Libya’s challenges (JERUSALEM POST EDITORIAL) 07/11/12)
JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-Top
The first bit of good news in Libya’s first free election – assuming
the preliminary results that have trickled out of ballot boxes so far
are accurate – is that a secular-leaning alliance is the winner.
Unlike Egyptians, Tunisians and Moroccans in the aftermath of the
Arab Spring uprisings, Libyans have chosen to buck the Islamist trend
sweeping across the region. The Muslim Brotherhood and other
Islamists, who were declaring just days before the elections that
they would garner as much as 60 percent of the vote, have been
humbled. They appear to have taken no more than a quarter of the
vote – though Islamists seem to have edged out other parties in the
Misrata region, one of the fiercest strongholds of opposition to the
wicked, violent and capricious dictatorship of Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
The second bit of good news is that a society that was dominated by
autocratic regimes even before Gaddafi wrested control from King
Idris in 1969 has taken the first substantial step in its cautious
transition to a more democratic regime. The elections, which
presented over 3,000 candidates competing for 200 seats, were not
without turmoil, but violence levels were lower than expected. Armed
groups in the eastern region of Benghazi – where Libya’s easily
accessible oil reserves, supplying 2% of world demand, are located –
stormed a few polling stations, and tribal groups in the long-
neglected and isolated south tried to sabotage the voting as well.
But voters were not deterred – turnout was over 60%.
It was abundantly clear that Libyans did not want a return to
authoritarianism. A full 97% of Libyans surveyed by Oxford Research
International in January thought the revolution was absolutely or
BUT THE obstacles on the road to a true democracy are formidable.
Libya carries the legacy of century-old fractures – social, economic,
geographic and cultural – unhealed since Italy, in November 1911,
first brought together by royal decree the disparate regions of
Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan under the artificial construction
known since 1934 as “Libya” – the Greek term for Northwest Africa.
And Gaddafi ruthlessly exploited this legacy of fractured national
identity, intentionally maintaining a state of perpetual change with
the constant reshuffling of provincial borders and systems of
administration. Street names, place names, universities, even the
names of months were constantly in flux, creating a feeling of
disorientation. In this atmosphere, it was easier to handily repress,
jail, exile or eliminate all potential opponents.
In the post-Gaddafi era, Libya’s unification under a central
government is being threatened by a myriad of ad hoc militias, police
forces, neighborhood guards and miscellaneous riffraff – not to
mention 120 to 130 tribes all armed to the teeth with questionable
loyalties. The oil-rich Benghazi region to the east is at odds with
the traditional seat of power in Tripoli to the west, and Sirte,
Gaddafi’s hometown, is at odds with Misrata, one of the bastions of
anti- Gaddafi forces. The southern region is isolated from the rest
of the country.
LIBYA MUST proceed cautiously, putting in place the sorts of
institutions that are a prerequisite for even the most rudimentary
forms of democracy (a representative parliament, a judiciary, strong
law enforcement). It must address legitimate concerns about the
equitable sharing of natural resources and political power among all
the fragmented areas that make up the country. A federalism that
empowers local authority would seem to be best suited to Libya,
though there must be a proper balance between centralized and local
Another order of business – which could be achieved with the aid of
NATO forces – is to disarm the myriad gun-toting militias or
incorporate them into a national military force.
Libya has a long road to traverse before it sheds the debilitating
baggage of its troubled history. But the July 7 elections were a step
in the right direction. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 07/11/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY