Libya: three steps to fight chaos
Action has to be taken if Libya is to step back from the brink and not collapse entirely, becoming another Somalia, writes Hassan Fathi Al-Qashawi
Libya continues to reel several months since the Gaddafi regime fell. The National Transitional Council has so far failed to reconstruct the institutions of the state and it looks like the country is sliding towards becoming another Somalia, although here it will be Somalia plus oil.
Numerous factors impede the re-establishment of central government, but the most dangerous is rampant tribalism. Libya is being torn by a chain of tribal/regional conflicts in which the warring parties are using heavy artillery and even mustard gas according to some reports, although most reports deny this.
Jabal Al-Zintan is the area most gripped by disturbances. Located in the vicinity of Tripoli, one would have presumed that it would have fallen under the control of the capital. However, the reverse appears to be the case: the rebels of Al-Zintan are encroaching upon the capital and have taken control of Tripoli airport. They have simultaneously been engaged in numerous skirmishes with the revolutionaries of Misrata.
If the Arab Spring brought the refreshing breezes of freedom and hope, it is being eclipsed by the summer gales of chaos, lawlessness and violence. For five decades, the Arab state used the whip rather than the rule of law to keep people in line and to intimidate thieves and the opposition alike. With the collapse of that despotism, there was no orderly alternative ready to take its place. The culture of the rule of law had not been given an opportunity to take root, civil society was weak, if it existed at all, and freedom became confused in the minds of some with anarchy.
In Libya, the situation was aggravated by the collapse of the Libyan army that, like in other Arab countries, was the last pillar of the state. With its collapse, militias mushroomed. Most of these emerged around tribal affiliations, are strongly imbued with localised Islamist outlooks, and are led by gangs of youth with no affiliation to a larger or higher authority. Therefore, there is no organised front or unified leadership that anyone can negotiate with. The upshot is youthful revolutionary zeal, tribal chauvinism, religious fanaticism and anarchic militancy have combined to produce a maelstrom that threatens to spiral out of control.
Several measures could be taken to halt the deterioration and fragmentation. The National Transitional Council could have launched a campaign to dismantle the militias by recruiting youth into a newly reconstructed national army and by offering militia members attractive rewards for turning in their guns. Unfortunately, the council did nothing of this sort. Its president, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who is clever and astute, is proving to be rather weak. The Libyan people who had long submitted to Gaddafi's impetuous sword may be fond of this new statesman, but they do not fear him. It is a dilemma not uncommon in other Arab countries where people had grown accustomed to bowing to the whims of the despotic ruler and had never been given the opportunity to voluntarily accept the authority of the institutions of the state. The dilemma may be aggravated by the violent repression that was meted out against some Arab revolutions, giving rise to sensitivity towards resolve in the re-imposition of law and order. Yet, in the Libyan case, considerable resolve seems to be just what is required in order to put an end to the chaos. This resolve also needs to be backed by an element of convincing strength, but the council lacks this as well.
If Libya is to pull itself back from the brink, it must undertake three courses of action. One is to hold parliamentary elections on 7 July in order to select a national convention whose purpose will be to draw up the foundations of a new system government to replace that of the Gaddafi regime.
The second, and more urgent, is to rebuild the Libyan army and revive the authority of the state. Here it will be important to take advantage of Libya's oil wealth in order to purchase heavy weaponry, such as tanks, and to rebuild the air force in order to ensure that the army has the upper hand over the militias. Simultaneously, there must be a concerted drive to dismantle the militias and incorporate their members into the army. This should proceed in tandem with a strictly enforced disarmament programme that sets a deadline for turning in arms and stiff penalties for all who violate it.
Other Arab nations can help. Egypt, in particular, can contribute to the training of officers and soldiers of the new Libyan army. The field should not be left to Western nations to shape the creed of the Libyan armed forces.
The third course of action is to implement an urgent developmental drive. Particular attention should be given to the marginalised areas that have come to form trouble spots and centres for weapons smuggling, and that are currently instrumental in the "Somalisation" of Libya.