Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Trouble with Libya

These statements from a leading TNC member have gotten a lot of attention today:
"When Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the chairman of the Transitional National Council, pronounced the end of the uprising, the crowd reacted with shouts of 'God is great.' This was not long after people sang the bouncy national anthem of pre-Qaddafi days, which was revived to help celebrate the downfall of the dictator, who was killed on Thursday after he tried to flee Surt.

"Two strands — a new piety and all-purpose, freewheeling happiness — dominated the ceremony. Mr. Abdel-Jalil, stooping humbly to shake hands in the crowd and embracing the elderly relative of a fallen rebel, made clear that personality would have nothing to do with the new order.

“'We are an Islamic country,' he said as the sun descended. 'We take the Islamic religion as the core of our new government. The constitution will be based on our Islamic religion.'

"Among other things, he promised that Islamic banks would be established in the new Libya. He also talked of lifting restrictions on the number of women Libyan men can marry, The Associated Press reported.

"The comments reflected not only the chairman’s personal religious conservatism and the country’s, but also the rising influence of Islamists among the former rebels. The Islamists, who include some influential militia commanders, have warned that they will not permit their secular counterparts in a new government to sideline them."

What concerns me isn't the fact that Abd al-Jalil is proclaiming an Islamic state. Arab countries all claim their laws and institutions are derived from Islam. What concerns me is that this is simply being proclaimed rather than discussed in a political process, and that armed militias are likely to remain such an important force in the country.

I do not regret the fall of Qadhafi, but the road ahead remains difficult, far more difficult than in Tunisia or Egypt. Libya is divided and without strong institutions that can manage the transition. If under Qadhafi the west was favored, the TNC is drawn mainly from the east, and the patronage connections are sure to bring about an uncomfortable reallocation of national resources in that direction. Right now there is celebration and giddy proclamations about the future, but for Libya's sake, national reconciliation needs to be around the corner.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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