing Issues of the Past and Future
The NTC must also begin to address the wounds of a pre-revolution Libya, where a list of atrocities and injustices were committed. A strong decision must be taken by the NTC regarding civil and legal issues. The current head of the NTC, Mustafa Abdul Jelil (ex-Minister of Justice), is expected to play an integral role in satiating the appetite of those calling for justice. His earlier statement threatening to resign, should the country descend into violence-fuelled retribution was indeed commendable. It will be crucial to both set a precedent and also be seen to be strong on vigilantism and on those taking the law into their own hands. Reprisals and individual retribution may begin to create a culture characterised by in-fighting, which would threaten the very fabric of trust that security is built on. The NTC must seek to understand the Libyan society in a move which, forges and encourages strong links with civil society groups in order to establish the foundations for strong and proper socio-political streams and currents emanating from a people blocked out for over 41 years.
The NTC’s role in defining the contours and parameters of state control will be significant in moving forward. Whilst it will be important to not repeat the strategic mistakes associated with Iraq, such as the ‘de-ba’athification’, it will be equally important to be seen to make a clear reconfiguration in the state’s security services apparatus. Cosmetic reform will almost certainly fall short of the standards demanded by those who fought on the front-lines, as well as those who have suffered during the Gaddafi years. These matters of security in a post-conflict environment will be paramount towards achieving the foundations with which to build a stable and democratic Libya. Whilst not mutually exclusive, such concerns will also need to be balanced against the steps taken that will lead this period of transition towards a democratic governance framework. The NTC’s policies during this sensitive and delicate period will be intensely scrutinised, with only a narrow margin of error that the Libyan public will find acceptable. They must be seen to tread both carefully and effectively in what are still dangerous times.
Anas el Gomati