Libya after Qadhafi: Reshaping the Political and Security Systems

By Mühlberger, Wolfgang | Connections : The Quarterly Journal, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Libya after Qadhafi: Reshaping the Political and Security Systems


Mühlberger, Wolfgang, Connections : The Quarterly Journal


Introduction

The fall of Muammar al-Qadhafi in October 2011 marked the end of the Libyan uprising, led to the close of NATO's intervention "Operation Unified Protector" (OUP), and ushered in a delicate political transformation which failed to come to a quick and decisive end with the first round of elections held in early July 2012. To assess some major pitfalls of the current transitional process, this article will propose an analysis of two main challenges the new Libyan authorities will face, the proper handling of which will determine the nature and stability of the future state. The first challenge is the political transition from an autocratic regime via revolutionary credentials to democratic legitimacy. The second involves the construction and governance of an entirely reshaped security sector, both in the military and civilian realms, transcending their previous roles in the Jamahiriyya either as Praetorian Guard or as state-sponsored bullies.1

Libyan politics are not immune to the major novelty introduced by the Arab Spring. Political representation transformed into a reflection of forces on the ground: what used to be called in derogatory terms the "Arab Street" - as opposed to the will of the dictator, or alleged Western interests - morphed into public opinion, which was now suddenly relevant in elections. Yet the first free national elections in Libya produced a mixed picture without clear majorities, partially due to the complicated electoral system, which was split into party lists and individual candidates. Furthermore, as could also be witnessed in local elections that took place in Misrata and Benghazi, political Islam as such seems not to be favored by the Libyan people. This means the search for charismatic, authoritative political leadership during the transition phase will most likely continue. However, achieving stability cannot be attained by a successful political transition alone. Rivalries between numerous and relatively autonomous kata 'ib (militias) could degenerate into open confrontation.2 If those rebel commanders, who have suddenly transformed into politicians, lose in the elections where they sought to acquire democratic credentials (and in the process to transcend their previous revolutionary achievements as militia leaders), such a scenario becomes more likely.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) and its interim government have prioritized security sector and judicial reform from the very beginning in order to provide for a smooth transition in post-conflict Libya. However, in the current climate justice seems mainly to be understood to consist in indicting former regime officials (such as Qadhafi's son Saif al-Islam or the former Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi), rather than in terms of conducting reforms of the justice system. Simultaneously, assassinations are not uncommon. Jumma al-Jawzi, the judge who ordered the arrest of Abdelfattah Younes (commander of the National Liberation Army since his early defection, assassinated in July 2011) was killed in June this year.3 Several candidates running in the recent elections or former Qadhafl-era office bearers have been victims of politically motivated murder or assassination attempts as well.

Despite the NTC s rhetoric about national reconciliation, security sector reform (SSR) is making slow progress in an environment that is prone to the settling of old intertribal disputes. These tribal rivalries, which had been used by Qadhafi as a reliable mechanism to consolidate his power, are now free-floating in the absence of a central authority. Practically, mediation efforts for the implementation of fragile cease-fires tend to be undertaken by shuyukh (tribal leaders), elders and notables from influential families. The army claimed on several occasions to have dispatched contingents to intervene in tribal clashes, such as confrontations in southwestern Sebha or southeastern Kufra. The reality looks quite different. …

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