Libya: A New Day or a Long Night?

Arabic Machine Manuscript (Orient manuscript 3306)Image via WikipediaMuammar al-Ghaddafi is still missing as I write, his mercenaries still shoot from rooftops in certain parts of Tripoli. But Syrte, Ghaddafi's last stronghold and hometown, is bound to fall sooner or later. And more and more countries recognize the Rebels' National Transition Council: the Rebels have won!

Libya has turned a page.

Trouble is: what's going to be written on that new page? For the moment, all we see on TV is a ragtag army rushing about in pick-up trucks, waving guns and flags, and making the V-sign with their fingers (surely not the first letter for Victory in Arabic!) But the war has made many victims, there are threats of revenge, and it will take months before oil exports resume at the level they were at before the rebellion.

Libya has to clean up house after 42 years of a harsh, bloodthirsty dictatorship, and has to build up something it has never had before: a democracy. All the harder that Gaddafi has literally sucked the life blood out of every state institution, starting with the army (he relied on mercenaries and on his sons running special brigades).

A tall order.

Its two neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt, can't act as models to follow: to begin with, these were countries with a much stronger civil society than Libya. Their starting point is much higher, yet neither so far has fulfilled the promises of the Arab Spring revolution.

Sure, they've kicked out their respective tyrants much faster than Libya and without (or with little) bloodshed. But in spite of that achievement, they too have yet to build a solid, equitable, democratic system of government. We'll see how it goes this fall in their respective parliamentary elections, but the signs so far are not encouraging. Particularly in Egypt, where the Copts, its Christian population - fully 10 million people out of eighty - is increasingly the target of persecutions by Muslims who now feel  the country is theirs and they can do with it whatever they want. Christian churches were burned at Christmas time before the Arab Spring took off, and again more recently, after Mubarak had stepped down.

And all this is happening in a dark economic climate, as tourism has come crashing down in both countries.

Perhaps that is one (small) advantage for Libya: it never was a tourist mecca. Its wealth was always based on oil, and it has plenty of money stashed abroad: reportedly some $150 billions. In principle, it has enough money to successfully carry out reconstruction.

Unfortunately,  it's not just a question of money. It's a management question, and in a society like the Libyan, historically torn between feuding tribes, this is going to be very, very difficult to solve. Libya is like Iraq, divided into at least three parts, if you add in the Berber-held mountains to the south.

So far, democracy has not proved to be a very good system to hold a country like this together.

Is Libya destined for decades of instability as the various factions fight for power? Perhaps, and that won't make Western energy companies particularly happy, starting with the Italians who are Libya's chief customers.

But too much Western interference in Libyan affairs is bound to backfire: already NATO walked a dangerous borderline with its continuous five-month air battle, provoking a lot of sour comments around the world. Surely sending ground troops would be a bad idea, as shown by the disastrous experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So chances are that Libya will be left alone to struggle its way out, with perhaps only a few gentle and discreet prods and nudges, here and there, to try to keep it on the road to recovery. It doesn't require much of a crystal ball to predict that sooner or later, stability will come to Libya only through another strongman.

Another strongman, another Ghaddafi? God forbid! All I can say is that I hope I'm wrong.

How do you see the situation? How do you think it will evolve? Should the West get involved further or not?

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