Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Moammar Gadhafi's dead. Now what for Libya?

WASHINGTON — With the death Thursday of Moammar Gadhafi, Libya's de facto leaders now face the challenge of preserving the fragile unity they enjoyed while the deposed dictator was on the run as they begin transforming their war-battered nation into a democracy after 42 years of tyrannical one-man rule.

The task is daunting. The National Transitional Council, the top revolutionary authority, confronts a vast array of problems: bringing the rag-tag militias that ousted Gadhafi under control; recovering looted arms; halting revenge attacks on Gadhafi loyalists; caring for thousands of casualties; restoring oil production; repairing war damage; and keeping a lid on regional tensions and radical Islam.

At the same time, the self-appointed group of former officials, academics, military officers and others, who are riven by personal and ideological differences, must proceed with an ambitious democratization plan. It includes holding Libya's first free elections within eight months of what is expected to be a declaration Saturday of "liberation" from Gadhafi's rule.

"The Libyan people now have a great responsibility: to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Gadhafi's dictatorship," President Barack Obama declared hours after a wounded Gadhafi was captured and likely killed by opposition forces after a nearly six-week siege of his hometown of Sirte.

Libya begins its new era with advantages over other former authoritarian-ruled states for which the period between civil war and the establishment of the first elected government is historically the most dangerous.

Libya's infrastructure remains relatively intact, some government offices continue functioning and where they don't, self-organized civic groups have taken over. There is little prospect of the sectarian or ethnic turmoil that convulsed Iraq. The National Transitional Council enjoys respect among Libya's 6.4 million people as well as international recognition, and it soon is expected to win access to some $110 billion in assets frozen by sanctions on Gadhafi's regime.

"When I was in Tripoli last month, the water was on, the electricity was on, the police were on the streets and the garbage was being picked up," said Daniel Serwer, a former U.S. diplomat who teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Relations in Washington. "I walked around at night without fear, and I ran in the morning without problems. You still can't do that in Baghdad to this day."

"They not only have oil in the ground, but money in accounts outside the country. The government is still paying social security payments and bread is still subsidized," he said.

Serwer gave considerable credit to Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the transitional council chairman. Abdul-Jalil resigned as justice minister in February to protest Gadhafi's brutal efforts to crush a popular uprising that was triggered by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and grew into a full-fledged civil war that left the dictator a fugitive after the fall of Tripoli in August.

"People have confidence in Jalil," Serwer said. "He lives in a modest house in (the eastern city of) Benghazi. He and the rest of the NTC have announced they won't run for office. He's gone around the country to each liberated city saying this is one Libya and it will have its capital in Tripoli."

Serwer and other experts, however, agreed that things could still go very wrong.

One of the National Transitional Council's gravest problems will be disbanding the militias that arose to fight Gadhafi with weapons that flooded out of looted military bases as the armed forces splintered between pro- and anti-regime units, experts said.

"There are an uncountable number of militias roaming the country, and these militias are really taking the law into their own hands," said Diana Eltahway, an expert on Libya with Amnesty International. "Among the biggest challenges will be trying to absorb them in whatever becomes the police force and national army or disarming them."

Some militias come from western areas that put up the toughest resistance and played key roles in capturing Tripoli. Their leaders have been unwilling to withdraw from the capital, unsure about the power-sharing intentions of the transitional council. It has been headquartered in Benghazi and dominated by members from the surrounding Cyrenaica region, where the uprising erupted.

One of the strongest militias is from the western city of Misrata, which withstood months of devastating siege by pro-Gadhafi forces. The contingent led the offensive on Sirte, captured Gadhafi, took his bloodied corpse back to the city and paraded it through the shell-pitted streets.

A key test will be the National Transitional Council's ability to implement the democratization plan it unveiled in August, which calls for the group to move from Benghazi to Tripoli and form a transitional government within 30 days of the liberation declaration. The group until now has been unable to agree on the transitional government members.

The transitional government would have three months to arrange national elections for a 200-member Public National Conference, which would select an interim prime minister and a committee that would draft Libya's first democratic constitution, followed by the holding of the first free and fair general elections.

Key leaders in the National Transitional Council

Mahmoud Jibril: acting prime minister; was head of the National Economic Development Board under Gadhafi before defecting at the beginning of the rebellion.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil: council chairman; leader of the rebel council since it was formed in February; was minister of justice under Gadhafi until he resigned after violence was used against protesters.

Abdel Hafidh Ghoga: vice chairman; a leader and spokesman for the rebel council since it was formed; was a prominent Benghazi lawyer who was involved with representing families of prisoners killed at Tripoli's Abu Salim prison.

Moammar Gadhafi's dead. Now what for Libya? 10/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 20, 2011 11:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. St. Pete council advances limits on PAC money in city elections


    In front of large group of red-shirted supporters, the St. Petersburg City Council gave initial approval Thursday to an ordinance limiting campaign contributions to $5,000 from political action committees.

    A large crowd gathered Thursday to support passage of a controversial measure to limit campaign spending in city elections
  2. Bill Nelson on GOP health care bill: 'Now we know why they tried to keep this secret'


    WASHINGTON - Sen. Bill Nelson lashed out at the GOP health care plan released Thursday, deeming it "just as bad as the House bill."

    Reporters on Thursday wait for Republican senators to leave a briefing on the health care bill
  3. Video: Loggerhead sea turtle found in Islamorada resident's pool


    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on Monday, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys.

    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on June 22, 2017, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys. [Photo from video]

  4. What Wilson Ramos will mean to the Rays lineup, pitching

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer was stumping for all-star votes for Corey Dickerson during a live interview Wednesday morning on the MLB Network when he lifted the right earpiece on his headset and said, "I hear a buffalo coming."

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos (40) waves to the crowd after being presented with the Silver Slugger Award before the start of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
  5. Deon Cain, Duke Dawson, Derrick Nnadi among SI's top 100 players


    Sports Illustrated's countdown of the top 100 players in college football continues with three more local players.