What’s behind Libya’s fast march to democracy?

By Daniel Serwer
September 27, 2011

By Daniel Serwer
The views expressed are his own.

In a trip to Libya this month, just weeks after Muammar Qaddafi’s fall, I found peace coming fast to Tripoli, despite continued resistance in several Libyan towns.  Ten days ago, families with children mobbed Martyrs’ square, where Qaddafi once held forth, to commemorate the hanging 80 years ago of Libya’s hero of resistance against the Italians, Omar Mukhtar. Elementary schools opened last week. The university will open next month. Water and electricity are flowing. Uniformed police are on the street. Trash collection is haphazard but functioning.

This is the fastest post-war recovery I have witnessed: faster than Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan. Certainly faster than Somalia, Sierra Leone or Rwanda.

Why this rapid recovery in a country marked by four decades of dictatorship? Why does Libya seem on track while Egypt seems to have gone off the rails?

Libya has at least three important advantages: good leadership and clear goals at the national and local levels, careful planning and adequate resources.

Libyans believe Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who leads the National Transitional Council (NTC), is uncorrupted and uninterested in continuing in power. He has pledged not to seek future office. He has visited the liberated cities to celebrate the single goal of freeing Libya from the Qaddafi regime. The NTC has replaced Qaddafi’s green flag with the red, black and green banner emblazoned with the star and crescent that was Libya’s flag at independence. The revolution in Libya was not interested in compromise or a managed transition. It wanted a clean break:  Qaddafi out and a new, more democratic regime, in.

The NTC and a clandestine Tripoli local council planned carefully for the military takeover of Tripoli and the restoration of services in the aftermath. With three hundred mosques playing CDs chanting “Allahu akbar!” Qaddafi’s forces on the evening of August 20 found themselves confused and then attacked from both inside and outside the city, which fell far more easily than anticipated.

In the weeks since, the new, unpaid local administration has achieved a great deal. It sent technicians hundreds of kilometers to the south with support from local tribesmen to reactivate the wells that pump water into Qaddafi’s “Great Man-made River,” which supplies Tripoli and other population centers. The national government is making the usual social welfare payments. Flour and oil subsidies have been maintained, so bread is cheap and available. Only partial withdrawal of salaries from banks is permitted, but Libyans are confident about the country’s economic future, based on its oil and gas resources.

Libyans know what to expect next. The NTC has promised elections for an interim assembly by April 2012 and presidential elections by April 2013. It has published a constitutional framework that establishes Libya as both Islamic and democratic.

The contrast with Egypt, where I spent a week earlier this month, is striking. Egypt is a much larger, more complicated and poorer country. There unity around the demand for President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation deteriorated quickly once he resigned. Little planning had been done.

The protesters asked the army to take over. Unprepared, it had to postpone elections even as the protest movement split, with secularists demanding a constitution, or at least constitutional principles, before elections and Islamists preferring it the other way around. Egyptians now do not know what to expect, though the first round of elections is now promised for November.

Some of the protesters have now targeted Israel, diverting attention from Egypt’s own problems and scaring off European and American tourists. The economy is in a nose dive. Resources are highly constrained.

Things could go wrong in Libya. We are still in the early days. Qaddafi’s forces could go underground and conduct the kind of insurgency that Saddam Hussein’s secret services ignited in Iraq. Fighting could erupt among the many militias that constitute the NTC’s military forces.  Many of them came from outside Tripoli. They may refuse to go home or to disarm.

But Libya is less than one-tenth the population of Egypt and has vast funds deposited abroad by Qaddafi that are beginning to flow to the NTC. If Qaddafi’s forces can be defeated soon and the militias either integrated into a new Libyan army or demobilized and disbanded, there is real hope for success. Libyans, who have lived under an idiosyncratic and cruel dictatorship for more than forty years, deserve no less.

 

13 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Is the author of this article reporting from the Quatari sound stage where some of the Libyan press propaganda was filmed? (events that never took place in Libya) There is no electricity, water is scarce, Tripoli is in ruins, people are dying. There is gunfire and daily skirmishes.
When you carpet bomb a City it takes decades to rebuild it. When I went to Dresden in 1992, scars from WWII were still visible even after 40 years of the Allied carpet bombing.
I suspect that Mr Serwer has never been to Libya or even in Africa: “Trash collection is haphazard but functioning.”
Without being facetious, there is no trash collecting in most African countries. People throw rubbish all over the place. As long it is not in the way, it stays there until decomposes. Dead donkeys, coke bottles, masonry.

“This is the fastest post-war recovery I have witnessed”
I am not sure if the author is aware that Libya is still at war. The rebels are blowing up houses belonging to Ghaddafi supporters. Civil war is brewing.
Since you think all is well in Tripoli, why don’t you go there on a holiday with your family to collect landmines?

Another delusional article from Reuters…

Posted by Renox | Report as abusive

This article is pure propaganda and fabricated reality. Tripoli is in absolute shambles.
The TNC does not command the mob of rebels much less Libyan society.

Reuters is busy fabricating a virtual reality instead of providing news on the ground.

Shameful.

Posted by N20 | Report as abusive

Now this is what I call propaganda, what a weak article. Really, do you really believe people buy in to this garbage?

Posted by ljshelley | Report as abusive

what democracy? why are we crazy about exporting democracy to people in stone age? reuters sucks…

Posted by Ocala123456789 | Report as abusive

Weak article… The idea is to make people believe that is everything ok in lybia when the reality is completly different. Comparison with Egypt is even worse. They will never mention that the western powers support the military junta and the delay of a real democracy there since most of the egyptians are against Israel.
So sad… I really expected more from Reuters.

Posted by Vassalli | Report as abusive

in reality Libya WAS! one of the most advanced nations in Africa/Arab world, after NTC and NATO? not any more. how many years has it been sent back? how do you know if the NTC wants democracy? they are full of ex members of the LIFG. and other Islamist groups. what do you really know about them?

Posted by Branwen | Report as abusive

The war in Libya did not start with the USA or NATO bombing, it started with Gaddafi bombing his own people and Libyan cities. I have been to Libya and am travelling to Tripoli again on Tuesday. The speed with which the country is coming together in the aftermath of the war is truly amazing. There are still pockets of resistance in a couple of towns, but overall, Libya will be entirely freed from the captive of Gaddafi and his regime. Libya will not submit to any foreign intervention and will create its own democratic state. The rebuilding of Libya will be quick and effective. The people of Libya are determined not to repeat the lessons they have learnt from the 41 of Gaddafi rule. Those who believe Libya was one of the most advanced nations in Africa prior to 17 February revolution should get their heads out of the sand and visit the many deprived towns and cities in Libya where people are still living in shacks after 41 years of the Gaddafi rule and where the average Libyan salary was no more than $200 per month!

Posted by Moss | Report as abusive

A very accurate assessment of Tripoli, which I can confirm 100% personally as I am currently sitting in my bedroom in the middle of Tripoli.

Electricity is connected, water is running, food is plentiful, although still slightly more expensive than usual. Rubbish is collected by neighbourhood volunteers, and I must admit it is being collected far more frequently than before.

There is still multiple checkpoints throughout Tripoli, mainly present because Gaddafi supporters still wont accept defeat and still go around shooting people randomly in drive-by shootings. However, there has been very very few incidences of revenge by the freedom fighters and the Pro-democracy Tripoli population in general. Most previous supporters where allowed to assimilate with the revolutionaries, especially if they have no blood on their hands. Gaddafi supporters that are armed have been requested to give up their arms voluntarily and most obliged. The Gaddafi supporters that refused to unarm had their weapons confiscated by force.

Generally, the atmosphere is very positive in Tripoli. Every night families go out to Martyrs Square to celebrate the victory. In closing, I am surprised at the ill-informed comments, I thought reuters readers were more civilized and informed.

Posted by EH172 | Report as abusive

Daniel Serwer is one of the very architects behind NATO intervention in Libya – so do you think he’s going to admit it is a disaster unraveling into NATO sanctioned, even assisted genocide, with entire cities, Tawarga for example with a population of 10,000 being exterminated, imprisoned or exiled? Nope – shame on Reuters for serving as an outlet for these craven liars, then again, you should know that Reuters is a member of many of these unelected policy think tanks were atrocities like NATO’s Libya intervention are cooked up in the first place.

Posted by Cartalucci | Report as abusive

“Libya has at least three important advantages: good leadership and clear goals at the national and local levels, careful planning and adequate resources.” You got to be kidding! Good leadership – a mixture of Islamists, former Kaddafi minsters and Esatern tribal leaders, that are already fighting each other and this will only continue. “Careful planning”? Of what? NATO”s bombing of Sirte? Or summary executions of those who do not support the NTC? “Adequate resources”? Lybia does have oil and it is its main source of revenue. But now it was crippled by the war and will be taken over by the foreign oil producres, like TOTAL, Chevron and others. This article is a joke, insulting people’s intelligence. Not everyone is completely zombified by Al Jazeera, CNN and Fox. C’mon Serwer, some people here had also visited Lybia and have a very different picture.

Posted by johnesbit | Report as abusive

Daniel Serwer is a pathetic neo-colonialist short in morals & judgement. If Tripoli is safe, why has NTC not moved there? Why contribute & condone the attack/murder of innocent people in Libya when that country hasn’t attacked any other? The world is watching you people! Unless you you descent from your towers of superiority & arrogance, we will bring you down by force! Is that the way to use the world’s resources, to destroy other resources & pollute an already suffering environment, while ignoring cries of enpoverished masses living next door to your mansions? The taciturnity of time will judge us all.

Posted by OneWorldTruth | Report as abusive

“SEP 28, 2011
7:53 PM EDT
A very accurate assessment of Tripoli, which I can confirm 100% personally as I am currently sitting in my bedroom in the middle of Tripoli.”
It’s no good. They won’t believe you. If it has done one thing, the Arab Revolution has dragged a lot of squalid apologists for dictatorship out of a range of closets. From the ‘liberal’ wimps to the Spartist ‘Left’, to Fox News and the Tea Party. Not to mention the Born-again Islamophobes. All of them screaming in defence of the Imperialist puppet Gadaffi. And all destined for the dustbin of history, having completely failed to grasp that the world has changed.
Shame for them. But Libya can take the risk of ignoring their ideological dilemma, and their monumental arrogance in demanding that they run their country one way or another. It is now theirs to run however they wish.

Posted by Lil_Richardjohn | Report as abusive

It is clear that the individuals criticizing this article have not been to Libya. NTC and NATO have saved the Libyan people. Libya is in a better conidition now… it is going through the ups and downs of shaking dictatorship off and trying to reshape it’s future….as with regards to those who try to defend the tyrant gaddafi Well…ask anyone about Gaddafi..even before Feb 17 started…thier first impression about Gaddafi is that he is a DICTATOR…and who doesn’t know that…unless you pretend not to know…just simply think…how can a person rule a country for 42 years without oppressing his own people… now that gaddafi is gone there is a brighter future regardless of the painful stages that Libya is going through

Posted by darrat | Report as abusive