The U.N. Security Council has turned down the request made by the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) continue its role in Libya at least until the end of December this year. Making such a request sent a signal to the world, underlining the uncertainty in the post-Qaddafi country.
Fissures have already started appearing in the ranks of the NTC, which is made of more than two dozen groups representing the various segments of Libya. Each has its own agenda. There are pro-West and anti-West Islamist commanders who want to shape the country the way they think is best after the ouster of dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who ruled with an iron fist for 42 years before meeting a brutal end. Western powers have their vested interests in the oil and gas-rich country. They are playing their own games in Libya with a view to having a friendly government there. They are working through proxies in Libya to serve their interests. That is to be expected, naturally, because every government has its own interests which come first. The Western powers would want to see democracy in Libya but they also wish to ensure that their interests are safeguarded.
The major groups in Libya today are those who launched the revolt, those who defected during the revolt and the Islamists who have an edge over others. Then there are provincial militiamen who hold sway in the territories under their control. These divergent groups are finding it difficult to find common ground in post-Qaddafi Libya and, therefore, there are strong chances they will clash with each other.
There are also groups which did not join the NTC or went renegade during the final weeks of the conflict that ousted Qaddafi. For the moment, no fighting incident has been reported among the anti-Qaddafi forces, who were met with resistance by Qaddafi loyalists in the desert town of Bani Walid over the weekend.
Technically, the rebellion cannot be described as having successfully concluded if any area of the country remains outside the control of the NTC, which has been recognized as the interim authority in the country. Libya now has three times more guns than its population, the bulk of them seized by revolutionary fighters from the warehouses of Qaddafi’s military. Not much headway seems to have been made in taking them back from the fighters, some of whom are refusing to be disarmed due to the traditional bedouin pride in arms.
There are thousands of missiles “missing” in Libya and this is a source of concern for the U.S. and its Western allies who fear that some of these highly sophisticated Russian SA 21 surface to air missiles could have ended up in the hands of militant groups like al-Qaeda, which could use them against Western targets, including commercial airlines, or reaching Gaza via Algeria. These missiles also raise concern that the Libyan groups in their possession are not disclosing it, perhaps because they want them for use in a potential conflict among themselves.
The NTC leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, must have had these factors in mind when he called on NATO to continue its mission in Libya and to add military advisers on the ground. Some of the leaders of the revolt have expressed unwillingness to assume positions of power in the NTC-led government-in-the-making because they are aware of the potential for conflict. They fear that they will be targeted in the event of violence breaking out in post-Qaddafi Libya.
The wounds inflicted by the eight-month strife, with 50,000 casualties, have not healed, and there is friction between Libyans from the west and east of the country. Eastern Libyans perceive western Libyans as having benefited most from the Qaddafi regime and many of the latter are hostile towards the former because the ouster of the regime has deprived them of the benefits they enjoyed as Qaddafi loyalists.
Abdul Jalil’s declaration that legislation in the country will be based on Sharia should be seen as an effort to appease the Islamists. The declaration has caused concerns in the West, and Abdul Jalil’s subsequent statement that Libya will be led by “moderate Muslims” has not done much to alleviate those concerns.
All Arab governments have called for national reconciliation in Libya, on the Libyans to let bygones be bygone and work together to build the country as a modern, democratic and prosperous state ruled by law. It is not an easy task because democracy was not common in Qaddafi’s Libya. There was never any consideration for institutionalization because of Qaddafi’s fear that these could be used against him at some point. The tribal nature of the country makes it difficult for many Libyans to embrace a Western-style democracy.
The mission facing the interim authorities is awesome. They have to hold the various groups together while also disarming them and turning revolutionary fighters into disciplined citizens of a modern state. They have to draft a new constitution based on democracy, human rights and personal freedoms. They do have the support of the international community, which has witnessed the revolutionary changes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as well as the ongoing conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
The world has no stomach for further civil conflicts. Whoever allows differences to undermine the transition in Libya will not only be working against the interests of the country, but also destroying the potential for a prosperous future for the young generations of Libyans.
The writer is a former ambassador, an editor of al-Urdon and a regular columnist for the Jordan Times where this article was first published on Oct. 30, 2011.