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Libya: A difficult democracy - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Regarding the “Arab Spring” states, which witnessed popular uprisings against the ruling regimes and the subsequent advent of new political system; there was a prediction that Libya would fare better than Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen when it came to transitioning rapidly from the stage of chaos to stability. This prediction was based on many factors, most importantly the assumption that Libya would not face the economic or social pressures that other states were experiencing. With oil production approaching 2 million barrels per day – a figure that is yet to be maximized, high prices in the global market, and a population of less than 7 million, any new Libyan government would find the tools to help it stabilize the country quickly and meet the aspirations of the people. Although the Gaddafi regime did not leave behind strong state institutions following its reign, some saw this as an opportunity to build new institutions without strong resistance from the old ones.

However, as in all other cases, changing the regime has proven to be the easiest part, even though in the Libyan case this was achieved through conflict and with the assistance of NATO forces. Meanwhile, establishing a new regime, returning life to normal and starting to build for the future are proving to be far more difficult, and this may take years to achieve. This is normal, for a society can agree to change the ruling regime at any given moment, but agreeing upon the new ruling system requires a great deal of effort and hard work in order to reach a consensus, especially if all those involved in the change demand a share in the new regime equivalent to the sacrifices they have made, or the price they have paid.

This is the situation that [former Libyan Prime Minister] Mustafa Abushagur came up against when he tried to form the country’s first post-revolution government after being elected by the national assembly. This same assembly voted on Sunday evening to dismiss Abushagur after 125 of its 200 members rejected his formation of a small transitional government to run the country while a new constitution is being drafted. Certain regions felt they were not being represented, and there are still strong calls to remove armed militias from Libyan cities and regions, given the state of popular anger prevailing towards them after the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi.

Efforts to form a government – which is an important step in restoring stability and returning life to normal – have gone back to the drawing board after the result of the vote on Sunday, and now consultations could take weeks before a new figure takes over the responsibility. Even then they may encounter the same problem as Abushagur, who was ultimately considered a compromise figure.

Libya’s problem is the same as that of other “Arab Spring” states going through the change phase. It is the lack of a personality or leadership that can galvanize a national consensus around it, with the influence to impose concessions and agreements between political factions to facilitate the successful negotiation of this phase.

In Libya there is a unique issue relating to the status of armed militias, which played various roles in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime but are yet to put down their arms or agree to fully integrate into the new state apparatus. These militias may no longer enjoy the widespread popular support they once had, as was made apparent in the demonstrations against them in Benghazi following the attack on the US Consulate, but they still have weapons.

This issue must be the priority for the Libyan parties and blocs represented in the national assembly if they want to restore stability. No modern country can accept non-state entities carrying weapons on its territory, and many formulas have been applied in the past to accommodate insurgents and militias, within the framework of rebuilding a country after a civil war or internal conflict.

As for the issue of regionalism and the calls for regional quotas in the new government, this must be subject to an agreed-upon formula that everyone is convinced of, because whatever the attributes of the next Prime Minister assigned by the national assembly, he will not be able to satisfy all demands. If this elected assembly is the source of political authority in Libya today, then there is no harm in its members consisting of technocrats and experts with the ability to reinvigorate institutions and the economy. Everyone will benefit from stability and its subsequent results, both in terms of oil exports or attracting foreign investments in the oil sector in order to increase capacity.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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