By Daniel Serwer
The opinions expressed are his own.
With the press focused on scenes of joy in Tripoli and Benghazi, continued skirmishes with regime loyalists, and speculation about where Gaddafi might turn up, it is time to lift our sights and focus on the really difficult transition ahead. If another autocrat succeeds Gaddafi, the transition could be over soon. But if Libya embarks on an effort to create a more democratic state, unified and inclusive in many dimensions, we’ll need to wait the better part of a decade to know whether it has succeeded or not.
There are no magic formulas for how to go about this. Each contingency has its own requirements. We have seen many more partial failures than full successes: think Iraq and Afghanistan.
Certainly in Libya security will be job one. The immediate goal is public order, so that people can move freely without fear of large-scale violence. But there was public order of a non-democratic sort in Gaddafi’s Libya. What the rebels have done in areas liberated in recent months is as clever as it is remarkable: they have organized local councils to try to ensure security and other immediate requirements. This does not always happen in civil wars but it suggests a way forward. There were at least four councils in Tripoli before Gaddafi fell. Can they step in to organize local communities to protect themselves from the inevitable aftershocks of Gaddafi’s fall?
Even if that works, it is only a temporary expedient. Libya will need a retrained and re-oriented police force, one that seeks to serve and protect rather than intimidate and repress. International assistance in this regard has become the rule rather than the exception, but there is little unused international capacity, because of Afghanistan, Kosovo and other requirements. It is tempting to suggest that Arab countries take on this task, but difficult to imagine that they will do it in a way that encourages the kind of community policing that is needed. Even training and retraining 1,000 per year, it will take at least the better part of a decade to put in place a police force Libyan democracy would want.
Even well-trained police are no use if there are no courts where the people they arrest can be fairly tried and sentenced, as well as prisons to put them in. Courts require not only judges but also prosecutors and defense attorneys, not to mention court recorders, registrars and bailiffs. If the formal court system fails to provide fair and rapid justice, Libyans will turn to informal methods of dispute resolution, especially where tribal structures are strong in the countryside. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but there are difficult issues to be resolved concerning the interaction between tribal and formal justice systems, and the treatment of women in tribal systems.