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After Qaddafi, Libya Faces State Of Uncertainty

Libyan rebel fighters step on a picture of Muammar Qaddafi at a checkpoint in Tripoli on August 22.
Libyan rebel fighters step on a picture of Muammar Qaddafi at a checkpoint in Tripoli on August 22.
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By Robert Tait
After the euphoria comes the postrevolutionary hangover.

The tyrant may be gone -- almost -- but in the aftermath of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's demise, Libya's cobbled-together opposition knows a lot of fast political sobering up will be called for.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- NATO's role in backing their cause, the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) can be under no illusion about Western skepticism of its fitness to govern.

While the NTC has been recognized as the sole legitimate representative of Libya by 32 countries, it remains without a cabinet after the last one was dismissed by the chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, on August 8.

The council has been criticized as hopelessly divided and factionalized, with the failure to investigate the murder in July of the rebel army commander, Abdul Fatah Younis, cited as an example of its failings. Suspicions have been voiced that Jalil's interim government may have had a role in Younis's death.

And even if the opposition forces were more united, how bright can the prospects for democracy be in a country where Qaddafi's rule became so entrenched over 42 years to the point where he virtually was the state?

Rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil now faces the tough part.
Such questions were possibly in the mind of Mahmud Nacua, the Libyan charge d'affaires to Britain, as he addressed journalists in London on August 22 with promises of freedom and democracy. "We look forward to build [sic] a democratic country," Nacua said. "We will have a constitution. We will have freedom in every part of the country and in different fields of activities."

There would be no vacuum, Nacua promised. The opposition would move from its de facto base in Benghazi to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, to immediately establish its authority.

No Room To Fail

But if the council's members had any doubts about expectations resting on them, they were swept away by NATO's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who went out of his way to remind the NTC of its "responsibility."

"NATO is ready to work with the Libyan people and with the Transitional National Council [sic], which holds a great responsibility," Rasmussen said. "They must make sure that the transition is smooth and inclusive, that the country stays united, and that the future is founded on reconciliation and respect for human rights."

The European Union implicitly acknowledged the difficulties Libya's new rulers face in meeting such exacting standards when it announced on August 22 that it stood ready to help the interim government implement reforms.

"The EU will keep supporting the country in its democratic transition and economic reconstruction, based on social justice, inclusiveness, and territorial integrity, together with the international community," said a joint statement from the EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, and Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission.

WATCH: Supporters celebrate as rebels advance into Tripoli.

Supporters Celebrate As Rebels Advance Into Tripolii
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August 22, 2011
Cheering crowds gathered in the streets and rebels fired weapons in the air as they seized control of parts of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Crowds were also celebrating in Benghazi. AP video


'Tribal' Africa?

Much of the skepticism about post-Qaddafi Libya's prospects stems from the country's allegedly tribal nature, a characteristic that some see as mitigating against both an orderly transition and a modern, unified state. However, Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Libya, believes such misgivings are overstated.

"I don't think people should overemphasize the issue of tribes. Libyans see their primary loyalties to their country and to their family," Dalton says. "Tribe does not provide an alternative source of political legitimacy or political authority that's superior to either of those, and modern urban populations in Libya are much the same as urban populations elsewhere."

But Dalton adds that "if the situation was to deteriorate again and there was to be anarchy, then some people might look to tribes for leadership, but personally I don't foresee that. I believe that it will be possible for Libyans to come together behind the principles which the National Transitional Council has enunciated."

Those principles were set out last week in the council's interim constitution, which defined Libya as "an independent democratic state wherein the people are the source of authorities." It also recognized Islam as the state religion and said Shari'a law would be "the principal source of legislation." The document pays homage to Libya's diversity by recognizing the rights of its Berber minority.

Starting From Scratch

Is the tribal system the power base it's alleged to be?
With the physical destruction of much of Qaddafi's security forces by NATO air strikes, Libya's opposition might have a better chance of imposing its agenda than its counterparts in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, where the durability of much of the institutional infrastructure despite this year's revolutions has proved an obstacle to genuine change.

But the shadow haunting some lies further afield, in Iraq, whose years of violent sectarian strife remains the template for postregime change mayhem. After the violence preceeding Qaddafi's overthrow, such fears are understandable.

But Dalton doesn't think they're justified. "There are not the significant ethnic and religious divisions that Iraq suffered from and there is nothing like the level of disruption of civilian life and the economy that we saw in Iraq as a prelude to the change of government," he says. "Nor are the National Transitional Council going to make some of the mistakes made by the occupiers in Iraq, namely to eliminate the leadership of all the public institutions."

On the contrary, Dalton says that Libya's democratic prospects "are as good in Libya as they are in Tunisia and Egypt -- namely, it's not going to come easily, it's not going to come quickly. There's a culture to be considered and the culture of democratic participation, of give and take, and of accepting the results of the ballot box and accepting when the debate goes against you, and we can expect there to be some turbulence.

"But after all, Libyans have had a long period of bad government and they know that there are better ways of running their country and they are going to be inspired by the example of orderly progress that they see in neighboring countries, so I'm optimistic."
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