End of the Beginning in Libya

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Fighting was still going on in many parts of the city August 27 between the rebels and Gaddafi's loyalists. By Ernest Corea*
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

WASHINGTON DC (IDN) – "A period of transition? That’s what Adam said to Eve," India's philosopher-president, the late Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, told a young Sri Lankan reporter who was interviewing him on unfolding political changes in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon.

Tripoli, or for that matter the whole of Libya, does not resemble a Garden of Eden right now, but it certainly is in the midst of a period of transition, one that by all accounts has been ferocious, and continues to be brutal and bloody.

Although all indications are that the Gaddafi political regime is no more, the violence in Libya has only receded and not ended, as the military arm of an old order struggles to hold on to its status and perquisites and the military arm of a proposed new order, assisted in many ways by external forces, fights to assert itself beyond challenge.

For Libyans who have lived under a dictatorship for 42 years, benefitted from some of the positive aspects of Citizen-President Muammar EL Gaddafi’s regime in its early years, then endured its worst excesses, a crucially important question is: what form will the "new" Libya take?


Will the vision of freedom nurtured by those who revolted against authoritarian rule, much as their peers did elsewhere in the Middle East be fulfilled, or will it be "business as usual" in Libya with only a change of personalities at the top?

The Transitional National Council (TNC) led by Mahmud Jibril, which has been recognised by some 40 countries as the current legitimate authority in Libya is convinced that it can lead the country towards beneficial change.

The TNC has crafted a road map under which a democratic constitution will be drafted and submitted to the people for ratification, after which elections will be held. The TNC expects this process to be completed within the next few months.

These are hopeful expectations, but there is no dearth of near-term problems to be resolved, before Libya gets down to building its own new society. Some signs are ominous. For instance, even as political prisoners liberated after many years of incarceration without trial – some for as many as 15 years – revel in their liberation, there are many eye-witness accounts of revenge executions being carried out  by both sides in the civil war.

Tribal loyalties and rivalries abound. How constitutional law can reconcile these differences in a country that was ruled for four decades by the law of personal whim remains to be tested.

There is also a huge humanitarian problem developing. As the detritus of five months of fighting are located and cleared, corpses have been found everywhere, including on the streets and on hospital beds and floors. Two hundred decomposing corpses were discovered in a single hospital whose staff had fled. The injured and otherwise sick are desperately in need of medical attention.

Humanitarian problems grow more severe by the day. BBC reported for instance that "living conditions in Tripoli are becoming increasingly desperate, with most of Libya's capital without water, electricity or proper sanitation. Hospitals are running short of supplies, and food and fuel are difficult to come by…..UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appealed for urgent humanitarian assistance and for the international community to help restore order in the country."

The economy has been disrupted and is near breaking point, with income from its energy sector at the bottom of the barrel. Libya is challenged to restore its once flourishing oil industry to full capacity without falling prey to the wiles of those who covet its riches.


There is, in addition, the need to ensure that Libya's accumulated material for the production of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) does not slip into the "open market." For the present, reports the Global Security Newswire, Libya's stockpile of chemical warfare materials appears to be secure.

"We're aware of reports that security does seem to have been maintained" at the country's storage facility, said Michael Luhan, spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Libya's WMD "are not weapon-ready chemicals; they can't be converted on a dime and they're in these massive drums inside a heavy bunker and we are able to monitor the security with national technical means," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland recently said.

In addition, assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and ammunition grabbed from Gaddafi's defeated forces are strewn around the country. There is a fear, too, in international monitoring circles that "sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADS (for Man-Portable Air Defense Systems) could wind up in the hands of terrorists.


While these developments continue, answers to the question "what’s next for Libya?" have cascaded across the world's news media, formal and informal.

President Barack Obama would like that question to be left in the hands of "people's power."

"Your courage and character have been unbreakable in the face of a tyrant… Your revolution is your own, and your sacrifices have been extraordinary. Now, the Libya that you deserve is within your reach," he has said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France would like to stretch and broaden the canvas. Towards this end, he proposes to host a 'Friends of Libya' summit on September 1.

The Arab League has accepted the leadership of the TNC on all matters Libyan, and is expected to seat the TNC at its next meeting later this month. An Arab League push for the UN to recognize the TNC as Libya's legitimate representative is also the subject of much speculation at the UN.

The African Union, a recipient of Gaddafi's generosity in the past has yet to consider the legitimacy of the TNC.

Prime Minister David Cameron and other members of Britain's political establishment would prefer that NATO should follow the example of Sid Green, Kenneth Williams and others, celluloid heroes who carried on up the Khyber Pass, and carry on, regardless, until all hostilities in Libya have ended.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota would leave matters in the hands of the UN Security Council, as duly mandated. "Our position is that no group except for the Security Council can assume the prerogative to adopt decisions that only the Security Council should adopt," he said in answer to a question from reporters. "It's important that mistakes made in other places, for example Iraq, are not made again."

Jibril wants to see the colour of money. He has said that to work effectively the TNC needs the international community to release Libya's funds that were frozen in past months. Those resources are required not only for reconstruction but also to maintain current services and pay salaries of civil servants. Not to worry: the money is coming


In a first step towards unfreezing Libya's sequestered assets the UN Security Council's Sanctions Committee agreed that $1.5 billion in U.S. banks would be released. This initial amount will be used as follows:

-- Tranche No. 1. Up to $120 million will meet the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people, including the internally displaced, on whose behalf the UN has already appealed for funds. Up to $380 million will be used to meet other humanitarian needs as defined by the UN, as well as other international organizations.

-- Tranche No. 2. Up to $500 million will be used to pay the costs of fuel for civilian needs (e.g., hospitals, electricity and desalinization) and for other humanitarian purchases.

-- Tranche No. 3. Up to $400 million will be used through a Temporary Financial Mechanism for providing key social services, including education and health. Up to $100 million will be used for food and other humanitarian needs.

A number of safeguards, including customary UN safeguards, and a prohibition on the use of these funds for military purchases will be put in place. Regular audits will be made as well.

In addition, some funds belonging to the Libyan Embassy in Washington DC will be released back to the embassy so that it can carry out its day-to-day business.

So the foundation for the future is being laid. This is only the end of the beginning, to use Churchill's memorable phrase. The size, shape, and quality of the structure that is built on that foundation will depend very much on how steadfastly the Libyan people and the leaders they choose can resist the temptation to lapse into "business as usual." (IDN-InDepthNews/28.08.2011)

Copyright © 2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

*The writer has served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon 'Daily News' and the Ceylon 'Observer', and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore 'Straits Times'. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.

Ernest Corea's previous IDN articles:

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