Revolutions are inherently chaotic, and their precise outcome is impossible to predict. Made up of a quick and inevitably violent succession of events, they result in radical and sweeping changes — hopefully for the better.
Oct. 23 marked a new era in Libyan history, with the end of the Gadhafi regime officially announced by Libya’s new rulers. For the first time since 1969, Libyans got a glimpse of a hope that they would be able to contribute to the political process in a meaningful way and determine their own future. That hope for many held a promise for achieving dignity, freedom, justice, equality and an improved economic outlook.
Nearly eight months later, however, the lack of democratic political experience is paralyzing the process of determining the direction for the country and articulating a vision for the nation’s future. The National Transitional Council is losing the legitimacy it held among the citizens just a few months ago. As the post-liberation euphoria is giving way to frustration and fear, immediate concerns over physical and economic security and diverse regional circumstances are leading to separatist calls, most forcefully from Benghazi.
The country remains deeply divided, with ongoing clashes between soldiers, militia groups and tribesmen intensifying and the security situation deteriorating. This is hardly surprising, given the legacy of Moammar Gadhafi, who sought to retain and strengthen his control with a “divide and rule” strategy, deliberately endowing a few institutions with a great deal of authority and then pitting them against each other and inspiring rivalry.
It has been extremely difficult and at times impossible for the central authorities to rein in the brigades and contain the ensuing sporadic violence in the regions. The recent violence is reviving and fueling formerly dormant interethnic and intertribal tensions. As groups look to settle scores, large-scale reprisals and revenge killings further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis and dim the prospects for national reconciliation.
Libya’s first national elections in a generation will take place next month. The outcome will be significant and set the nation on a trajectory with momentous long-term implications. However, the stability of the new government, its ability to overcome challenges, heal the fragmented society and begin delivering on the promises of a better future will largely depend on how inclusive these elections will appear, both in terms of the candidates and the voters. The process must accommodate the differences in regional priorities and address the concerns of ordinary Libyans over political and economic uncertainty.
A weak government without a broad support and legitimacy will pave the road for the return of tyranny and corruption that unleashed the revolutions of the Arab Spring to begin with. If this happens, we can expect counter-revolutions in the form of intermittent uprisings, outbreaks of violence, internal strife and separatist movements of the kind that were seen after the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Without stabilizing the security situation, no progress can be made in improving the economic situation in Libya. And without economic vibrancy, democracy becomes but a hollow promise. Strengthening law-enforcement and security institutions and making them more accountable to the ordinary citizens they seek to protect is, therefore, paramount.
The uncertainty and chaos in a post-conflict region make some worry that Libya could become a fertile ground for recruitment by extremist elements. Job creation, youth empowerment and private enterprise must, therefore, be given priority due to security considerations as well as economic objectives. The modernization of the Libyan economy through increased support for education, scientific research and industrial innovation will go a long way to improving the business environment, provide much-needed social safety nets and create the infrastructure needed for the prosperity of the Libyan youth.
Despite all these obstacles and challenges, there is reason to remain optimistic about our future. The Libyan people have already succeeded in coming together once to overthrow the Gadhafi regime — no small feat by any measure. Now, they must unite once again to ensure that the lives lost in the revolution were not lost in vain. They must unite in their commitment to a peaceful and successful transition and a brighter and more prosperous future for our coming generations.
Allolaki is a senior adviser to Mahmoud Jibril, a candidate for future leader of Libya. He is also a board member of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce and a writer and researcher on the economy and development in Libya.