The Future of Libya: Forget About a Central Government, Only Autonomous but Unified States Would Work
By Arezki Daoud | The North Africa Journal | Libya is in chaos and the idea that a central government driven by the National Transitional Council (NTC), or whatever comes after it will save it is pure fiction. Everywhere you look, every angle you analyze, every event that is reported by the media tell one thing, and one thing only: the NTC is incapable of governing and utterly unable to control the chaos as too many pressure points are breaking the country further apart.
Almost a majority of the Libyan people admits that the situation is so bad that democracy will not work. More than 40% advocate for a strongman to rule over and control the country. This is because a year after the revolt started, insecurity reigns all over the nation, heavily armed groups of militiamen are terrorizing everyone, killing alleged operatives of the former regime without due process, tribes in the south have been fighting with dozens of deaths and the NTC is unable to do a thing. Talking about the economy is utterly inappropriate under these conditions, but if anyone is interested in the economy, consider the fact that the majority of the youth population in unemployed. May I add that at the same time oil and gas activity has resumed nicely and the industry is doing just well while the time bomb is ticking.
The NTC for its part not only it doesn’t have the means to govern, but the Libyan people also question its legitimacy. The choice of an obscure and totally unknown individual to be Prime Minister is highly troubling. Abdurrahim el-Keib may be a terrific independent technocrat and a nice man, but his background as being educated in the West and teaching Engineering in the University of Alabama does not fit the Libyan template. The man has nothing to offer to Libya, a nation that needs a unifier who could speak to the tribes with their own language and convince them to adopt a single policy platform for the sake of the nation’s own survival. El-Keib has been a long-time academic who spent 20 years at the University of Alabama. He was reported to be a voice of Muslims in Tuscaloosa. How does one go from collecting money to build a mosque in Alabama to becoming the Prime Minister of a highly destabilized nation?
As we look at the sorry state of affairs in Libya and debate its future in our editorial conference room, I reached interesting conclusions that I’d like to share. The first is what I would call plan B. Libya as a nation will never work as a single sovereign entity. Anyone thinking that the classical model of governance, with a central executive branch, a President and Prime Minister, and a parliament to oversee it all is the model to follow, I say this is a simple pipe dream. Just think for one moment of the political system of elections where one person is a vote. A one man-one vote formula looks very suspicious and indeed dangerous in the Libyan context. When one considers that the Warfalla tribe alone comprises 2 million members in a population of 6 million, it becomes easy to comprehend what could happen if such democratic system were to take place. The Warfallas could be tempted to take over governance and they have the numbers to make it happen. Considering their role in toppling the Gaddafi regime, the populations of Benghazi, Misrata, and elswhere, who are not Warfallas will find it utterly offensive to be eventually sidelined if a one-man-one-vote formula is adopted. But the alternative of giving priority to the big urban areas looks grim too. Largely of rural nature and active in Zintane, the Warfallas may be offended if the big cities were to rule. And so a formula that takes other variables should be considered when draft the political future of the country.
What Libya needs is what we introduced in an earlier recommendation of a federated state, one that would empower the regions, commonly called here as “tribes” to handle their security, law and order, economy, justice system, religious affairs, and other areas that will be the domain of local communities. By empowering the regions, local tribal chiefs will decide on how to secure their territories much better than a central government would do, perhaps by deputizing some of the elements that are currently roaming free but heavily armed.
Apart from the security aspect, a decentralized nation means that the abuses of a central government will be reduced or eliminated. Central governments in North Africa and indeed across the entire African continent have been destructive players. Many of them have abused their power, expropriated resources and discriminated against ethnic communities. Libya has a historical opportunity to take a different approach. On the economic front, the regions or tribes should create their own rules in taxation, resource allocation, and economic development instead of Tripoli grabbing it all.
Beyond regional governance, the regions should be able to vote for a national leadership team to manage common interest functions like diplomacy and defense. Leaders that are selected by the regions will be much more legitimate than what we are seeing today. This basic formulation of a governance model is the most viable one, in fact the only good one. We should be able to trust the regions to handle their affairs while they would accept basic common rules to deal with their common problems.
Scenario C is not a proposed Plan but a scenario that would inevitably come if the NTC fails, as I expect, and if Plan B is not pursued. In this case, the 40% of the Libyans who consider a strongman to rule the nation is the only viable option may have their wish granted. This time, bet on it that it would come in form of an Islamist wave. After all, although the Libyans are divided along tribal lines, they have a common religion and they are generally more conservative. This is a solid common denominator that could unify them around an Islamist political ideology. This is something that the West would hate to see, but then again, the Islamists have gained enormous momentum in Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco. But in Libya there is no guarantee that they would be as moderate as in neighboring nations.
In the final analysis, I strongly believe that a solution short of autonomous regions unified under a federated nation will be short lived. Forcing a Western solution of a central government that has no wherewithal is just bound to fail. Give the Libyans the chance to do it right.
In our latest issue of The North Africa Journal, we update our readers on a broad range of issues affecting the region. We start we the state of Libya year one, to highlight the shortcomings of the Revolution and the need for autonomous regions. We also look at what Islamists in the region are getting themselves into as they managed to win elections. Most of the other topics are greatly related to the political crises we've witnessed, including of fate of women. Of a particular interest is the crisis facing Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin for its dealing with the Gaddafi regime. To read or download this latest magazine, visit its dedicated page at: http://www.north-africa.com/premium/issues/228.htm. If you are not a subscriber, you can either subscribe here or send us an email.
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