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August 31, 2011 8:08 am

Elections in Libya Should be Deferred

avatar by Alon Ben-Meir

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Both Flags of Libya used in 2011 by different entities combined into a single flag.

While the Libyan rebels have rightfully celebrated the ousting of Muammar al-Qaddafi after 42-year reign in Libya, turning him from all powerful-dictator to a cowered fugitive, the real challenges for a new Libya are just beginning. The road to writing a new constitution, forging new political parties, rebuilding a battered infrastructure, developing a broken economy and fostering civil society will be long, difficult and punctuated by violence. Having starved his people of any semblance of participatory governance, Libyans must begin to pick up the pieces Qaddafi left behind in order to build a foundation of a free, secure and stable nation.

Restoring the rule of law and order throughout the country must be the first priority. As long as Qaddafi loyalists maintain pockets of resistance – and Qaddafi himself remains a fugitive – Libya’s transition cannot begin in earnest. Qaddafi must be captured and full control of the country must be won before security and basic public services such as electricity and running clean water can be fully and reliably restored. These must be steps 1 and 2 for the nascent transitional government.

Collecting weapons will be a key task in this effort, including the large cache of arsenals looted by rebels from Qaddafi’s Tripoli compound. Reinstating police forces and ensuring that they are fully paid and functioning properly to maintain internal security is a sine qua non to achieving any additional progress.

Many Libyans have suffered under the ruthlessness of Qaddafi’s internal security forces. Revenge and retribution will be only a natural course of action for many Libyan to settle old grievances. The transitional government should learn from the mistakes made in Iraq and begin immediately a campaign of reconciliation by welcoming the integration of police and soldiers, who had been loyal to Qaddafi, rather than disbanding them and fueling further violent retribution which would derail the effort to establish genuine security in the country.

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Healing rather than exacerbating the historic east /west divide in the country must begin now. Consolidating factions to form a government that “affirms the Islamic identity of the Libyan People, its commitment to the moderate Islamic values, its full rejection to the extremist ideas and its commitment to combating them in all circumstances,” as stated by the NTC in a March 30th statement would be a critical step toward a stable and prosperous Libya.

If a thriving economy is to be built and the hordes of foreign expatriates are to return to Libya, establishing security throughout the country will be a crucial, and potentially tasking. As security comes into place, the NTC, the legal authority in Libya recognized by scores of countries and the Arab League, must work to bring the nation’s oil production back online in order to infuse the country with much-needed capital. Industry analysts speculate that it could take as many as two years to bring production to the level produced during Qaddafi’s reign, which amount to 1.6 million barrels a day. In fact, as the head of the Libyan Stabilization Team in the NTC, Ahmed Jehani, recently told the BBC, the “utter neglect” of the oil industry and national infrastructure under Qaddafi could take as much as a decade to rehabilitate.

At only 60, 000 barrels a day today, the unrest in the country has left the NTC with a considerable task in overhauling the state’s handling of oil contracts to ensure both transparency and equitable distribution of oil wealth throughout Libya. Finally, since oil production accounts for as much as 95 percent of Libya’s export earnings, and resumption of full oil production will take time, the gradual unfreezing of Qaddafi s’ assets, estimated at over $100 billion, is critical to meet the financial obligation of the government to remain solvent and retain the people’s confidence.

Genuine economic development will be central for a country that experienced over 30 percent unemployment prior to the outbreak of the uprising. Yet there are opportunities for growth should the NTC prove successful in maintaining the kind of competent governance that can generate confidence for companies and investors. Libya could capitalize on its coastal location and proximity to Europe by investing in robust tourism, industry and manufacturing. In addition, the building of educational institutions to provide young Libyans the opportunity to acquire the necessary modern skills will open the door to greater foreign investments and with that an expanded job market.

Restoring internal security, reconciling between the old and the new guards, and making major effort in rebuilding the economy will lay the strong foundation needed to move toward significant democratic reforms. The transition to a new central and democratic government will be long and arduous. Qaddafi left Libya with nothing: no political parties, no civil society no non-governmental organizations and no parliament.

The political transformation should begin by developing a new Libyan National Assembly representing all cities and communities. Although much has been done to prepare for and writing of a new constitution, the formal committee that will be officially tasked to write a new constitution should be selected from and empowered by the Libyan National Assembly. A successful Libyan constitutional framework is one that will reflect the needs of the people and allow tribal leaders to have a say as long as human rights remain constitutionally enshrined and fully enforced.

The planned general elections must be postponed at least two years. Indeed, elections in the near term, as the US and EU countries are prone to push for, would be a catastrophic mistake for Libya. In Tunisia and Egypt, observers have witnessed the growing pains of the nascent democratic movements in nations where dictators were ousted, but the civil society infrastructures in those countries are far superior to the shambles that Qaddafi left behind.

Political parties must be given time and resources to organize, develop political platforms and familiarize the public with their stand on various issues affecting the country’s future security and economic developments. Opting for elections too soon would give too much credence and undue power to isolated tribal factions and Islamists, especially the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which is the only likely group to be able to garner loyalty in the immature Libyan political landscape. It remains to be seen if in a new Libya the remnants of the LIFG will adhere to their November 2009 pledge to renounce jihadist violence against “women, children, elderly people, priests, messengers, traders and the like.”

The West was right to utilize NATO to assist the rebels in overthrowing the lunatic that ruled Libya for 42 years. The strategy was successful chiefly because while the West aided the rebels’ fight, the victory was led, and ultimately achieved, by Libyans themselves. The construction of a new Libya must also be achieved in the same manner. While the international community has a critical role to play in infusing the country with much-needed investment and developments, the success of the Libyan transition will ultimately hinge on continued determination by the Libyan people themselves.

Demonstrating progress by the NTC and communicating the steps toward a strong and secure Libya while adhering to human rights from day one will be critical to engender confidence among all Libyans. While permanent change may be slow to achieve, progressive change will begin at once.

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