The end of the Gaddafi era: towards democracy in Libya?

The storm continues to blow for Arab dictators. After the fall of Ben Ali and Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, the « Brother Leader » is no longer the master of Tripoli. Although he is still at large, he keeps still some capacity for harm in the conflict that has already killed more than 20,000. After a reign of 42 years marked by inconsistency and folly, a new era for the Libyan people arises. While the Europeans are already positioning themselves for the country’s reconstruction and exploitation of hydrocarbons, one may question the possibility that one day Libya becomes a democracy.

The National Transitional Council (CNT), now located in Tripoli, has been recognized to date by almost 60 countries as the legitimate government of Libya, including Chad and Burkina Faso  – countries believed to have provided mercenaries Gaddafi at the start of the rebellion – and the African Union is preparing to do so today.

We know little of the CNT. Its leader, Mustafa Abdeljalil, was a judge who used to make decisions that run counter to the opinion of the regime. As President of the Court of Appeal in Tripoli, he confirmed twice the death sentence of the Bulgarian nurses. In 2007, Abdeljalil was appointed Minister of Justice. In August 2010, a representative of Human Rights Watch praised the fact that Abdeljalil has « very well taken a stand » against arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention without trial.

While the head of the CNT seems honest, it was reported by the newspaper Libération that Abdelhakim Belhaj, one of the rebel commanders, now Military Governor of Tripoli, is a jihadist close to al Qaeda well known by U.S. intelligence. It is difficult today to know whether the CNT has good intentions, as Abdeljalil wrote the French newspaper Le Monde in April 2011:

« We set up local committees, and a National Transitional Council, to conduct our struggle to an end for ever, give rise to a democracy first and to administer our devastated country until the day when all women and all people of Libya could,  free of Gaddafi and his family, finally speak openly through transparent and free elections. « 

However, will these promises turn into action? Libya has no experience of democracy, no independent press, no well-established institutions – everything was decided by Gaddafi – no civil society and a tradition of tribalism. The road to democracy will be long and difficult.

On the European side, the race for reconstruction contracts has already begun, as planned. Military or financial aid, Europeans and Americans do not count desert Libyan territory and seek to position themselves strategically in order to obtain the favor of the « Libya of tomorrow. »

Before the fall of the « Guide of the Revolution of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya », Libya produced 1.6 million barrels of oil per day (2% of world production) and its reserves are estimated at 43 billion barrels. The country was the 17th largest oil producer in the world and third in Africa. Oil accounted for 95% of exports, 85% were destined for Europe.

Abdeljalil Moustapha, has previously promised to reward, for the reconstruction of the country, states that have helped Libya « based on the support » they have given the insurgents. The French and British companies seem to be in the best position. Italy, which was more reluctant to participate in the NATO coalition, risks losing the dominance it had before the outbreak of the rebellion.

Geoffroy d’Aspremont