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What’s next for Libya?

William Miller | Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Libya’s civil war has now reached its last and most difficult phase. With Colonel Qaddafi gone, Libya is now free to begin transitioning from war mode to recovery mode. This entails an entirely new set of challenges. Under Qaddafi, freedom of the press was virtually non-existent, elections were anything but fair and government agencies functioned as his personal bureaucracy rather than as a competent administration. All of these institutions will need to be built in the coming months, and progress will undoubtedly be slow and uneven.

However, the above set of challenges is less daunting than others that face the new regime. Three broad obstacles now lie between Libya and a stable and lasting peace. First, the remnants of Qaddafi’s forces still hold considerable sway across much of the country. This is especially true around his hometown of Sirte and in Libya’s southern deserts. Even more troubling, it now appears that many of the Colonel’s arms depots were looted before rebel forces could capture them. International agencies have confirmed that thousands of anti-aircraft missiles, rocket launchers, small arms and other munitions have gone missing as a result.

This is scarily reminiscent of Iraq, where the defeated remnants of Saddam’s army stored away weapons that later became the basis for a stubborn insurgency. Libyan forces must move quickly to secure these depots before more weapons can be stolen and hidden away. Failure to do so could leave the country vulnerable to a future insurgency and will make it much more difficult for the transitional government to impose national rules on towns, regions and tribes with different agendas.

Second, the new government must come forward with a serious plan to guarantee minority rights in the new country. Much of the continued resistance is based on fears that the new regime, which sprouted in the eastern city of Benghazi, will attempt to impose its will on the western areas, including those that are home to Qaddafi’s tribe. This fear is also prevalent among Bedouin tribes in the south, most of which remain loyal to the Colonel. The best way to accomplish this is to begin integrating the old regime’s forces into a newly created government, and by guaranteeing that Bedouin tribes will maintain some degree of autonomy under the new constitution.

Finally, a new and professional army must be built in a short period of time. Rebel forces became more and more organized as the conflict progressed, but do not yet resemble a truly legitimate force. This was painfully demonstrated in Qaddafi’s capture when militia forces captured and then apparently executed him. Incidents like this only confirm fears that the new regime is as brutal as the old, which is for the most part untrue. Without a legitimate army, however, each tribe will feel it necessary to take matters into its own hands, undermining any sort of democratic process that might emerge in the coming months and years. International agencies such as the U.N. have a large role to play in this process, and trainers from the U.N., E.U. and NATO should be dispatched quickly to begin training and preparing the army for its new role in society.

Libya must now face the hard reality that democracy is built upon much more than just democratic institutions. It must be built on stability, and that stability will be impossible to achieve so long as weapons still lie scattered around the country, minorities don’t feel protected and no legitimate army exists to back the new government. The rebels have thus far shown competence above and beyond what could have been expected; they will need to do even better if Libya is to become a truly free and democratic country.


William Miller is a freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.