Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Libyans face long road of reconstruction

By Zheng Anguang (China Daily) Updated: 2011-11-24 08:01

 Libyans face long road of reconstruction

Lou Jie / China Daily

Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) named a new government on Tuesday, three days after Saif al-Islam, the son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi was captured. Saif is the last important Gadhafi family member to be seized or killed. On Sunday, the Libyan rebels took former Libyan master-spy Abdullah Sanusi captive.

The capture of Saif and Sanusi, however, are not significant in post-Gadhafi era Libya. And despite the controversy over whether Saif should be tried by the NTC in Tripoli or the International Criminal Court in The Hague, his trial, too, will not be important. At best, the developments are part of the final chapter of Libya's civil war, which incidentally could be long.

Forces that remain loyal to Gadhafi may have lost all hope of turning things around, but the conflict in Libya is far from over. Instead of being an effective central administration, the NTC is a loose alliance of at least four political groups - democrats, tribal representatives, former royalists and Islamic extremists, which hardly have anything in common other than being anti-Gadhafi.

There are great differences among them, with the widest being between democrats and tribal chiefs and Islamic extremists.

The democrats hope to introduce modern Western democracy and the tribal chiefs and Islamic extremists want to re-establish traditional society regulated by Islamic law. There are smaller but unbridgeable gaps among different tribes, too.

The NTC does not have the power and wherewithal to control them. According to reports, when NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil delivered a speech in Tripoli in September, he could not even stop his forces from shooting in celebration near the Martyrs' Square.

Besides, the new regime needs professional, qualified and experienced civilian officials to fill the vacant posts in the administration and other sectors of the country, but such people are rare in Libya because Gadhafi destroyed the modern state apparatus during his 42-year rule. With all political parties being banned since 1972, the Libyan people have no experience of modern politics and will find it extremely difficult to develop a healthy political atmosphere.

Economic problem was an important factor for Gadhafi's collapse. Libya's per capita GDP was $13,000 before the civil war, but its unemployment rate reached 30 percent, forcing energetic but jobless young people to take up arms against Gadhafi.

But the same youths, now armed with guns, can cause further social unrest if they cannot find employment. Just a week ago, a gun battle between rival militias broke out near Tripoli and lasted four days leaving many people dead.

The NTC has to restore social order before it is too late. And the only way it can do so is by reviving the economy and creating more jobs, which will be even more challenging for it than it was for Gadhafi. The International Monetary Fund has said Libya's economic activities have shrunk by more than half because of the civil war and crude oil production, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the economy, cannot resume until the second half of 2012. Falling oil prices in the international market could make matters even worse for the NTC.

Also, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, Libya cannot count on heavy assistance from the Unites States or its Western allies for its reconstruction, because they are fighting their own crises. Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the low rate of profit during reconstruction of a war-torn land is of little attraction to greedy private capital. Besides, foreign governments may not be eager to help in Libya's reconstruction because the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan are still fresh in their memory.

Foreign military help, too, will not last long. In fact, the "Libya model" is a special case in modern international politics and can neither last long nor be copied. NATO has broken the international law and violated the UN Security Council resolution by bombing Libya intensively. So it has no choice but to withdraw now that Gadhafi is dead.

Moreover, the heavy burden of waging a war against Gadhafi has been a drain on Western economies. According to latest data, the Libya mission had cost France $413 million by October. Perhaps that's why NATO ended its military "mission" almost immediately after Gadhafi's death.

Therefore, after overthrowing Gadhafi, the Libyan people now find themselves facing another difficult task, that of building a new democratic and prosperous nation.

But that has made one thing clear: A nation can establish democracy and achieve prosperity only through the efforts of its own people and not through the interference of foreign countries.

The author is an associate professor of international studies at Nanjing University.

(China Daily 11/24/2011 page9)

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