Commentary | Libya: life after Gaddafi

The need for cautious optimism

On Thursday October 13, the Atlantic Council of Canada held an interesting roundtable discussion regarding the future prospects of Libya. The panel was comprised of Rex Brynen,  a professor in the McGill Department of Political Science, who worked as a consultant to the rebel leadership in Benghazi this past summer, Imad Mansour, also a professor in the Mcgill Department of Political Science Dr Miloud Chennoufi of the Canadian Forces College, Mr. Salhin Gheriani, who is the Chairman of the Canadian Libyan Council and former diplomat Paul Chapin. Chennoufi remains skeptical about Libya’s transition to democracy, while Chapin was optimistic about Libya’s situation. While I acknowledge the recent progress made in Libya, one should be cautiously optimistic about the transition to democracy.

After eight months of conflict between rebel organizations and the authoritarian Gaddafi government, an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 people are now dead, and the regime has been overthrown. The National Transitional Council (NTC) composes the interim government. The NTC is made up of monarchists, intellectuals living abroad, former members of the Gaddafi regime, as well as Jihadists. Mustapha Abdel Jallil is the Chairman of the NTC as well as a Jihadist who promises freedom under the condition that Sharia Law is established. This proposition may seem contradictory considering that some aspects of Sharia Law are repressive (an example being restrictions on women’s rights).

As Libya begins to rebuild, it faces the challenge of overcoming the legacies of social, ethnic, and political cleavages. Such cleavages were only made worse over the years by Qaddafi’s encouragement of tribal divisions, which perpetuated the underdeveloped status of Libya. Further, Libya must also overcome the divisions that exist between West and East, the rebels of the younger generation and the NTC leadership, the long-time regime loyalists and those who abandoned ship, and the Islamists and the Secularists. Surprisingly, there has thus far been a low level of revenge seeking and a surprising sense of inclusivity between different political groups. A constitutional time line has been established, promising an election of a Public National Conference within 8 months, followed by a new Constitution as well as an election held under said Constitution.

The international community’s military involvement in Libya is now diminishing, putting in Libya’s hands the power to rebuild its country as it wishes. Gheriani described Libya as a moderate Muslim country that is ready to rebuild itself as a nation based on freedom that seeks to be integrated into the international community.

Canada’s financial contribution to Libya to date is estimated at $10 million for development assistance and $10 million for the disposal of arms.

While I believe Libya has significant challenges to overcome, one should be cautiously optimistic about Libya’s situation given the NTC’s goal of a transition to democracy and the organizations inclusivity. This situation dramatically contrasts the authoritarian Gaddaffi regime.

Sara Levasseur is a U1 International Development Studies student. She can be reached at