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Case Analysis 23 June, 2011

Libya’s options

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The Unit for Political Studies

The Unit for Political Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


Libya's February 17 revolution was inspired by the success of revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, which Libya's youth tried to reproduce in their peaceful image. Yet the military repression of the Libyan regime, combined with increasingly vocal dissent,   led to a different revolutionary phenomenon - which was expressed through an armed popular revolt.

Due to the targeting of civilians by Gaddafi, and in the absence of an Arab initiative, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution imposing a no-fly zone over Libya with the goal of "protecting civilians". This has led to international military intervention against the regime, and in leading this operation NATO has surpassed the limits of the resolution by, among other things, targeting Gaddafi personally.

Military realities and the position of foreign powers all suggest that Moammar Gaddafi's time in power is up. There is some confusion about a post-Gaddafi Libya, however, due to the lack of a well-organized Libyan military force with a clear chain of command to take power when and if Gaddafi is toppled. This is even truer when it comes to serious legal and political arrangements for the post-Gaddafi era.

Both military and diplomatic indicators seem to suggest that Gaddafi's time is, for all practical purposes, seriously limited. The present situation is made all the more confusing by the fact that there seems to be no organized military force in Libya with a clear command structure, not to mention the lack of serious legal preparations for the situation in a post-Gaddafi Libya, especially as far as the future political regime is concerned.

 All of this makes the situation in the country even riskier, given the intervention of global powers on the ground and the implications this might have for the role which Libya might play within an Arab geo-cultural context, with its political role in central Arab causes. The risks facing Libya as a result of the above can be described as follows:

First, the issue of the legitimacy of representation. While many states have come to recognize the Transitional National Council (TNC) as Libya's rightful government or the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people, many questions remain about the international status of any government on the day after Gaddafi's expected fall. It should be noted that the Council has yet to have its agenda or even its general way of thinking approved by the public. In addition to this, there are a number of significant differences of opinion between the Council and the February 17 Youth Coalition, the Revolutionary Youth Coalition and other groupings. There may be a number of armed militia which take up weapons in a variety of locations, on local levels, yet together, they lack overall coordination on the national level and a clear strategy to free Tripoli. The TNC's members, meanwhile, have involved themselves in questions of international relations.

The Council has proposed what it calls a "Road Map" for the way forward, which calls for a temporary caretaker government which the Council would appoint if and when Gaddafi was ousted from power. The proposed government would include not only representatives of the TNC, but also military officers and technocrats who gained experience with the previous regime, and a figure representing the judiciary. The government would then call for a national congress which could pave the way for the practical dissolution of the TNC, and prepare for the advent of a new constitution within four months. The Road Map also calls for internationally supervised parliamentary elections following the congress; the new parliament, in turn, would elect a president who would then appoint a prime minister to form a cabinet.

The Road Map described above seems very convincing, at first glance, and offers a way out to organize affairs in a post-Gaddafi Libya. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. To begin with, the TNC was hastily formed as a quick-fix to fill the governance vacuum in the face of Gaddafi's declining authority. The Council's formation did not prepare it to rule, and its popular legitimacy remains untested despite its having gained international legitimacy in the process of successfully calling for the besiegement of Gaddafi's regime from outside.

 There are legal and political aspects to legitimacy, and it behooves the TNC to finally settle this issue, preferably through the creation of a unified leadership which would take in all of the many groups which are working towards the revolution. These groups would include the February 17 Youth Coalition, the TNC's Military Council and other armed groups, particularly those in the West, to call later for a national congress.

Second, a lack of institutionalization. Gaddafi's Libya was unique among Arab states for not meeting the commonly agreed definition of a state, including such things as a proper political contract (the constitution), and a proper bureaucratic institutional state apparatus, such as the army, the parliament, as well as military, police and security forces. This is not to mention the absence of extra-state actors like political parties, unions, and so on. All of this will present a formidable challenge to the TNC during any period of actual transition; it will need to form mature sovereign institutions such as a national army and security services, and organize various public ministries. Additionally, it will need to prepare the groundwork for a political environment in which all manner of ideological positions can be consolidated into tangible entities in a new Libya.

Third, the question of the Arab dimension. As of this writing, Qatar, Jordan and, most recently, the United Arab Emirates have been the only Arab states to recognize the TNC. To understand this behavior we need to look at the situation through the eyes of the Arab regimes during this very perilous time for them, filled as it is with protest movements and revolutions. This might not explain, however, why some of the Arab countries - such as Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf states - which are openly hostile to Gaddafi and his regime have not come around to dealing with the TNC yet. Although these countries may have some concerns about establishing precedents when it comes to recognizing a rebel force, the Council itself has done little to take the initiative to secure that all-important level of Arab recognition. The TNC needs to remedy this by being more proactive in getting Arab support. Perhaps the place to start will be those Arab countries in which there have been successful revolutions, such as Egypt and Tunisia.