At a time of revolutions, protests and Arab uprisings, should the Libyan case be considered in a different context to the events that came before it elsewhere, and likewise what happened afterwards? Perhaps the answer is an easy yes, considering Libya’s different historical path and the reign of its former ruler, not to mention the extent of its international and regional influence in shaping the future of our region.
Before the Libyan uprising there was Tunisia and Egypt, and afterwards there was Yemen, but Libya was different from them all. It was not like Tunisia or Egypt; the Gaddafi regime defended its very existence with its forces and battalions, and the prospect of a compromise solution like in Yemen was never an option. Libya was also unlike Syria, for in the former case military intervention was agreed upon by the UN Security Council and implemented by NATO forces to ensure the revolution there would succeed, whilst there is still a “reluctance” to do so in the case of Syria given the multiple conflicting interests at stake, both internationally and regionally.
Libya has a globally strategic position. It is a rich country with good quality oil, and it is far from any pivotal shipping straits that could affect political disputes. It has a modest population with the potential to foster real and effective future development whilst its current leadership is aware of the past, accommodating of the present, and looking towards the future.
Whilst many elections in the “Arab Spring” states were dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, Libya appears to offer a different model. The Brotherhood did not win there, and did not put forward any arguments to the contrary. Instead, Libya chose to elect the “National Forces Alliance”, led by former chairman of the National Transitional Council, Mahmoud Jibril. After being appointed, Jibril sought to create a political mixture whereby he tried his best to gather all the spectrum of the Libyan people under one banner, whether intellectuals or civilians. He sought to involve the Islamic currents, the active and influential Libyan tribes, and the rest of the key components of the Libyan people.
What is certain is that Jibril’s movement did not win because it represented a particular civil trend such as the liberals for example, rather it was victorious because of what it offered, and because it raised the slogan of development, restoring stability, and rebuilding the prestige of the state once again. These were legitimate political ambitions away from closed ideologies, and although some distanced themselves from this at the beginning, they returned to accept it soon afterwards.
However, this does not mean that Libya will rid itself of its historical political legacy overnight, nor the effects of its cultural context and the obstructive aftermath that this may produce, or the influence of legitimate political Islamist groups and their violent offshoots. Yet these developments do represent a small but important glimmer of hope that should be monitored.
Libya will suffer various problems, for whilst its abundant resources and small population make it easier for the new government to go about its tasks, the proliferation of weapons and their spread among radical and militant religious groups will be a heavy burden that is not easy to solve. These groups have leaders with political aspirations and a strong ideological mobilization.
Likewise, Libya will not only suffer from terrorism at home, because its borders also seem open, at this critical and unstable moment in its history, allowing contact with armed and active ideological organizations abroad – including some al-Qaeda cells and similar groups – extending from Morocco, Mali and southern Algeria through the Sahara to connect with Libya and Sudan. We saw how the Sudanese regime actively facilitated the extension of these groups by providing them with arms during the war to overthrow the former regime.
News has been reported from Libya claiming that Sufi shrines have been demolished in a move accompanied by a huge amount of armed, political and sometimes social support. This even prompted the Minister of Interior to recently announce his definitive resignation, only to rescind his decision later under pressure.
Libya is also different to the other Arab Spring states in that it enjoys substantial unity among its important and highly influential ranks. Libya is a Muslim country in religious terms, a Malaki Sunni country in terms of sect, and an Arab country in terms of national identity, although there are ethnic Berber minorities that are difficult to assimilate.
No one can anticipate forthcoming events or claim to read the future and envision it precisely, but it is sufficient for an observer to try and gather up as much as they can about the picture, combining information and analysis, visions and stances, so that they can come to a logical and knowledgeable outcome. They should also take the opportunity to shed light on a new angle of the Libyan scene, which may cause a change in the course of events or their interpretations.
It will be difficult for the leaders of the new Libya to stop armed ideological groups only through negotiations because this may in fact benefit the leaders of some of these groups. The ideological foundations of these groups make them extremely volatile when any compromise is deemed to infringe upon their ideology, which they would consider to be a “desecration”.
It also seems that the Libyan election results shocked the Brotherhood groups in Libya’s eastern and western neighbors [Tunisia and Egypt]. I think that these groups had envisioned victory for their followers in Libya to ensure the formation of a fundamentalist coalition across North Africa, and to transform Libya into a cash cow for the Muslim Brotherhood’s projects in Egypt and Tunisia. The fact that they did not win the elections does not mean that the two groups will stand idly by but they will have to work their upmost to reap minimal benefits at this stage, and prepare for potentially greater rewards in the future.
Libya will also differ from other Arab Spring states because it is a country with important economic weight, which will make it easier to attract major investments not only in the oil sector, but in various areas and most notably tourism. Libya may also benefit from the political and popular turmoil being experienced by its neighbors, but all this is conditional on the ability of the new government to consecrate the prestige of the state and its laws, and establish security and stability in the country. This is certainly a daunting task, but not impossible.
What distinguishes Libya is that despite widespread calls for revenge, retribution and retaliation expressed in more ways than one during the transitional phase, the majority seem wary of the importance of the country’s future direction and the priority of reconstructing and looking forward rather than sinking in the mud.
Libya could make a big difference in terms of all these facts and considerations, but all this relies on building a new awareness, creating real developments, looking forward to the future and relinquishing bygone yearnings and cross border ideologies.