Post-revolution Libya has been confronted with profound challenges in successfully replacing Gaddafi’s dictatorship with an effective democratic government. Muammar Gaddafi left the country behind in a tumultuous political state which has not made it a very easy task to re-establish unified governance over its disparate factions. It has proved to be quite demanding to lay out the foundations necessary to create a functioning central government since only a few truly democratic political institutions were present prior to the Arab Spring.
Nevertheless, Libya has made significant strides toward creating civil dialogue in just a matter of months. Whereas before the revolution Libyans were barred from any kind of organised political activity outside the scope of Gaddafi’s rule, there has been a flowering of civil society. The Transitional National Council, which directed the first phase of Libya’s political transition immediately after the demise of Gaddafi’s regime, has managed to bring all of Libya’s political factions to the bargaining table and organised successful parliamentary elections on July 7. Additionally, multiple new organisations have been set up in the past year focusing on issues such as democracy building, the environment, and women’s rights.
Another key issue Libya is faced with in constructing a post-revolutionary government has been how to deal with threats to its domestic security. The political vacuum the former dictator has left behind in Libya has been filled by local armed militias, some of which adhere to radical and jihadi ideologies, that still control certain parts of the country. The recent terrorist strike in the American consulate in Benghazi, in which four U.S. citizens lost their lives, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, are a stark reminder of the danger posed by heavily armed militias and extremists. Libya’s inability thus far to control these militias has contributed to an environment of lawlessness.
A lot of this violence is driven by bitter rivalries between competing local militias, such as the deadly impasse between the neighbouring cities of Misrata and Bani Walid which has substantially escalated in recent weeks to a violent clash. Fighters from Misrata, in the name of the Libyan government, have fought to take control of the town of Bani Walid from the remaining Gaddafi loyalists.
The prevalence of these armed militias has led to the general attitude among the Libyan population that they ‘’don’t know who is really in charge’’. Libyans have protested the rise of local militias and want to see them disarmed because they rightly fear a scenario of civil war fought along regional lines. Libya’s post-revolutionary government will be expected to contain the militias in order to prevent them from becoming more deeply embedded and consequently harder to dislodge.
In essence, it is pivotal that Libya overcomes the political pitfalls and domestic security challenges before it can successful emerge from its post-revolutionary transition phase. The country has already made substantial progress with its first legitimate election since 1965 and the blossoming of civil society. The next step for Libya would be to draft a new constitution in order to fully break with the former Gaddafi dictatorship. The international community should continue to support Libya with technical assistance, capacity building, military intelligence, and critical training of security forces.