News of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s death was greeted with the exultant aerial firing of AK-47s. This method of celebration captures in a nutshell the quandary Libya now faces. As happy as the people of the country may be at the demise of the hated tyrant, the process of building a society that is armed to the teeth and where a bunch of less-than-united rebels will now by vying for power could turn out to be a long and painful one. For the last year, Libya has essentially been mired in a low-grade civil war. The chance that the fighting will continue is unfortunately higher than the prospect of a smooth transition to a democratically-elected government.
Some of the early signs gave hope for cautious optimism. The National Transitional Council, which took over from Qaddafi, has pledged to write a new constitution that is disinfected of all traces of his legacy and promised to hold elections right after. The council is also claiming that it will voluntarily step down and allow a transitional government to replace it. But so far these are just words. Many of the members of the council have been credibly accused of engaging in violent reprisals against political enemies, a sign that the civil war may not only continue but also intensify. Human rights groups have accused many of the rebels of engaging in torture and other gross abuses. The worst prospect now facing Libya is that a long civil war will ensure and the winner will be Qaddafi 2.0, another dictator with scant regard for the wishes of his people.
Then, there is always the question of oil. Libya’s valuable natural resource will always make it a desirable fiefdom for any number of foreign powers. The only reason Nato intervened in Libya, and not any other Arab country, is because a dictator widely believed to be a madman controlled the oil. The western countries now need to take a step back. Any government that has an American imprimatur will lose legitimacy in the eyes of the Libyan people. The future is for the Libyan people to sort out for themselves and any meddling must be kept to a minimum.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2011.