Qaddafi’s Fall to Test Mettle of Libyan Rebels United by War
Defeating Muammar Qaddafi may turn out to be the easy part for Libya’s rebels. Managing the aftermath will test the loose alliance of former exiles, Arab nationalists, Islamists and regime defectors who united to boot out the dictator.
As celebrations in Tripoli’s Green Square hailed the opposition fighters, governing after Qaddafi’s 42-year rule “will not be a bed of roses,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said in a press conference yesterday in Benghazi, Libya.
Trying to prevent post-Qaddafi Libya from descending into chaos, the rebels have outlined a “road map” for the transition. They promise presidential elections within a year, in a country devoid of political parties or even a constitution.
“I would expect a period of confusion and near anarchy as a new Libya without Qaddafi tries to find a way for its various tribal groups to cooperate,” said George Lane, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen who previously headed the U.S. embassy’s office in Benghazi and met Qaddafi during the 1969 coup.
Post-Qaddafi instability may also “lead to the emergence of new authoritarian leaders or the breakup of the country,” said a report this month from the Council on Foreign Relations. Such an outcome would “discredit the NATO-led intervention and threaten vital European interests, including oil and gas,” said the New York-based research group.
The rebel council has never explained the July 28 assassination of Abdel Fattah Younis, the rebel military chief and a regime defector, who died after he was taken into custody for questioning by his own side. Nor has it explained the reappearance in Tripoli of Saif al-Islam, Qaddafi’s son and heir apparent, who the rebels claimed to have captured on Aug 21.
The appearance of Qaddafi’s son is a blow to the NTC’s credibility, Philip J. Crowley, former U.S. State Department spokesman, said in a message on Twitter. It has to demonstrate it can lead the transition, he said.
“There are all kinds of reasons to be cautious about what comes next,” said Dirk Vandewalle, a Libya expert and professor at Dartmouth College, in a telephone interview.
“It is a very difficult task, as Qaddafi systemically destroyed political and civil institutions over the years,” said Oliver Miles, a former U.K. ambassador to Libya. “Everyone says they are inexperienced, but they’ve managed Benghazi and the areas they’ve conquered quite well.”
For now, the rebels also are strapped for cash. They face legal obstacles to tapping almost $165 billion of frozen assets worldwide while production from war-damaged oil fields and refineries may not resume for months.
Libya once produced as much as 1.8 million barrels of oil a day and aspired to boost output to 3 million barrels a day. It now produces as little as 100,000 barrels a day.
The new government may be able to achieve only a partial resumption of oil production by the fourth quarter of 2011, probably no more than 400,000 barrels a day, said Cliff Kupchan, an analyst at New York-based research firm Eurasia Group.
After a five-month air campaign, North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies may be in too big a hurry to pass the reins to the United Nations, said Karim Mezran, a Libyan exile and professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy, in a telephone interview.
“It’s absolutely critical at this stage that the international community doesn’t suddenly drop the ball,” he said. “They have to oversee the process or things will turn bad very soon and very quickly.”
The gradual release of about $30 billion in frozen Libyan assets in the U.S. may provide “leverage to ensure the Obama administration gets the kind of government we’d like to see in Libya,” Stuart Levey, a former undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, told Bloomberg Television’s “InBusiness with Margaret Brennan.”
Another issue is who will replace Qaddafi. While the NTC members have signed a declaration that none of them will stand for office in the first election, that could change, and other contenders could surface.
“The first split among the rebels will be among those that stayed and those that were exiled,” said Alessandro Politi, a former adviser to the Italian Defense Ministry, in a telephone interview. “People who have been waiting in the shadows until Qaddafi was safely out of the picture will start to emerge.”
“My role will continue on after the end of Qaddafi, unless I lose control of the goals and aspirations I have,” Jalil, who served as a justice minister under Qaddafi, said yesterday.
Ali Tarhouni, who fled Libya in the early 1970s and was sentenced to death in absentia, left the University of Washington and returned home to act as opposition finance minister. He even attempted to break into the vault of the central bank’s branch in Benghazi to raise cash.
From the non-rebel camp, Qaddafi’s former right-hand man, Abdel Salam Jalloud, may also emerge as a potential leader.
Friends with Qaddafi from childhood, Jalloud was the second most powerful man in Libya after the 1969 revolution and served as prime minister in the mid-1970s. Suspected of taking part in a failed 1993 coup, Jalloud fell out of favor with Qaddafi and spent the last two decades in exile.
“His fall out with Qaddafi all those years ago means he’s not tinged by association,” said Mezran. “He’s definitely positioning himself as a viable option.”
Surprises may emerge, as they did in Iraq, where Nouri al- Maliki was virtually unknown before he became prime minister in 2006.
Maurizio Massari, a senior adviser to Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, said NATO allies are “cautiously optimistic” that post-Qaddafi Libya won’t turn into Iraq, which descended into factional warfare after Saddam Hussein’s ouster.
“For one, there is no Iran in the equation as the great meddler,” Massari said in a telephone interview. Yet, “we have to stay vigilant, and have to be on the look for extremist factions, which while grossly exaggerated by Qaddafi, do exist.”
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