Three questions on Libya
A six month NATO-aided rebellion in Libya has advanced on the capital, Tripoli, in an effort to oust 42-year leader Muammar Gaddafi. Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, comments on three key issues. Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst. He was previously a professor of International Relations at the American University of Paris. An author who writes extensively on global politics, he is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Middle East and international affairs.
What’s next for Libya and the national council?
It is time for the Libyan people to celebrate the end of a four-decade dictatorship. Once they sober up from the jubilations of their well-deserved victory, however, they will discover this is only the beginning.
Gaddafi has undermined, marginalised or obliterated many of the state institutions, including the military, and destroyed the political parties – indeed, political life in the country. There is much to restore and more to build from scratch.
Security, reconstruction and political transition are only a few of the challenges they will face sooner rather than later. More importantly, they will need to manage expectations of those who have given their all for liberty, freedom and prosperity.
Having said that, there is no need for alarm. Not yet any way. It’s easy, even clichéd, to be pessimistic, even negative, about the post-revolutionary challenge. What is needed is optimism anchored in reality.
And judging from what we have seen over the past five months, there is much to celebrate in terms of building a steering council and creating locally based revolutionary groups from the bottom up that have been well coordinated and largely disciplined.
There have been disagreements and suspicion over the past several weeks, and the full story of the assassination of Abdul Fatah Younis is yet to emerge. And yes, there have been certain violations and acts of revenge, but considering the pent-up tensions and violence after decades of dictatorship and its terribly criminal behaviour throughout the past few months, these have been the exceptions to the rule.
The revolution has been a pluralistic, all-encompassing coalition of people from all walks of life. They paid attention to local and tribal sensitivities and established an excellent coordination strategy between the local revolutionaries and the national steering committee.
Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia where pillars of the regime, notably the military, remain in power, the Libyan revolution is set to wipe the slate clean and begin anew. Democracy is its only way to success.
The transitional council must remember its role is just that – transitional – and avoid all tactics that prolong its unchecked authority.
You mentioned Egypt and Tunisia. What do the Libyan developments mean for the Arab Spring?
Libya is much smaller and relatively less developed than its neighbours Egypt and Tunisia. It also has much on its plate and will be preoccupied with its own internal affairs for years, even decades, to come. That’s why one doesn’t expect the new leaders in Tripoli to play any major regional role in the near future.
However, the revolutionary contagion will only accelerate after the success of the revolution in Libya. The Assad and Saleh regimes should have much more to worry about today than last week as the latest revolutionary domino falls.
Under pressure from their people, the Arab regimes are going to have to act. Yemen is next, and Syria, while more complicated, will have to follow suit.
The same is true for the rest of North Africa. As a necessary bridge between Egypt and Tunisia, oil-rich Libya could play an important role in coordinating the three countries’ future reconstruction strategies and their relations with the rest of the region and with the West.
What about the Western powers – notably France, Britain and the US – where does the ‘success’ in Libya take them?
First and foremost Western leaders need to wipe that smug look from their faces and make sure not to gloat about doing the Arabs any favours.
Certainly the NATO aerial bombardment did help, but this was a revolutionaries’ victory par excellence. The battle was won first and foremost in the hearts of the Libyans, just as with the Egyptians and Tunisians before them.
Besides, after decades of complicity with Arab dictators, Western powers have much to make up for: They inserted themselves in the Libyan revolution after Gaddafi made genocidal threats against his people, but their interference was not necessarily motivated by humanitarian ends, rather more of the same geopolitics that led to befriending Gaddafi, Ben Ali and Mubarak in the first place.
Syria is far more complicated and Britain and France will need to keep out of it militarily.
That’s not to say that the Libyans should be unappreciative for the extended helping hand. Better to have Western powers on the right side of Arab history for a change. And there is much room for cooperation and coordination in the future, but it should be done on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest, especially that of the Arabs who are in every need of affirmative action.
Western leaders must also steer away from driving a wedge between those whom they consider moderates and others deemed “Islamists”, as Libya will need cooperation among all its citizens.