Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Libya: Two Years Post-Revolution

In the aftermath of the Arab spring, Libya has found itself two years into it's “post-revolution” with little to show for it. After the ousting and subsequent killing of dictator Myanmar Qaddafi, who ruled for over forty years, tribalism, factionalism, and religion have made developing Libya's newly formed government institutions challenging and painful.

While the desire for a completely new government seems widespread, issues that were not debilitating under Qaddafi’s absolute rule are now proving to be roadblocks to progress. Amidst a fledgling government with minimal means of providing security and a constitution that has yet to be passed, citizens as well as observers are concerned. At the heart of the issue lies disagreements in the type of government that should be born. This is due, in large part, to tribal and regional factions worried about their respective representation in any centralized government. As a result, there has been a push to institute a more decentralized government by many who fear their interests will not be duly cared for. This sentiment is particularly strong in the eastern part of the country where 80% of the oil reserves lie. Concurrently, concerns about a centralized government are also held by tribal minorities, particularly in the ethno- African south.

The third aspect challenging a unified Libyan government is perhaps that which is of most concern to outside observers particularly in the West: conservative Islam. Religious conservatism has clashed with the left- leaning legislature worried about the protection for gender equality in a new constitution.
This issue is of great importance for The West because any amount of discontent/ destabilization in the Arab World has often been accompanied by an influx of Islamic fundamentalism both ideologically and operationally. The possibility of either a conservative Islamist government or a destabilized environment in which fundamentalist NGOs might be free to operate have been at the forefront of concern for the State Department for the past decade. The fear that Libya could turn into a situation mirroring that of Afghanistan or Somalia, where primordial tribal conflict have consistently prevented stability, is not without warrant.

While the future is uncertain, given the lack of severe violence in the two years following the initial revolution, I would expect Libya to eventually develop a stable government. The fundamentalist influence is definitely a concern, however the moderate views of the population, combined with the time passed since the revolution, make it hard for me to see a theocratic government developing similar to Iran's. What is probably of more concern to stability is the issue of primordialism. The tribal/ regional tensions will be challenging to overcome; they have been suppressed under the iron fist of Qaddafi for over forty years and are only now beginning to sort themselves out. While this is of concern, the fact remains that the majority of the population is still Arab and Muslim. Therefore, I would expect a stable government to emerge, however not necessarily in a smooth or expedient manner.


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