Recent events in Libya demonstrate that the country’s transition from authoritarianism to democracy is still tenuous and fraught with a number of immediate challenges. The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, together with Freedom House and the Project on Middle East Democracy, hosted a private roundtable on June 20 to explore the options available to US officials and policymakers and to discuss the urgent need for a national dialogue and reconciliation process. Hariri Center Senior Fellow Karim Mezran, and Nonresident Fellow and Libyan-American Council President Fadel Lamen spoke and Deputy Director Danya Greenfield moderated the discussion.
Mezran, who recently returned from Libya, noted that Libya has the potential to be an ‘Arab Spring’ success given the country’s wealth and overwhelming enthusiasm for democratic governance, but warned that the central government lacks the authority and capacity necessary to extend its influence across the country. In order to move forward politically and buttress the legitimacy of the Libyan government, Mezran advocated for the establishment of an avenue to air grievances and achieve national reconciliation through a national dialogue process. One of the central questions of the roundtable discussion was whether Libyans have an appetite for national reconciliation and the feasibility of carrying out such a process given the weakness and fragility of post-Qaddafi leadership in Tripoli. Among other considerations, roundtable participants discussed what specific role the United States could play in encouraging a national dialogue, how the international community could contribute to Libya’s security and regional stability (including prospects for reintegrating militias into society) and how best the Libyan government could address pressing economic challenges that hamper national reconstruction and political progress.
Mezran and Lamen advocated for greater US involvement in coordinating international technical assistance and encouraging the Libyan government to establish a framework for national reconciliation. Commenting on the capacity of the Libyan government to effectively provide leadership, Lamen highlighted the lack of institutional and experiential knowledge and expertise in the Libyan government in order to address the myriad challenges facing the country. Specifically addressing Libya’s precarious security situation, Lamen argued that the country cannot protect its borders alone and that deteriorating regional security requires international attention. Mezran expressed that Libyans are eager for US engagement and are more apt to turn to the United States than to Europe; thus arguing that there is a very meaningful opportunity for the United States to successfully provide practical and targeted assistance to the country.