A page has turned in Tripoli
Libyans are beginning to question if the NTC are the wrong men for the job of rescuing Libya from its current morass, contemplates Gamal Nkrumah
Muammar Gaddafi is not entirely out of the woods, or shall we say desert shrubs. Even as Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, the Gaddafi bastions of Sirte, his hometown, and Bani Walid to the immediate south of the Libyan capital Tripoli are astoundingly holding out against devastating NATO aerial bombardment and the besieging forces of the National Transitional Council (NTC), the so-called Liberation Army.
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A Libyan revolutionary fighter climbs onto a wall to look for snipers while engaging pro-Gaddafi forces in Sirte
NATO precision bombing and incessant Liberation Army shelling did not prevent Gaddafi from mounting a rearguard defence and counteroffensive. This news is welcome in many quarters because it should nail the notion, which has been sadly prevalent among Western powers on both sides of the Atlantic that Western military might is invincible. A growing number of Libyans are rightly beginning to see this for the chaff it is. NATO's intervention leaves much unfinished business for the NTC.
While acknowledging that the NTC's Liberation Army has genuine concerns about the safety of civilians in Sirte and Bani Walid, sceptical Libyans are right to feel peeved about the manner in which they were expressed. In a democracy, civilian politicians should call the shots in their dealing with the military. Yet field commanders of the NTC's Liberation Army appear to have qualms about the ideological orientations of the NTC's political leadership.
The NTC's Liberation Army top brass has become too keen on speaking out in public. NTC's leaders believe that this is a dangerous game and that the military should curb their inclination to talk to the international and Pan-Arab media. The NTC leadership also has grave reservations about the ability of the Liberation Army commanders to execute key tasks that they are given. The NTC fighters' inability to capture Sirte and Bani Walid are a case in point.
Post-Gaddafi Libya remains an economic and political entity of numerous dichotomies. The NTC's policymakers' choice is now reduced to picking their preferred poison and hope it is the best potion on offer to cure the ills of the Libyan people.
Hardly a day goes by without news of yet another sign of social unrest in post-Gaddafi Libya. What most ordinary Libyans fear is that their real disposable incomes will have to fall in some way or another given the initial fall in oil revenues with the disruption of output and oil exports. Hundreds of Libyan civil servants and workers are demanding their salaries and wages and are openly blaming the NTC for its inability to make provisions for their paychecks. The laying-off of workers at this historical moment will be tantamount to political suicide for the NTC. Libyans may yet come to appreciate the social services and highly protected markets Gaddafi guaranteed for his country in its hour of need.
The NTC will be obliged to demonstrate responsibility for Libya's future over the coming months. They cannot do so if Gaddafi still holds pockets of resistance in Sirte, Bani Walid and other outposts loyal to the ousted Libyan leader.
In the longer term, the NTC must make key decisions on democracy and the political future of Libya. An open debate on the country's political dispensation is more likely if parties are competing on clear, diverse platforms. Economic reconstruction, too, means taking on vested interests.
The NTC's reaction to the crisis of confidence was initially fumbling with leading politicians threatening to withdraw altogether from the political process.
Worse, though, are the cronyish links between leading members of the NTC and Western investors and industrialists, for Libya, it is feared is up for grabs.
The main blot is Libya's dwindling oil production that has plummeted to a trickle because of the civil war from a pre-NATO aggression level of 1.6 million barrels a day. The NTC desperately needs to restart the country's oil exports as soon as possible. The NTC has been noticeably reticent about its oil policy. At this rate, it is only a matter of time before the NTC will be pronounced an odd ally of the West that will have to go.
The West is not the only external actor with much at stake in Libya. The pressure is about to get more intense.
The real question for the NTC and Libyans is should Western investments be welcome? A question such as this does not get the prominence it deserves in either the international or the Pan-Arab media. In a country like Libya security concerns and economic issues have always been inextricably intertwined. Libya produces some of the best quality oil in the world and its proximity to European markets make the country an especially valuable trading partner to Western powers.
Yet, a structural change in the economy of Libya is sorely needed. The NTC, it is presumed, has been handed a powerful mandate by NATO to modernise the Libyan economy. Libya's toppled leader Gaddafi tried to do so immediately after his rapprochement with the West. He clinched deals with Western companies and rubbed shoulders with Western policymakers. How distant Gaddafi's dream now seems.
When taken in the full context of post-Gaddafi developments Western executives complain bitterly about Gaddafi's nepotism and corruption and his henchmen's painfully slow and inconsistent decision-making. During the long sanction years Libya trailed behind other North African countries in terms of attracting foreign capital in spite of its enormous oil wealth.
Today Libya desperately needs new direction and the NTC urgently needs to salvage something of what until a year ago could have been interpreted as Gaddafi's positive economic legacy. He had tried to wriggle from the quagmire into which Western sanctions had landed Libya with limp technocrats used to the bureaucratic constraints of the Gaddafi era and press for radical administrative reform. Yet Libya faces the pernicious problem of finding suitable personnel to restore a sense of principled purpose to Libya's battered economy. There are a string of other urgent reforms including plenty of non-oil natural resources that were either illegally exploited by Gaddafi's hangers-on or remain untapped. Above all, the NTC must cleanse the Libyan state's procurement processes. Another pertinent question is whether the NTC is capable of running honest tenders and securing trustworthy financial transfers.
The tragedy is that Gaddafi's well-intentioned agenda for development was hampered by the Mafia surrounding him that committed heinous wrongs and until recently unobserved because unscrupulous Western businessmen turned a blind eye to the dubious goings-on in Gaddafi's Libya. Many Libyans fear that even with its vast oil wealth, their country might never fulfil its full economic potential, especially if the NTC falters and the political system it hopes to initiate jams.