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Libya's Nervous Changing of the Guard

Author: Toni Johnson
September 15, 2011

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British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy travelled to Libya to pledge continuing military, economic, and political support for the country's new leadership (NYT) and National Transitional Council leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil. U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman met in Libya with the NTC September 14 and said the United States is discussing the possibility for international forces to provide military and counterterrorism training (ForeignPolicy). The African Union stopped short of recognizing the new government (VOA), but says it will work with other international bodies on transitioning to an "all-inclusive national unity government."

Rebel leaders announced last week they would be forming an interim government and have moved their headquarters from Benghazi to Tripoli, a development that has been lauded (LAT) by some analysts. Jalil, on September 10, promised that "the new Libya would be a country of tolerance and mercy" (Economist).

But transitional Libya faces many challenges. The NTC is rife with political squabbles (ForeignPolicy). Former President Muammar al-Qaddafi remains at large (al-Jazeera) and NTC fighters continue to battle loyalists for control of the country. And leaders must restart and reform the Libyan economy, which ground to a halt (AP) during the recent civil war and an international trade embargo. Though the country earned $40 billion from the country's massive oil and natural gas wealth in the year before Qaddafi's fall, most of the country's six million citizens saw few benefits. The NTC is looking to access Qaddafi's $170 billion in frozen assets to help with the transition, but permission from the international community has been slow in coming. "Perhaps the biggest hurdle: making the legal argument that the money no longer belongs to Qaddafi and his cronies, and that it belongs to the [NTC] instead," writes Sophie Quinton in the Atlantic.

In addition to these issues, the NTC is being denounced as too secular by Islamists, who were a significant part of the rebel uprising and have emerged as the major political force (WashPost). Though Islamists say they are committed to democratic pluralism, their rising influence raises questions about the ultimate character of a new Libyan regime (NYT). "It is far from clear where Libya will end up on a spectrum of possibilities that range from the Turkish model of democratic pluralism to the muddle of Egypt to, in the worst case, the theocracy of Shiite Iran or Sunni models like the Taliban or even al-Qaeda," write Rod Norland and David D. Kirkpatrick.

Whether the new government can maintain a stable transition is up for debate. The country has been plagued with reprisals as rebel groups and Qaddafi loyalists "settle scores" in attacks, mass killings, forced disappearances, and torture that Amnesty International has branded war crimes. Without some kind of reconciliation process, the country could break apart, as in Iraq when members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party joined the insurgency, argues Juliane von Mittelstaedt in Der Spiegel. "But how can a country come to terms with forty-two years of a dictatorship to which almost everyone who wasn't put in prison contributed?" Mittelstaedt asks. Harvard's Monica Duffy Toft argues that the NTC must "open up the political system, recognizing that a good number of former government officials were aligned with the Qaddafi government only to secure their livelihood and that many of them possess the needed expertise to ensure that Libya is governed effectively and efficiently" (CSMonitor).

In an August CFR Contingency Planning Memo, Daniel Serwer suggests an international post-Qaddafi stabilization force is needed in Libya, "preferably under the United Nations umbrella with modest participation from the African Union and Arab League."

Background Materials:

"What Happens Next in Libya? America's Five Greatest Concerns," Gail Russell Chaddock

"What Kind of Islam Is in Libya?" Leonid Syukkiyainen

"Libya's 'Precarious' Transition Ahead," Robert Danin

Post-Qaddafi Instability in Libya. CFR Meeting Transcript

Deborah Jerome and Christopher Alessi contributed to this report.

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