Libya is in a fragile state, but with flows of cash and oil restored, and Mahmoud Jibril’s conciliatory tone, the signs are good
Both the Libyan public and international observers appear to have been more than satisfied with last weekend’s elections, the votes of which are still being counted. There were incidents of violence in the run-up, but in the end polling took place almost without disturbance, except in Kufra in the far south-east, where there is a long-standing tribal problem.
The 200 successful candidates will now form a national assembly that has two tasks: to appoint a temporary government, and to establish a committee that will draw up a new constitution.
Now that oil production has been restored close to the pre-revolutionary levels (much more quickly than anyone predicted) and many frozen assets have been released, the government no longer faces the cashflow problems that crippled it earlier this year. But its most urgent task is to ensure continued security, and here the main problem is that so-called militias – consisting of fighters who took up arms spontaneously in the revolution – remain semi-independent.
They are not in revolt against the central government, but the government does not have a monopoly on legitimate force, which is essential for stability.
The government has progressively taken control of airports, ports and key border crossing points, but much remains to be done. An example is the situation in Zintan, in the western mountains, where the militia are still holding Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam. The government allowed a delegation from the international criminal court to visit him, but the militia arrested them on allegations of malpractice. They were released after an apology from the ICC president himself, Sang-Hyun Song, but the government was not in full control and it is still uncertain how and where Saif will eventually be tried – and of course how the government will eventually come to terms with the militia.
The election results should be complete in a day or two. But what they mean will not be clear until the new assembly has started to gather. Many of the 120 members elected individually will be unknown outside their own districts, and the handful of parties taking the remaining 80 are new and have few declared policy differences. The lead seems to have been taken by the National Forces Alliance, which is itself a coalition of political parties put together by Mahmoud Jibril.
Jibril was interim prime minister during the revolution and previously head of the National Economic Development Board and the National Planning Council under Gaddafi, and he is therefore perhaps the best-known of all the potential new leaders. He used this advantage to put together a political force which could stand up to the only other force with a comparable advantage: the Muslim Brotherhood. It is, however, a mistake to represent this as a victory of secularism over Islam; virtually all Libyans consider themselves to be Muslims, but perhaps not many of them want a government claiming to speak in the name of God.
One of the big issues in the period before the election was the relationship between Benghazi and Tripoli. Benghazi and Cyrenaica in the east were neglected under Gaddafi, and some people there were suspicious that this might continue – and felt that having started the revolution they deserved a fair share of the result. Some – apparently a minority – called for federalism (seen in Libya as almost synonymous with the end of a single Libyan nation). There were a number violent incidents and some deaths. But as the political process develops it looks as if this disagreement can be managed amicably.
Scarcely anybody wants the over-centralisation of the Gaddafi regime to continue. Statements of goodwill from Tripoli and the west have been backed up by some actions, for example an offer to adjust the number of parliamentary seats in favour of the east. A warm statement by Jibril describing the “federalist” Cyrenaica Transitional Council – who boycotted the election but condemned violence – as patriots who care about Libya, has been well received and dialogue has begun.
Some analysts have found it hard to accept that things in Libya have been going so well since the revolution, misreading the inevitable post-revolution problems as civil war. The situation remains fragile, but they were wrong. Provided it lasts.
Source- Oliver Miles for the Guardian