Global Viewpoint

Economic future for Libya brighter than in Tunisia, Egypt

Libya has immense petroleum wealth, a small population, and an ability to attract foreign investment. But the international community must see that Libya's interim Transitional National Council follows its 'road map' to an accountable and transparent new government.

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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 Muammar Qaddafi.

Although these are immense challenges, Col. Qaddafi’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 that of its revolutionary neighbors, Egypt and Tunisia. That’s because 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 uphold the transparent and comprehensive institutional framework recently outlined by the council’s interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril. This concrete and methodical “road map” for the formation of a post-Qaddafi government rightly delineates the procedure for elections based on the convocation of a National Congress composed of members of all regions of Libya. The congress would draft a constitution for a nationwide 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 that drafted a constitution and selected Idriss al-Senussi as its king in accordance with that constitution. (Mr. Idriss remained on the throne until Qaddafi’s coup in 1969.)

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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 transitional council is an unelected body, laying out a rigid time line for this procedure – and strictly adhering to it – will be essential for the council 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 speaks with one voice – as it did with Resolution 1973 and the no-fly zone – such actions will not be viewed as neocolonialism inside Libya.

Currently, the primary criticism of the Transitional National Council 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 the transitional council 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 council, as a cabinet shuffle was initiated after the killing of former council military commander Gen. Abdel Fateh Younis on July 28. The council 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 percent of Libya’s population.

As indicated by the road map, the transitional council 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 Qaddafi 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 the institutions, technocrats, and policemen who served in the previous regime would impede the council’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 transitional council 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 meeting of the 30-member Libya contact group by swiftly passing the newly proposed UN Security Council resolution to that effect.

The United States has quite correctly asked the transitional council 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 reopened. It is important for the US, Britain, and others in the European Union to support rather than dictate, and to have the larger stabilization efforts directed via the UN.

Dr. Jibril’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 transitional council’s road map and transitioning power to an elected government will require that the mutual suspicions between Libyans and with the international community – sown by decades of Qaddafi’s misrule – be rapidly replaced by networks of trust and collaboration.

Jason Pack researches Libyan History at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge University. Katherine F. White is a former personal assistant to the Libyan ambassador to the United States, Ali S. Aujali.

© 2011 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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