A guest post form Chris.B
Last September I wrote a post about Libya and what challenges the country might face going forward, post-Gaddafi. Specifically, I was interested to know whether the country could avoid turning into another Afghanistan or Iraq, and whether the coalition forces involved in toppling Gaddafi could apply previous lessons learned about what causes insurgencies, in order to prevent one happening in Libya.
Almost a year later and the Libyan people have now gone to the polls for the first time since 1969. While the general press rightly hailed this as a landmark in the future of Libya, at the same time the cracks in the fabled “Arab Spring” are already starting to show.
At least one person was killed in Ajdabiya (just over 90 miles south of Benghazi) and other polling stations in the town were disrupted. There were also disruptions in Brega and Ras Lanuf, both to the West of Ajdabiya down the coastal road, with reports of armed men intimidating voters away from polling stations. Further to this, oil terminals around Brega, Ras Lanuf and Al Sidr (just a few miles west of Ras Lanuf) have been shut down by men claiming to be members of the former rebel army, obviously disrupting a significant chunk of Libya’s oil export industry.
The causes of their grievances are, as you might expect, not easily pinned down in one sentence. But one major sticking point does reportedly link most, if not all of them; a lack of representation in the future congress. For years the East of Libya, home to a sizable chunk of the country’s oil industry, was marginalized by Colonel Gaddafi. Now, of the 200 seats in the new assembly only around 60 have been apportioned to the Eastern Region.
In my article last year I made the point that; “The important juggling act that the Transitional Council needs to perform is to ensure everyone is represented fairly in government and that no major group (with lots of supporters) believes itself to be politically isolated”. By apportioning such a relatively low number of seats (just 30%) to an area that is not only economically very important to Libya, but that also played a major role in the uprising that lead to the over throw of Gaddafi, the Transitional Council has already created the breeding ground for unrest.
At the minute most of the violence appears to be contained in something of the middle ground between East and West Libya, but as we’ve seen elsewhere these things have a tendency to spread. What starts as low level disturbances of the peace and occasional tribal or politically motivated rioting and localised violence, can quickly get out of hand. As armed men seek to impose their will on those around them, the natural response is for everyone else to arm themselves as well.
Under these turbulent conditions it’s vital that the new assembly does two things as quickly as it possibly can. The first is to impose its authority on the areas that have been affected by the recent violence. If people believe that the government is incapable of protecting them from harm and intimidation then they will take matters into their own hands, the consequences of which could spark a series of bloody reprisals and counter reprisals.
The second thing that the new assembly needs to do is to ensure that the people of the Eastern regions feel that their politicians are having an impact on government. Appointing individuals from the Eastern constituencies to some of the high level positions in the new government will go a long way to assuaging the fears of those in the East who feel that their efforts during the 2011 uprising have gone unrewarded.
As things stand, Libya is on something of a precipice. If the new assembly can restore law and order quickly and prove to the people that things really will be different now that Gaddafi is gone, then much of current tension can be dissolved. On the other hand if it finds itself hopelessly divided and simply limps along while achieving little tangible benefit for the people, then things could get rather more out of hand than they already have.
And if that happens, British troops may find themselves (under the guise of UN peacekeepers) on Libyan soil after all…