Libya’s Tough Road Ahead – Wall Street Journal

Libya’s Tough Road Ahead | Ranj Alaaldin | Wall Sreet Journal

Now the real work begins. With Libya officially liberated and Moammar Gadhafi killed, the country starts on the messy road of political and social reconstruction. For Libya’s interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), the aftermath of the bloody nine-month conflict may prove as difficult and treacherous as the conflict itself.

Security is still paramount if any viable democratic system is to be built. The interim government must ensure that pro-Gadhafi remnants are prevented from mounting a sustained insurgency from the countryside.

That means organizing the new government’s military and police forces, and sooner rather than later. Armed forces still operate in Libya as independent, unaccountable fighting units. Unless they are given a proper, regimented place in the new military, there is the risk that they will become personal militias for financially powerful political players, both within the country and across in the region. These armed groups will demand their share of funding and representation, particularly those who have become radicalized over the course of the nine-month conflict. The NTC may find it difficult to meet their expectations.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the NTC army and other armed factions are divided along their support for different military commanders. It is still unclear how disparate units engage with each other and how they manage their relationships. Among the key commanders are the controversial Islamist Abdul Hakim Belhaj, head of the Tripoli military council. Mr. Belhaj’s deputy resigned two weeks ago, a potential signal of internal strife. Also important are Khalifa Hifter and Omar al-Hariri, the other main NTC commanders, who are based in Benghazi and are both vying for the job of top military chief. Other figures may yet emerge from the woodwork.

Interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril announced on Wednesday that a special body will be formed to deal with the problem of independent armed groups operating in Tripoli, especially those groups who see themselves as the sole authority in the capital. Many of these groups came from the previously besieged city of Misrata and the Nafusa mountains in the western part of the country, where the rebellion was fiercest. The downfall of Sirte means that transitional leaders may be facing a problem it wishes had been resolved sooner.

Against this backdrop, the hard part now is meeting the basic demands of the country’s population of six million. They want institutions, jobs, basic services and democratic elections. They demand accountability and transparency.

But that requires reconciling political differences within the NTC and beyond. The transitional government first needs to manage the country before it can govern it: It needs structures not necessarily founded on the basis of fairness and equality, but simply on being able to placate the competing interests and political visions among the revolutionary forces.

The NTC is not without its enemies in this respect. These include the powerful Salabi brothers: Ali, an influential cleric, and Ismail, a powerful military commander. The Salabis, who receive arms and funds directly from Qatar and independently of the NTC, have already called on NTC members to resign, saying that their mandate has ended.

The toppling and killing of Gadhafi brings many new uncertainties, but at least it can be said now that Libyans have replaced the certain misery of tyranny with the uncertain progress of democratic politics. It is up to them to make it count.

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