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Challenges Ahead for Libya

Author: Christopher Alessi
October 21, 2011

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Even as Libyans celebrate the death of Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya's ruling National Transitional Council faces mounting criticism over the ousted dictator's brutal death. The country's new leaders must reconcile political divisions that could make the transition to a stable democracy difficult in a country that has endured†more than four decades of autocratic rule. Qaddafi's death raises fresh questions over the NTC's ability to manage vengeance and retaliation (NYT) in post-Qaddafi Libya, as well as†concerns about the long-term consequences of the West's intervention in the country.

Earlier this week, Libya's interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, warned that Libya was close to chaos (TIME) and threatened to resign his post. The NTC leadership has faced growing tensions among the different militias and tribal factions that comprise his ruling coalition. Stark divisions between the country's Western-educated liberals and Islamists--some moderate, others more militant--have complicated efforts to articulate a coherent narrative for a new, democratic Libya. Some in the NTC are wary of working with former Qaddafi regime officials, including Jibril.

Just hours after Qaddafi's death, the NTC's information minister and military commander undercut NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil by briefing the press ahead of his planned announcement, says CFR's Ed Husain. Underlying this infighting, Husain writes, "is the complex network of tribes across the country that will now question the legitimacy and authority of the NTC."

Regional rivalries and the lack of a functioning civil society make the prospect of democratic elections all the more challenging. "It is one thing to oust a regime; it is something fundamentally different to install a viable entity in its place," notes CFR President Richard N. Haass." While Jibril has called for a new constitution and elections within eighteen months, the United Nations has urged the NTC to allow time for the development of "political preconditions"--including establishing public security and building trust in civil institutions like the police.

Indeed, the sooner a country holds elections after a civil war, the more likely it is to fall back into conflict, write Dawn Brancati and Jack L. Snyder in Foreign Affairs. "After civil wars, the rule of law is weak. In addition, those contending for power are usually the same individuals who were recently fighting."

For the international community, Qaddafi's end raises the ante in the debate over humanitarian interventionism and Responsibility to Protect (R2P)--the doctrine undergirding the UN mandate that authorized NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Libya in March. "Critics of the operation can without fear of contradiction point to the mission's price tag, the political complexities of post-Qaddafi Libya, and the diplomatic strains that the mission has produced," writes American University's David Bosco in a Foreign Policy roundtable.

Moreover, CFR's Micah Zenko says that NATO compromised the doctrine (National) by overreaching in Libya. Western powers violated UN Security Council Resolution 1973 by directly aiding the rebels and targeting Qaddafi, Zenko contends, thus making it impossible to muster UN support for a similar intervention in Syria.

Libya also can be seen as a foreign policy triumph for the Obama administration--a policy dubbed "leading from behind" (NewYorker)--which avoided putting U.S. troops on the ground and turned over much responsibility to France and the UK. In summing up an emergent Obama Doctrine (ForeignPolicy), David Rothkopf writes: "The Obama Doctrine prioritizes the use of intelligence, unmanned aircraft, special forces, and the leverage of teaming with others to achieve very narrowly defined but critical goals. That word leverage is the key."

Background Materials

"Muammar Qaddafi," Economist

"An Erratic Leader," New York Times

"Libya in Pictures," New Yorker

"How Qaddafi Reshaped Africa," Atlantic

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