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Libya facing daunting compromises

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Libya facing daunting compromises


The Libya of the past 40 years has been dismantled, and now needs building up again. Six months of civil war has left a mess of Tripoli. The capital is not working, and a lot of Libyans are very anxious about how to get it working.

A few days ago, the National Transition Council held a press conference acknowledging the mountain of reorganising that remains to do. NTC spokesman Mahmoud Shamam said “We understand we are lacking a lot of institutions, so we are starting from almost zero in this situation. But with the help of everybody, I think we will be able to do our best.”

Last week, Tripoli celebrated. People celebrated in Benghazi, too. But they will have to find more in common now. The rebels in the east largely got the fight going and got the international community on board, yet they could not have tipped Libya towards the future without a rebel rising in the west of the country. Geographic disparities will have to be bridged.

Key political figures must also seek common ground, among them former Justice Minister Mustapha Abdel Jalil, who became rebel emblem when he turned his back on Gaddafi.

Mahmoud Jibril, number two on the Transitional Council, is a sometime economics professor in the US and a thinker in Libya’s rebellion.

The military leader is Abdelhakim Belhaj, a former mujahideen with ties to al Qaeda. It makes for quite a cocktail.

Various strains in Libya, whether geographic, political or religious, brought the mysterious murder in July of the insurgent General Abdel Fatah Younès. What sort of settling of scores was this? Younès was for years in charge of fighting Islamism in Libya.

The vivid inter-tribal tartan makes it essential for the National Transition Council to multiply the diplomatic feelers, narrow divisions and show progress for the country’s sake and to keep international goodwill stoked up.

The NTC this month proposed a road map: after setting up in Tripoli, it is looking at forming a temporary government in September, then it is to be given eight months to organise a representative assembly to draft a new constitution, which will be put to a referendum. That will be followed by general elections.

The whole cycle, on paper, is not to exceed 20 months. The way seen as the most likely is some sort of a federal system, in-keeping with the compromises and ambitions embodied in the National Transition Council.

For insight into the context of the conflict in Libya, euronews consulted Daniel Serwer, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

Journalist James Franey asked about the shifting focus — onto how they will reshape the North African nation after four decades of dictatorship, now that Libya’s rebels control most of the country.

James Franey, euronews: “What are the big challenges the National Transitional Council (NTC) have to face?”

Daniel Serwer: “Stabilising Tripoli first and foremost. Getting oil and gas moving in the next few weeks at least, if not sooner. The National Transitional Council was necessarily more representative of Benghazi than it was of the west of the country, when Gaddafi still controlled the west. They now have to expand the representation and select a real government that can deliver services to the population. If you don’t get the electricity and water flowing, people aren’t going to be very patient with them.”

euronews: “What role should the international community play?”

Serwer: “A supporting role, with the Libyans telling us what it is they need. This is quite unlike Iraq and Afghanistan. Libya is going to be responsible for its own stabilisation and reconstruction, the international community in supporting role.”

euronews: “Who should take the lead? Should it be Europe? Should it be the United States?”

Serwer: “Europe, because of Europe’s vital interests, oil and gas supplies, the question of migration which Europe would like to avoid; but at the same time, I think it would be important for the UN Security Council to lay out some goals that the Libyans and the international community can share: a more democratic Libya, a unified Libya, one that can govern itself, and one that treats all its citizens correctly. But you’ve got tribal divisions, east-west divisions, you’ve got secular/religious divisions, you’ve got a continuing resistance effort by Gaddafi’s forces, these are troublesome at best, catastrophic at worst.”

euronews: “They’d like to hold elections within 240 days. Do you think that timetable’s perhaps too overambitious?”

Serwer: “It’s better to lay out a schedule and make everybody try to meet a schedule than to just leave things to drift. This is a revolution, somewhat unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where the existing institutions are providing the transitional moment. In Libya, it’s quite different because you don’t have strong existing institutions.”

euronews: “And how will the NTC deal with the issue of oil?”

Serwer: “They seem to be determined to maintain existing contracts. The question of distribution of the revenue inside the country is one that has proved enormously problematic in almost every oil producing country. The money goes directly to the government, which makes the government very much in charge and unaccountable for their expenditures. This is a very bad aspect of oil revenue, and to be avoided. But I haven’t seen a definitive proposal from the Transitional National Council on this subject.”

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