This Op-Ed is an excerpt from “Economic future for Libya brighter than in Tunisia, Egypt,” Christian Science Monitor, August 29, 2011 by Katherine F. White, SJPP Staff Editor and co-author Jason Pack. To best secure the future of the Libyan state, it is imperative that the Transitional National Council uphold the transparent and comprehensive institutional framework recently outlined by the council’s interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril. This concrete and methodical “road map” for the formation of a post-Qaddafi government rightly delineates the procedure for elections based on the convocation of a National Congress composed of members of all regions of Libya. The congress would draft a constitution for a nationwide referendum under the supervision of the United Nations.
Such a step is not unprecedented: from 1949 to 1951 the UN supervised a Libyan national convention that drafted a constitution and selected Idriss al-Senussi as its king in accordance with that constitution. (Mr. Idriss remained on the throne until Qaddafi’s coup in 1969.)
In short, the oversight of the international community in the formation of a Libyan national transitional body remains the only method with a clear historical precedent for the formation of a legitimate Libyan government at the time of a change of regime.
Given that the transitional council is an unelected body, laying out a rigid time line for this procedure – and strictly adhering to it – will be essential for the council to remain legitimate in the eyes of Libyans and the world. That said, outside actors – such as the UN, Arab League, and others – may have to use carrots and sticks to encourage developments to remain on the right path. If the international community speaks with one voice – as it did with Resolution 1973 and the no-fly zone – such actions will not be viewed as neocolonialism inside Libya.
Currently, the primary criticism of the Transitional National Council inside Libya is that it represents only a spectrum of Eastern Libyan interests aligned with the NATO countries. There are good indications that the transitional council leaders genuinely wish to embody a true cross-section of Libyans; structural reasons have made that difficult until now.
As indicated by the road map, the transitional council is committed to a “Truth and Reconciliation”-style commission based on the South African model and has promised to include in the new government former Qaddafi officials not involved in perpetration of crimes against humanity. This commitment to no “de-baathification” is essential to getting Libya’s economy running in the medium term and quickly restoring basic services to Libyan citizens in the short term.
Failure to utilize the institutions, technocrats, and policemen who served in the previous regime would impede the council’s efforts to keep the inhabitants of western Libya fed while preventing a prolonged political vacuum which leads to looting and chaos.
Dr. Jibril’s optimistic and promising outlook of “one country, one people, one history and one future with one capital (Tripoli)” is shared by many, if not most, Libyans. The prospects for a transition to a democratic and prosperous Libya are better than most commentators acknowledge.
However, implementing the transitional council’s road map and transitioning power to an elected government will require that the mutual suspicions between Libyans and with the international community – sown by decades of Qaddafi’s misrule – be rapidly replaced by networks of trust and collaboration.