Commentary | Getting to democracy

How Libya’s history complicates its future

As Gaddafi has recently been overthrown, many in Libya are hopeful about the country’s path to democracy. The optimist in me hopes that the patriotism that comes with liberation from a brutal dictator will instill comraderie between the various factions of Libya. But more likely than not, I see the various tribes forming separate factions and economic woes continuing to hinder the path towards a more prosperous future.
The country of Libya is the byproduct of illogical colonial partitioning. The country is ethnically composed of three regions (which could be three countries): Tripolitania, centred around Tripoli in the northwest; Cyrenaica, centred around Benghazi in the east; and Fezzan, the desert region in the southwest. Imagine the chaos of post-Hussein Iraq: factional violence, which would formerly have been mercilessly put down by Hussein. Gaddafi acted as the glue as Josip Tito did in Yugoslavia. And remember that after Tito’s death in 1980, the country splintered and a decade later engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. I’m not saying that there will be a genocide in Libya , but it is unreasonable to expect the National Transitional Council (NTC) to provide a quick and effective transition to democracy.
Not that I’m defending the reign of Gaddafi; the victims of his rule are so numerous that he is considered as notorious as many convicted of genocide. The usurpation of Gaddafi’s power is probably the best thing to happen in Libya in decades, and Libyans may prefer weaker government and sporadic violence to the bitter, authoritarian rule of Gaddafi.
This government however is not only weaker, but includes many of those officials who were associated with the Gaddafi regime. I cannot deny that I am glad Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Gaddafi’s former Justice Minister who was globally commended for his opposition to some of the regime’s more vain tactics, has assumed a prominent role in the NTC. However, I can’t help but harbour suspicions about NTC members who were complicit with the previous administration’s human rights violations.
In addition, there has also been staggeringly little conversation over economics. Indeed, the Arab Spring was half a fight over political and social freedoms, and half an economic struggle to combat unemployment and the plight of the forgotten impoverished. While the NTC has managed to cement some political authority over the country, it will have to work doubly hard to maintain the sort of control Gaddafi mustered – without using the egregious tactics he employed – and also find jobs for the tens of thousands of unemployed, young men who fuelled the violence of the rebellion to begin with. If the former NTC rebels are not satisfied, I see no reason why there wouldn’t be a second call-to-arms to remove the NTC, especially if they don’t deliver on promises of political and economic improvement.
I support the National Transitional Council. I believe they are the best shot that Libya has towards a freer, more prosperous future. I just fail to fully accept the notion that the council is inherently the antithesis to thecolonel’s rule. Libya has just scratched the surface at reaching the democracy its citizens set out for.

Richard Carozza is a U2 physiology student. You can contact him at richard.carozza@mail.mcgill.ca.


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