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.