[Viewpoint] Libya from now onRed, black and green horizontal stripes make up the Libyan flag. The colors represent the three administrative parts of the country: Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan. The anti-Muammar el-Qaddafi rebel forces that established power in Benghazi and in the eastern coastal region of Cyrenaica, conquered the capital of Tripoli (which is in Tripolitania), hoisting their symbolic flag to signal a victorious end to a six-month civilian fight to topple their leader of 42 years. It is interesting how the power focus has returned to Cyrenaica, which ancient Greeks named after a tribe living there.
In their tens of thousands of years of history, the descendants of Saharan Berber, Arabic and Phoenician colonies came under the successive rules of Greeks, Romans, Turks and Italians. The people are finally close to building a democratic republic of their own, free of colonization, monarch or dictator.
No final battle can save Qaddafi now. He should humbly thank Allah for the riches and absolute power he enjoyed for more than four decades after he overthrew the king as a 27-year-old army colonel. And then he should get out of the way.
Libya has a tumultuous future ahead in the aftermath of such a long, tyrannical rule. The Libyans never got the slightest taste of modern democracy or government structure with a history controlled by foreign forces, followed by a feeble monarchy after independence from 1951 to 1969, which ultimately brought in Qaddafi’s despotic regime.
To Libyans, a civil society of the Western type will be an alien import. The rebels’ supposed leadership, the National Transitional Council (NTC), will be organizing an ad hoc government since the state under Qaddafi has no mechanism for succession or a new governing system.
One of the 33 members of the NTC will likely be the leader, taking on the challenge of knitting the country back together under an untried democratic system. But the NTC lacks a broad legitimacy among the entire population and faces resistance from different tribes and ethnic groups. Last month’s mysterious killing of a major commanding general of the rebel forces underscores the inner conflict within the rebel forces and dangers of factionalism. The power struggle has already begun inside the rebel group even before it gained power.
If no firm leadership arises to assert control over post-Qaddafi Libya quickly, the divide and conflicts among the 100 different tribes and regions will likely worsen, possibly leading to physical clashes between supporters of the east-based NTC and the well-armed rebel fighters of the west. The NTC and west reformers already differ on the method of punishing Qaddafi and his military. The former wants Qaddafi to be tried in an international tribunal while the latter demands he stands in a Libyan court.
The two sides are trying to talk out their differences, but mutual distrust won’t likely be easily patched up. We do not know which road Libya will follow after the fall of its long-time authoritarian leader: a prolonged civil war scenario as in Iraq after the exit of Saddam Hussein, or the struggling yet slowly democratization of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak. Libya is headed towards a dramatic turning point one way or another.
It is ironic that Qaddafi, who strongly resisted Islamic socialism and Western influences, in the end brought Western and NATO military power to Libya. The wave of civilian revolution that swept across Arab communities was started in Tunisia, where citizens rushed to the streets crying out for liberation. But Libya’s civilian movement could not have succeeded without international support.
NATO warplanes bombed and struck military bases as well as weaponry and communications facilities run by the government forces more than 7,500 times, and warships put a blockade around Libya. Drones updated the rebel and NATO forces with intelligence on government forces.
NATO was critical in freeing the Libyans from the brutality of the unyielding-to-the-end Qaddafi regime. But going forward, it must clearly understand what it must and must not do in Libya. It must keep meddling in Libya’s democratization process to a minimum.
NATO could undermine the cause of Libya’s people power movement if it acts as a backseat driver. The allied members also must refrain from asserting privileges over Libya’s oil production and reconstruction and be content with helping the Libyan people restore their battered economy.
The rebel leaders must also demonstrate tolerance toward Qaddafi’s former supporters to help integrate the divided society. Libya’s democratization process could be a lot more difficult if Qaddafi is killed at the hands of civilian forces.
Libya’s revolutionary success depends on tribal and regional harmony. It will likely serve as another tipping point in the pan-Arab democratization movement.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Young-hie