Libya’s rebels achieved what many thought would be impossible

George Joffe writes:

Given Libya’s dramatic lack of political and administrative experience (the legacy of the baleful perfection of the Jamahiriyah, which punished dissent with death or imprisonment), and the parallel lack of civil society (eliminated over the years for identical reasons), it is almost impossible for Libya to ignore the accumulated experience of the previous regime.

Indeed, Mr Abdel Jalil himself, as president of the Council, is Libya’s former minister of justice and the commander of the East’s military forces. General Younis, who was killed at the end of July, had been the interior minister. Yet General Younis’ death was almost certainly a consequence of a widespread dislike and suspicion of former members of the Gaddafi regime within the insurgent movement.

The issue also highlights the tensions within the Council between different groups: Exiles against former members of the regime, Islamist militias suspicious of the military command, and tensions between the armed forces of the East and those of the West of the country. Mr Abdel Jalil has battled against these trends, it is true, but it is not clear how successful he has been and how coherent and competent the Council will be in handling its new responsibilities. Nonetheless, there are still many question marks about the immediate future that pro-Gaddafi forces may seek to exploit if they manage to regroup.

Yet against these concerns must be set the single staggering fact that, admittedly with NATO’s help but essentially with their own resources, Libya’s people have overthrown the regime that had oppressed them for decades. Unlike Tunisia, the regime was not capable of understanding its own loss of legitimacy and fought unsuccessfully to retain control. Unlike Egypt, there was no army as a national institution which, in the end, was prepared to force the regime to go. NATO’s help was vital in evening out the odds that the insurgents faced, but they were the ones who actually achieved what many thought at the beginning would be impossible.

It could be argued, therefore, that Libya, the country upon which its regional neighbors used to look with a pitying regret, perhaps even contempt, may turn out to be a paradigm of how liberty can and should be won against corrupting and violent dictatorship. In that respect, it finds its place alongside Tunisia as the unexpected and unanticipated examples of radical political change in the Arab world, in which it is North Africa that offers lessons to a Middle East that has been used to precisely the reverse!

Given that achievement, perhaps, the problems faced by the National Transitional Council can now be seen in a proper perspective.

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