The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Nic Pelham on Libya

I haven't been following very closely lately, but does not look good for the upcoming elections  —Nic Pelham writes Libya's Restive Revolutionaries for MERIP:

The government is clearly alive to the dangers that isolated attacks could mushroom into a broader insurgency, possibly uniting two sets of discontents -- thuwwar and former regime loyalists -- in a marriage of convenience against the new order. Libya’s vacuum provides ample space for fresh alliances. Unable to overcome the thuwwar, the NTC have recently sought to coopt them. Jettisoning such designations as outlaws, NTC chairman Mustafa ‘Abd al-Jalil has reportedly blamed the government for “not absorbing the revolutionaries.” The NTC has offered the thuwwar blanket amnesties for misconduct during the war, restored the handouts, sanctioned the intervention of composite militia forces in such trouble spots as Bani Walid, a former regime garrison town, and backed the creation of a Patriotism and Integrity Commission, Libya’s version of Iraq’s debaathification commission, designed to vet electoral candidates and government officials.

Wooing the thuwwar carries risks. By empowering them, the government may be simply buying time in the short term but stoking more serious problems in the long run. More constructively, it should accelerate plans to stimulate provincial economies, in an effort to integrate the thuwwar not only in the security sector, but also back in the economic sectors from which they say they came. Officials protest that they can hardly solicit investment when the security situation is so unstable, but the government has copious funds of its own to kick-start the economy. The revival of a credible criminal justice system, too, could do much to restore confidence in central authority. With some notable exceptions, Libya has mercifully sidestepped a surfeit of revenge killings, but without some form of truth and reconciliation commission, instances of people taking justice into their hands (given the partial government control, at best) are likely to mount.

As critical to filling the security, economic and judicial vacuum is the realization of the constitutional agenda. If central authority is to take root and Libya transit from revolution to reconstruction, it will need a government with sufficient legitimacy to withstand the centrifugal forces of the militias. An elected government will enjoy a popular mandate to overhaul Qaddafi’s inheritance that the NTC has largely shunned for over a year.

In a country with no history of a secret ballot, skeptics abound. “In Egypt and Tunisia, elections were forged, but at least we knew what they were,” says an Egyptian training enthusiastic election monitors. “Libyans have no idea.” Moreover, as election day approaches, some thuwwar, too, fearing that time is running out for their hope of reclaiming the country’s mantle, might consider a direct bid for power, or at least an outbreak of havoc that temporarily derails the election. Thuwwar spokesmen claim to have mustered support from 50 NTC members to overturn the election law. More locally, some could consider force to prevent a loss of power. An Arab candidate in Murzuq, near Sabha, was shot dead. Heightening communal tensions in Kufra, a Toubou member of the electoral commission resigned, in protest at lack of registration forms for his community. “Who will respect the results, when everyone has a gun?” asks an Amazigh activist from Zuwara.