As the Libyan rebels continue to mop up resistance inside Tripoli and extend the nominal authority of the Transitional National Council to the rest of Libya, it is important to remember that the establishment of a new Libya will take time and face challenges even greater than those required to topple Gaddafi. Despite these immense challenges, Gaddafi’s ouster is a novel opportunity for the creation of an accountable government armed with the tools for rapid economic development in the heart of North Africa. Despite its near total lack of a private sector and endemic levels of corruption and bureaucratic dysfunction, Libya’s prospects for sustainable economic growth should be brighter than its revolutionary neighbors, Egypt and Tunisia, as a result of Libya’s immense resource wealth, small population, and ability to attract foreign investment and expertise.
To best secure the future of the Libyan state it is imperative that the Transitional National Council (TNC) uphold the transparent and comprehensive institutional framework recently outlined by TNC Interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Gebril. This concrete and methodical ‘roadmap’ for the formation of a post-Gaddafi government rightly delineates the procedure for elections based on the convocation of a National Congress composed of members of all regions of Libya that would draft a constitution for a nation-wide referendum under the supervision of the United Nations. Such a step is not unprecedented: from 1949 to 1951 the UN supervised a Libyan national convention which drafted a constitution and selected Idriss as-Sanussi as its King in accordance with that constitution. (Idriss remained on the throne until Gaddafi’s coup in 1969.) In short, the oversight of the international community in the formation of a Libyan national transitional body remains the only method with a clear historical precedent for the formation of a legitimate Libyan government at the time of a change of regime. Given that the TNC is an unelected body, laying out a rigid timeline for this procedure – and strictly adhering to it – will be essential for the TNC to remain legitimate in the eyes of Libyans and the world. That said, outside actors, such as the UN, Arab League, and others may have to use carrots and sticks to encourage developments to remain on the right path. If the international community speak with one voice –as they did with Resolution 1973 and the no-fly zone – such actions will not be viewed as neo-colonialism inside Libya.
Currently, the primary criticism of the TNC inside Libya is that it represents only a spectrum of Cyrenaican (i.e. Eastern Libyan) interests aligned with the NATO countries. There are good indications that TNC leaders genuinely wish to embody a true cross-section of Libyans; structural reasons have made that difficult until now. Coincidentally, the fall of Tripoli may have happened at a fortuitous time for the TNC as a cabinet shuffle was initiated after the killing of former TNC military commander General Abdel Fateh Younis on July 28th. The TNC should quickly issue a public statement that when a modicum of order is restored throughout the country it will appoint a new cabinet with more than half of its cabinet level positions awarded to members hailing from the newly liberated parts of Libya. This will ensure due representation for the Tripolitania region which contains 70% of Libya’s population.
As indicated by the roadmap, the TNC is committed to a ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ style-commission based on the South African model and has promised to include in the new government former Gaddafi officials not involved in perpetration of crimes against humanity. This commitment to no ‘de-baathification’ is essential to getting Libya’s economy running in the medium-term and quickly restoring basic services to Libyan citizens in the short-term. Failure to utilize existing institutions, technocrats, and policemen who served in the previous regime would impede the TNC’s efforts to keep the inhabitants of Western Libya fed, while preventing a prolonged political vacuum which leads to looting and chaos. However, the most important factor limiting the ability of the TNC to provide basic services remains access to frozen Libyan assets abroad. In this quest, the international community must act decisively in accordance with the decisions of the recent Libya Contact Group meeting by swiftly passing the newly proposed Security Council Resolution to that effect.
The U.S. has quite correctly asked the TNC to indicate its needs in order to determine how America can play a supporting role to the UN and the international community in helping Libyans get the electricity on and schools re-opened. It is important for the U.S., UK, and EU to support rather than to dictate and to have the larger stabilization efforts directed via the UN.
Gebril’s optimistic and promising outlook of “one country, one people, one history and one future with one capital (Tripoli)” is shared by many, if not most Libyans. The prospects for a transition to a democratic and prosperous Libya are better than most commentators acknowledge. However, implementing the TNC’s roadmap and transitioning power to an elected government will require that the mutual suspicions between Libyans and with the international community — sown by decades of Gaddafi’s misrule — be rapidly replaced by networks of trust and collaboration.
Jason Pack has worked in Tripoli and Washington on promoting commercial and diplomatic relations between the US and Libya. Currently a doctoral student at Cambridge University, he holds a Master’s from St. Antony’s College, Oxford in Imperial History.
Katherine F. White is a Master of Public Policy candidate at Duke University and former personal assistant to Libyan Ambassador to the U.S. Ali Aujali.