Last updated: April 29, 2013
Mohamed Eljarh: Lessons from Libya – successes, failures and challenges

"Libya has to bring the security situation under control in order to move forward and consolidate its democratic values"

While Gaddafi’s corrupt and repressive regime has fallen, it remains unclear if Libya will succeed in its transition towards a fair and democratic system of governance. Will the revolution produce inclusive and sustainable political, economic and social development and meet Libyans’ aspirations for a better future?

One of the notable successes in the Libyan revolution was the unprecedented international effort to assist Libyans militarily by imposing a no fly zone and targeting Gaddafi’s forces from the air without any actual foreign forces on the ground. In addition, it is encouraging to see the commitment by the world’s major leaders and economies to provide a comprehensive and credible plan to support Libya’s political and economic transition.

Another notable achievement in the new Libya is the successful election of the General National Congress where Libyans were allowed to choose their representatives. The Congress’ work has been characterized by party politics struggles as well as regional struggles, but so far it has proved its commitment to the rule of law and constitutional values.

Libya could become an example of a successful international intervention, a model for achieving a successful democratic transition for countries in similar situations. On the other hand, Libya could surrender to its inherent difficulties: a deeply weak power structure and ideology, inexperienced political parties that are highly fragmented and poorly organised and who lack a comprehensive socio-economic vision for the country, a weak civil society and a deteriorating security situation that is seriously impacting the country’s economic prospects. These internal pressures are further exacerbated by the external dimension of extremists groups in Northern Africa and the potentially hidden agendas of foreign forces within Libya.

The future and success of the democratic process in Libya remains open. Although it is evidently felt that, turning back the clock to autocratic one-man rule is no longer an option, or even possible, a genuinely democratic outcome can still be derailed by attempts of restoring the old order, which could result in the emergence of a new authoritative and oppressive regime.

The authorities in Libya have so far failed to address the fragile security situation in the country. Despite ambitious attempts to collect weapons and establish control over rogue militias, the security situation remains very fragile. Libyan authorities’ control over their own security has been questioned after recent attacks on their own headquarters. However, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan vowed to improve the security situation in the country and appointed two very experienced and skilled individuals without any political affiliations to fill the posts of Ministers of Interior and Defence. 

The main challenges facing Libya today to ensuring a democratic outcome of political transition in the country can be summarised as follows:

First, the destabilisation and violence deriving from disruptive forces based on ideological or regional grounds that are both overtly and covertly opposing a democratic transition. These include former and current members of the Gaddafi regime and rogue elements within Libya’s security forces, as well as militias that have been contained within Libya’s security and military forces but have not been neutralized or in effect placed under overall government control.

Second, attempts by external forces to cause destabilisation mainly through support of undemocratic forces inside Libya that may possibly emanate from countries interested in exercising overall control over Libya especially by employing the security situation in the country as their bargaining chip.

Third, the weakness of pro-democracy groups and parties as they do not have actual authority on the ground compared to many armed militias, and also the weakness of the media and civil society. Libya should work on strengthening its newly found democratic values by engaging the public and ensuring transparency of the political process in the country.

Fourth, the grave socio-economic situation in Libya, where unemployment is very high among the young population, thousands of graduates are currently struggling to find decent jobs, and the lack of basic infrastructure is appalling.

Libya has to bring the security situation under control in order to move forward and consolidate its democratic values and institutions. Without proper security, democracy in Libya will be undermined, which brings the risk of people losing faith in democracy and the democratic process.

The issue of security is multivariable and complex, and requires consideration of a number of factors that affect the issue of security, and as a result, Libya cannot deal with security as an isolated problem. Libya needs to address the fissures, grievances and trust issues within the society in order to bring security under control. Thus, the authorities in Libya should do the following to help improve the security situation:

First, deal with the socio-economic situation as a matter of priority: this should include urgent development plans and job opportunities for young people as an incentive for them to handover their weapons, which also will help in addressing the heavily depressed interior regions, and assisting in easing the immediate economic impact of 42 years of dictatorship.

Second, urgently adapt the instruments and channels that facilitate and ensure proper democratic participation of all factions of the society especially where the constitution is concerned, and that in return will prevent most factions from becoming spoilers of the democratic process. The realities of Libya are not as many would have wanted them to be, but the best way to deal with them is to acknowledge their existence.  

Third, Libya should at all times ask for international advice and help with the ‘know-how’ on democratic transition so that the country can benefit from the positive (and negative) aspects of previous experiences.

Finally, Libya’s General Congress has just embarked on writing the country’s constitution. The process will not be easy and will include many political and regional obstacles, but the key for Libya’s success in this process would depend on its inclusiveness, transparency and fairness. The Libyan Congress needs to ensure that the process is allowed all necessary time to ensure inclusiveness and widen participation from all sections of the society. Only then, Libya would achieve peace, stability and eventually prosperity for all.

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