On 19 August 2011, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, Vice-Chairman of National Transition Council (NTC), the rebel group fighting against the Colonel Gaddafi regime in Libya announced that ‘The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up.’ This was followed by important gains made by the rebels in the second part of August, taking control of strategically important coastal cities of Zlitan and Zawiya. However, referring to the rebels in the capital, Tripoli, ‘Those rats were attacked by the masses tonight and we eliminated them’, Gaddafi said. The civil uprising in Libya against the government forces have been struggling to make a decisive impact for a victory since February, even though it has been enjoying the military support of NATO since 19 March 2011. The last five months were in fact, an environment of a total military stalemate between the Gaddafi regime and NTC. With the aerial support of NATO against Gaddafi forces, the rebels have been fighting over key coastal cities between their ‘capital’ city of Benghazi in the east and Tripoli in the west, taking control of them, but then losing them to Gaddafi forces, and then fighting over them again. Nevertheless, as of 24 August, the NTC forces are already in Tripoli and Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound was overrun by the rebels. On the other hand, Gaddafi vowed ‘death or victory’ in his fight against NTC and he is believed to be somewhere in Libya. Is this the end of Gaddafi? Jonathan Marcus, BBC Diplomatic and Defence Correspondent, questioning the latest NTC gains around Tripoli as a possible beginning of the end for the Libyan conflict, adopts a cautious position by pointing out that ‘up to now the rebel fighters have often shown little military momentum, their advances evaporating almost as quickly as they are made.’
The importance of being cautious about the outcome of the Libya conflict is something that the author of this article knows only too well, as I claimed and in fact, hoped that Gaddafi would follow the footsteps of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in one of my previous Political Reflection articles. It was still the early days of ‘Arab Spring’ then, and I wrote: ‘Gaddafi was still clinging to power, but probably not for very long before that he is consigned to the bloody pages of history as the third dictator in North Africa, who was removed from power in February 2011.’ Five months later, Gaddafi is not in power but his fight is still not over either, and therefore adopting a more cautious line of prediction this time, I would bear in mind a number of other possibilities such as further prolonging of the conflict or the rebels being forced to reach a political settlement with Gaddafi. Nevertheless, as the title of this article suggests, to elaborate the future reconstruction challenges in Libya, a post-Gaddafi scenario will be taken as the most likely scenario.
The objective here is also not to outline specific aspects of post-conflict reconstruction in Libya, as this would largely depend on a number of factors such as how much longer the fighting would continue and consequently, the level, type and scope of damage and destruction incurred by the country’s infrastructure, economy and societal structures. How the conflict comes to an end and who would be the ‘victor’ of the conflict, with what terms and agreements, would also be another key issue, defining the boundaries of a future post-conflict reconstruction process. In terms of actors, bearing in mind the NATO’s current military involvement and Libya’s oil and natural gas wealth (the 9h largest proven oil reserves in the world), it would be safe to claim that there would be a significant involvement of the international community. However, a victory by NTC would mean a much greater involvement by the international community in the re-structuring of Libya’s governance, security and economic structures. Leading NATO countries such as the US, UK, France and Turkey as well as a number of Gulf countries such as Qatar and United Arab Emirates with their strong alliance with NTC are likely to play a prominent role in such a process. In fact, in the formation of the NATO alliance for the military intervention and decision on the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973 which paved the way for such an intervention, such calculations for post-conflict Libya seemed to have played a key role. For example, Turkey’s response was much more hesitant in showing its solidarity to the popular uprising at the beginning and it was much conciliatory towards the Gaddafi regime and trying to distance itself from the NTC. This was largely due to its strong economic ties with the Libyan regime and more significantly, because of a large number of Turkish citizens who live in Libya. In fact, it was the largest evacuation operation Turkey has ever undertaken. Around 25,000 of its citizens and thousands of other nationals were rescued by deploying civilian ferries and the Turkish navy. However, when Turkey realized that a UNSCR to allow a military intervention became inevitable it switched sides and decided to take part in the NATO-led operation, knowing that those who take part in the military intervention would also be the ones deciding on the future of the country, as was the case in Iraq.
*Published in Political Reflection Magazine (PR) Vol. 2 | No. 3
** Alpaslan Özerdem is Professor of Peacebuilding at Coventry University.
© Copyright 2011 by CESRAN