CAIRO â€” Consolidating the swift and dramatic capture of Tripoli is only the first of myriad obstacles the rebel leadership must overcome to build a democratic Libya from the rubble of Moammar Gadhafiâ€™s rule, analysts said Monday.
In a region rife with cautionary tales of failed democracy experiments, Libyaâ€™s National Transitional Council seeks to build the exception â€” an Arab state with an inclusive government, a commitment to human rights, and legitimacy at home and abroad.
The council membersâ€™ success, experts said, hinges on whether they can prevent a campaign of score-settling and persuade Libyans to unite around their shared experience of life under one of the worldâ€™s most capricious dictators. How the rebels treat members of the former regime â€” such as deciding whether to prosecute them in Libya or through referral to the International Criminal Court â€” will be an early test of their principles.
â€œTruth and reconciliation is going to be necessary, but itâ€™s also going to have to be forgiving and generous,â€ said Lisa Anderson, president of the American University in Cairo and a renowned expert on Libya. â€œThereâ€™s no other way. Most of the people who stayed in Libya managed lives for their families by doing things that in the light of day theyâ€™d just as soon not talk about.â€
Securing the capital and its environs is at the top of the transitional councilâ€™s to-do list, with a focus on preventing revenge killings by jubilant foot soldiers in their newly won territory. By late Monday, the council estimated that 95 percent of Tripoli was under rebel control, with clashes still under way in the last regime-held districts.
Human Rights Watch already has documented episodes of rebels engaging in vengeful violence, though the councilâ€™s overall commitment to human rights is â€œwildly impressive,â€ said HRW special adviser Fred Abrahams. He said the potential for a revenge spree remains high as Gadhafiâ€™s regime crumbles and loyalists melt back into the population.
â€œPeople are furious, angry, and have legitimate gripes and grievances against the dictatorship,â€ said Abrahams, who was in Libya earlier this month.
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the transitional council, threatened to resign if revenge acts proliferated. Abdul Jalil said he trusts the leaders of the rebel forces but is concerned theyâ€™ll be unable to control their troops.
â€œThe actions of some of their followers worry me,â€ Abdul Jalil, a former justice minister, admitted at a news conference Monday in the rebelsâ€™ eastern capital of Benghazi.
On the political front, opposition leaders will have to cobble together an interim government that gives ample space to two key constituencies, analysts said. The first is young Libyans, who were at the forefront of demonstrations. Demographic studies show that 75 percent of Libyans were born under Gadhafiâ€™s rule; heâ€™s the only leader the vast majority of citizens have ever known.
The second key constituency is the Islamists, a category that encompasses both seasoned jihadists who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq but also a new generation of Libyans who are â€œmuch more politically Islamist and much less cosmopolitanâ€ than their parents, Anderson said.
At the same time, Libyaâ€™s interim leaders will be expected to build a civil society in a scarred nation that for decades was governed by Gadhafiâ€™s singular â€œjamahariyaâ€ system that decentralized power to prevent the rise of political rivals. Even before Gadhafi, no democratic tradition existed in Libya; his predecessor was a British-backed king whose reign was interrupted by Italian occupation.
Thereâ€™s no reliable way to measure the councilâ€™s popularity among Libyans. U.S. officials in Tripoli apparently have looked favorably upon Abdul Jalil for years.
In a December 2009 embassy cable, made public by WikiLeaks, U.S. officials described receiving reports that Abdul Jalil was â€œa proud nationalistâ€ who was locked in a stalemate with the regime over progress on human rights. The reports praised him as someone â€œwho believes in the principles of justice and the primacy of law,â€ according to the embassy cable.
â€œNow, as we see the very end of Gadhafiâ€™s tyranny and the beginning of a new Libya, itâ€™s important to emphasize the principles of respect for human rights, the respect for justice that the Transitional National Council has promised to all the Libyans,â€ said Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said in a statement while on a trip to Cairo.
NATOâ€™s bombing operation helped clear the way, but it took disparate groups of Libyans from across the country to bring down the regime. Fighters advancing from Benghazi, the eastern cradle of the rebellion, had to rely on their loosely affiliated comrades in the western part of the country to breach the capital.