Libya rebels, triumphant in Tripoli, now face a different kind of battle
How the rebels address immediate challenges – including regional and tribal divisions, as well as a thirst among some for revenge – will signal their ability to govern fairly in a new Libya.
(Page 3 of 3)
At one point a traffic jam of rebel vehicles at an intersection resulted in a shouting match between fighters asserting pride in the overthrow of their various towns.
“Get out of the way! We are from Zintan!” shouted one driver. “I don’t care if you’re from Zintan. We’re from Jadu!” the other driver shouted back.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Building a state based on rule of law
But corralling Libya back into a state of law and order won’t be an easy task. Some of the rebel fighters have developed a strong sense of entitlement connected to their sacrifice, and the chances that others will spend the coming months seeking to settle old scores can’t be discounted.
The NTC has urged police to stay on the job and is arranging the release of frozen regime assets abroad to pay salaries.
Libya’s crucial oil industry, meanwhile, has been virtually shut down by six months of war. NTC members in Benghazi say that key refineries and export oil terminals in Ras Lanuf and Brega, secured in late August, have only minor damage. But restoring full production and exports is at least months away – particularly since one of Qaddafi’s sons controlled most of the tanker contracts for delivery.
NTC leaders like Mahmoud Jibril have repeatedly insisted that the rebellion is truly national, seeking to preempt centuries-old rivalries between eastern and western Libyans.
NTC member Mustafa Almanea says that the council doesn’t anticipate that retribution will be one of the major challenges during the transition period.
But many here warn that if the NTC doesn’t restore order quickly, tribal rather than government law will probably be strengthened.
“Today what remains to be seen is whether Libya’s new leaders can break free of the tribalism that has historically plagued the country and move to a more representative and geographically dispersed government,” says Barak Barfi, a research fellow at the New America Foundation who has been in Libya researching the conflict for five months. “If they cannot do this ... the new Libya will fail.”
The NTC has been putting together a national reconciliation program, with input from the United Nations, to try to persuade Qaddafi supporters that they still have a place in society, as well as promising fair trials for those who committed crimes during his regime.
The road map for the next year also includes a plan to transition civilian fighters back to civilian life and to disarm the country.
“The transition for Libyans is going to be from the revolution to the state,” says Mr. Almanea. “It will need a lot of hard work, but it’s not impossible.”
Libyan passions run high
But passions in Libya are running high, and the clock is ticking on the NTC delivering on its promises. In Tripoli, a brief argument among militiamen illustrates the thirst for victors’ justice – and an awareness of its dangers. What should be done with the Qaddafis?
“They should be given a fair trial,” says Imad Shabaan, an oil company manager who organized an anti-Qaddafi militia in his neighborhood.
Ahmed Ferhat, a local sheikh, demurs. “We should hang Qaddafi in Green Square,” he says.
“You’re not supposed to say that!” interjects Mr. Shabaan. “We’re supposed to say that Qaddafi. too, deserves a fair trial.”
“All right,” Sheikh Ferhat says. “We’ll give him a fair trial; then we’ll hang him in Green Square.”