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After Qaddafi: Can a democratic Libya unify a divided society?

After Qaddafi, some say prospects for orderly transition in Libya – a traditionally divided, tribal society – are not good. There is hope, however, that the homegrown nature of the rebellion will improve the country's prospects.

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The lesson Bashar al-Assad of Syria is likely to take from Qaddafi’s bloody demise is not the one the US would like him to take, says North Texas’s Greig.

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“If you are Assad, you are probably going to look at today’s events and adopt increasingly extreme measures to hold on to power,” he says.

But it’s not just regional leaders who will be watching Libya. Global powers like the US, Europe, Russia, and China, will also be keeping a close eye on whether or not Libya’s new leaders are able to put out the fires of civil discord as they turn to the country’s political and economic transition.

One of the reasons Russian leaders said they vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution earlier this month that would have opened the door to international sanctions on Syria was that such measures would only increase the prospects of Syria deteriorating into an all-out civil conflict.

Now the Russians will be monitoring Libya for any signs of deepening chaos – a development that would tend to justify their earlier rejection of international actions they warned could weaken regimes like Assad's and provide an impetus to civil conflict. The US, Europe, and others, on the other hand, will be acting to support the proposition that a homegrown rebellion can transition into an orderly and stable democracy.

“The concerns the Russians expressed about a full-fledged civil war in Syria are probably not too far from the truth,” says Greig (who adds that the true motivation for Russia’s Security Council veto may have been something altogether different).

In the coming weeks and months, he adds, Libya will provide the freshest test of a nascent democracy’s ability to survive one civil conflict – and avoid a new and deeper one.

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