Libya can be stable and prosperous, not a source of threats to the world

If Libyans close ranks and overcome their differences, they can start building a new nation that is at peace with itself and with others.

2015/09/18 Issue: 23 Page: 6

The Arab Weekly
Mustafa Salheen el-Huni

Libya is at a crossroads where it will have to choose between falling into deeper chaos or pulling itself together and starting a process of reconciliation and nation-build­ing.

Pursuing the path of utter polarisation and armed strife will turn this once peaceful North African nation into a major hub of international terrorism and other threats, including illegal migration and arms and drug trafficking. The current deleterious situation has offered al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS) militants a propitious climate to ratchet up the level of death and destruction in Libya to an unprecedented level.

The threats hanging over Libya justify the concerns of the interna­tional community. Most Libyans are aware of the dangers, but as they try to snap off the current mode of civil strife, they find a country that is handicapped by the legacy of a previous regime, which for four decades failed to build viable institutions that could have served as a base for a modern state.

We Libyans have inherited a country with no legitimate institutions and no democratic culture. We have had no real experience in peacefully bridging political differences. Divergent stands are often perceived in terms of tribal and personal grievances. Compromise is not yet the established mode of conflict settlement.

Another complicating factor has been the lack of exit strategy after the NATO-led military interven­tion of 2011. Libyans were left on their own to deal with collapsed security and defence institutions. The ensuing power vacuum combined with the proliferation of weapons led to the emergence of many armed actors with no stake in stability.

The endemic violence and deep divisions plaguing political institutions have made Libya a nearly failed state. On the one hand, the interim government and the elected parliament have the needed legiti­macy to govern, as they enjoy national and international recognition. However, they do not wield the effective means of exercising power so they are not really able to rule. On the other hand, armed militias, which do not have legitimacy to govern, are in control of Tripoli and other regions.

In the middle of the chaos, one should not lose sight of Libya’s potential assets. Libya has an exceptional geographic location that, through the ages, has allowed business and trade activities there to thrive. Libya’s vast territory is rich in natural resources and not just oil and gas. Hydrocarbon resources have not been even fully explored. There are indications of the existence of various minerals that could be the basis of indus­trial activities to be developed in collaboration with international partners.

Socially and culturally, Libya is a homogeneous nation. The over­whelming majority of Libyans adhere to the Maliki-Sunni doctrine, a moderate branch of Islam. The small ethnic groups, such as the Tamazighs and Tuaregs, are fully integrated into the social fabric.

Of course there will be need for rehabilitation and training of Libyan human resources once we get into the business of rebuilding, but the high percentage of Libyans with educational and vocational training should make this task highly manageable.

A unity government could enjoy both legitimacy and effective power. Such a government should remain above ideological and tribal differences. It should lay the groundwork for the adoption of a new constitution and the estab­lishment of permanent institu­tions.

Another priority would be to work for national reconciliation between all Libyans, including members of the former regime. The process should obviously not include elements who are guilty of violent crimes or abuse of public funds, but should include the technocrats whose experience and competence could be of tremen­dous benefit to Libya.

If Libyans close ranks and overcome their differences, they can start building a new nation that is at peace with itself and with others. They need the help of their neighbours and international partners to undertake this huge task, but the essential responsibil­ity will be theirs to assume. I have no doubt they will. They have waited for more than four decades for this opportunity.

Mustafa Salheen el-Huni is the former first vice-president of the Libyan transitional council.

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