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Thursday, September 22, 2011
Libya's Post-Qaddafi Party
Elections are coming up fast. Will Libya fragment, or pull
By Alex Warren
President Obama with the chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil
are busy times for Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of Libya's National
Transitional Council (NTC). After hosting the leaders of Turkey, France, and
Britain in Tripoli last week, he met U.S. President Barack Obama on the
sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 20.
news has emerged from the meeting, but Libya's transition toward democracy -- a
daunting prospect for an interim government that has successfully gained
international recognition but must now start planning elections in a country
with no real history of party politics -- was no doubt high on the agenda.
"We all know what is needed," said Obama. "A transition that is
timely. New laws and a constitution that uphold the rule of law. Political
parties and a strong civil society. And, for the first time in Libyan history,
free and fair elections."
Jalil said in March that NTC members would not be allowed to stand in any
future polls, meaning that Libya's current leadership will theoretically play
no formal role once an elected government takes over. That sets the stage for
the political arena to be opened up to popular participation for what is
effectively the first time in the country's colorful history.
Libyans might just about remember their country's most recent multiparty
elections, held in 1952 soon after the U.N.-led unification of the country from
three provinces. Widely believed to have been manipulated by the Benghazi-based
monarchical government, the polls triggered unrest that led to the dissolution
of the main opposition force in Tripolitania, the country's western region, and
the subsequent banning of all political parties. The crackdown squashed hopes
that a functioning democracy might take root and left tribal, regional, and
financial influences with the most power in shaping how Libya was run.
transition has been complicated by the long shadow of Muammar al-Qaddafi's
incoherent and contradictory Jamahiriya system, which claimed to be a direct
rule of the masses, but in reality involved containing tribal and regional
allegiances through force and money while preventing the emergence of parallel
political or religious power bases. Qaddafi's regime crushed local Islamist
movements, like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and in its earlier decades
frequently assassinated exiled opposition leaders in Europe and further afield.
the years, Qaddafi's incomplete and unpredictable ideological shifts were made
not in response to popular pressure or organized political opposition, but
rather to ensure his regime's survival by moving with the times. He outlived,
and gave up on, both the pan-Arab nationalism that inspired him to seize power
in 1969 and the quasi-socialist ideology that lost much of its raison d'être
after the fall of the Soviet Union.
economic terms, Qaddafi's ultra-socialist bent of the 1970s and 1980s gave way
to liberalization in the early 2000s that was meaningful enough to spark an
internal clash between economic reformers, led by his son Saif al-Islam, and an
old guard led by Prime Minister Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi with vested interests
to protect. Around the same time, a broader U-turn repositioned Tripoli from
defiant pariah to an apparent Western ally that embraced its former nemeses in
Washington and London.
short, Qaddafi left no meaningful ideological legacy behind. It will be
fascinating to see what type of political parties -- and there can be no
democratic transition without them -- emerge in his wake. But the NTC needs to
start licensing them relatively soon if it intends to meet its ambitious target
of holding elections next year.
movements that played a central role in organizing protests are likely to form
parties, though they may lack the ideological glue to hold them together in the
post-Qaddafi era. Returning Libyan exiles could also try to form parties,
though they may well be unknown inside Libya and struggle to build support. It
would be surprising if something similar to Tunisia's moderate Islamist
Renaissance or Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party, formed in April by the Muslim
Brotherhood, were also not established. Libyan society is generally
conservative, and parties with Islam as their guiding tenet should garner a
great deal of support.
parties and their support bases might be most shaped by regionalism. This force
is not as strong as it was in 1950, when U.N. commissioner Adrian Pelt invited
seven representatives from each of Libya's three provinces -- Tripolitania,
Cyrenaica, and Fezzan -- to discuss the formation of a new national assembly.
But though pro-NTC forces may have been united under the banner of defeating
Qaddafi and still appear to be holding together, regional divides are likely to
make a heavy imprint on any new government.
factionalism is also a worry because this year's uprising has happened in
stages, with some towns and cities leading the revolt from the outset, others
joining it later on, and yet more still resisting. In Benghazi, there is
concern over the prospect of the NTC's fledgling institutions being moved to
Tripoli after being based in Libya's second-largest city for more than six
months. Some Misratis want political reward for the role that their brigades
played in the fighting and for the human sacrifices their city made. From its
base in the western mountains, the Amazigh, or Berber, community, deliberately
marginalized under Qaddafi but militarily essential to his overthrow, is
seeking a much greater cultural and political representation in the future
party could also emerge to represent towns like Sirte, Sabha, or Bani Walid,
where there is at least some genuine popular opposition to the NTC. Those still
willing to fight for Qaddafi's cause will sooner or later be subdued
militarily, but the rhetoric that he continues to promote -- that Libya has
been "invaded" by neo-imperial powers -- may resonate among those who
dislike being supervised by a transitional authority that owes its existence to
a Western-led military intervention.
with Tunisia's interim government, which blacklisted many senior members of
Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's regime, the NTC will also need to decide who should
be allowed to form political parties. This could be particularly divisive when
it comes to figures like Abdel-Salam Jalloud, Qaddafi's schoolmate and one of
his closest allies before a public spat in the mid-1990s. Jalloud has already
announced that he is recruiting members for a new "Homeland Justice and
Freedom Party" that will compete in elections.
though, the NTC must overcome the dilemma of quelling the remaining areas of
resistance without alienating large numbers of Libyans who will need to
participate in any successful democratic transition. The southern city of
Sabha, a vital gateway to the resource-rich Wadi al-Hayat and home to more than
250,000 people, is still being fought over. No genuinely inclusive national
reconciliation can start until it is stable, but delays to an already ambitious
election timetable could prove unpopular, just as they have in Egypt. Parts of
the northeast have already been Qaddafi-free for six months, and people's
patience will be tested.
greater danger is that the different militias under the NTC umbrella could
morph into the armed wings of new political parties, a prospect that
significantly raises the risk of civil conflict or even, when combined with the
strong regional affiliations, the creation of states within a state. Libya
might lend itself to a system of devolved rule, but this carries its own
problems, as persistent squabbling over Iraq's oil resources has shown.
of these issues are insurmountable, but they need to be addressed soon if
Libyans are to cast their ballots next year. In neighboring Tunisia, which at
least has some past experience of holding elections -- however rigged they
might have been -- the interim government began licensing new parties barely
six weeks after Ben Ali fled. More than 100 have been established in the run-up
to Oct. 23's constituent assembly vote. Although Tunisia's transition has not
been perfect, a potentially bloodier road lies ahead in Libya, where the
electorate will wield guns as well as votes.
-This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 21/09/2011-Alex Warren is a director of Frontier, a Middle East and North
Africa consultancy. He has lived and worked around the region and specializes