Libya rebels have won the war but biggest battle will be uniting factions

Martin Chulov writes:

The lessons of what becomes of a Middle East state that suddenly loses its strongman are recent and raw. More than eight years after Baghdad fell with the same ignominious haste as Tripoli, it remains a basket case of competing agendas, a disengaged political class and citizens left with the reality that the state neither has the capacity or the will to look after them.

Benghazi’s NTC seems to know that the same torpor in Libya will quickly dissolve their claim to authority and have pledged to do everything they can to effectively represent all of Libya. They will relocate to Tripoli as soon as Gaddafi has gone and have already drafted a constitution. On Monday they said it would take up to 20 months to create the framework for a new Libyan government.

But they may not have that long. Libya shares another trait with Iraq – it is fiercely tribal, and the country’s 140 tribes and clans have flagged a stake in whatever emerges from the rubble of the Gaddafi regime.

The spectre of the tribes waging war against one another was often raised by Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, and other members of the regime who said they would either hold the state together, or rip it to shreds.

The tribes will be decisive, especially those who feel they did not enjoy the benefits of Gaddafi’s patronage. Overlaying the tribal structure are others that have competing stakes in Libya, a group of exiles that have returned en masse in recent months and will probably be lured in greater numbers when Tripoli finally falls.

Also raising their heads are Islamists in the east, who were kept under control by Gaddafi, except when they wanted to travel to Iraq, or Afghanistan, which villagers from the east chose to do in large numbers.

The Nato intervention led to the unlikely reality of jihadists who had fought the US military in Iraq fighting Gaddafi under the cover of US warplanes within the space of five years. Their allegiance for now is to the NTC and its ambition to turn a state run under an entrenched cult of identity into a pluralist democracy that represents an array of competing interests.

There are real fears that such a task may be beyond the competence of the 33-member NTC, which has been recognised by the international community more on promise than merit.

With one eye to Egypt in the east and the other to Tunisia in the west, neither of which have surged ahead since their dictators fell in January, NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil will quickly need to convince Libyans that he can do better. At a press conference in Benghazi on Monday, he appeared to acknowledge as much. “My role after the fall of Gaddafi will continue, unless I lose control of the goals I aim for,” he said, before warning rebels that the world was watching for any sign of vendettas against Gaddafi’s men. “I hope that Gaddafi can be taken alive so he gets a fair trial,” he added. He will also be hoping for a just hearing for the NTC. If it can’t deliver as a governing authority, post-Gaddafi Libya will be in trouble.

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