What next for Libya?

Despite the scenes of jubilation in Tripoli, there are more questions than answers about the next er

If reports are to be believed, the end of Muammar Gaddafi's 41 year rule of Libya is nigh, as rebels storm the heart of Tripoli. Such is the pace of events that it is impossible to know whether the regime will fall quickly, or whether the battle for Tripoli will be on-going for several days. Either way, it is difficult to see how even Gaddafi will retain his grasp on power for much longer.

Attention is now turning to what the next era will bring, and there are far more questions than answers. As we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, regime change is not an end in itself, and can lead either to deadlock, or to more extreme forces seizing the moment. While both Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were unpopular regimes, this did not mean that there was an opposition with the widespread support to replace them. In Iraq, the widescale purging of anyone liked to Saddam's Ba'ath party created a power vaccuum. The existing tension within the Libyan rebel ranks, between life-long opponents of Gaddafi and those who have recently defected, could foreshadow a similar disaster.

Currently, the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council (NTC) is recognised by 32 countries, including Britain, as the official government of Libya. This body will be tasked with bringing order to the post-war chaos. However, it is deeply divided, and remains without a cabinet. The last one was sacked by chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil on 8 August, accusing it of failing to investigate the July murder of rebel military commander Abdul Fatah Younis. Questions remain over the role of Jalil's government in the murder, although Islamist forces have also come under suspicion.

According to reports, the NTC is too faction-riven to agree on who should form a new executive, which does not bode well before it has even taken power.

In today's Independent, Patrick Cockburn reports on the divisions amongst the rebel forces:

It is an extraordinary situation. The Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi is now recognised by more than 30 foreign governments, including the US and Britain, as the government of Libya. But it is by no means clear that it is recognised as such by the rebel militiamen who are in the process of seizing the capital. The rebel fighters in Misrata, who fought so long to defend their city, say privately that they have no intention of obeying orders from the TNC. Their intransigence may not last but it is one sign that the insurgents are deeply divided.

A crucial difference to Iraq is that there are no US or Nato forces on the ground. It remains to be seen what role the west will play in the formation of a new government, but given the disastrous legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan, the indications are that Nato countries will encourage the Arab League and the African Union to take the lead. The neighbouring states have a clear interest in the country's stability.

Jalil, a former minister who resigned when violence was used against protesters in February, is still viewed with suspicion by many who do not want to retain any ties at all to the Gaddafi regime. At this stage, it is difficult to see how Jalil will manage to persuade different rebel factions to co-operate, incorporate existing state structures, and control the Islamist element, given that he has so far been unable to unite his own council.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.