And This is What Happens

What does the fall of Qaddafi's compound mean?

Soon I should start to just assume that a small vacation from blogging will be accompanied by a major event in the Middle East. The most recent, of course, is the events in Libya this past week: rebels have taken Qaddafi’s compound and most of Tripoli. While fighting continues sporadically throughout the capital, it seems as though Tripoli has been ‘liberated.’ I will have much more to say on Libya and what the fall of Tripoli (though not Qaddafi) will mean for the revolution, but here are some initial thoughts.

The rebel council has encouraged the political transition to begin immediately and has promised elections within eight months. It certainly seems as though Qaddafi can no longer be considered the leader of Libya, but that does not mean that he – and, more importantly, his loyalists – are no longer relevant. Announcing the commencement of the political transition is an important strategic move to symbolize the end of Qaddafi’s rule. Yet any real political reforms will need to be put on hold until: (a) the revolution is truly over and (b) the foundations for democratic rule are created.

While rebels claim that they are in control of over 90% of the country, there are still pockets of loyalists that are unlikely to surrender easily. The recent Scud missile attack on Misrata should be proof enough that Qaddafi loyalists hardly see the fight as finished, despite the fall of Tripoli. Moreover, Qaddafi remains at large (with a hefty price on his head) and the rebels are being criticized for seemingly allowing Qaddafi’s sons to escape after being captured. Without a complete defeat of Qaddafi loyalists, the possibility of continued fighting remains.

While the fall of Qaddafi’s compound is an important symbolic victory, it hardly equates to an end of the fighting or a defeat of Qaddafi. Yet, the TNC is already pushing forward with a political transition – perhaps hastily. The Council has been criticized for publishing a draft constitution without much consultation. The Benghazi government doesn’t seem to have control over the various militias (katiba) and do not have a coherent strategy for how to deal with those who had aligned with Qaddafi, particularly the Warfalla tribe.

Moreover, it seems next to impossible that free and fair elections would be able to be organized within eight months. Firstly, there is no guarantee that the fighting will be over in six months and there is no way that political parties can be established in such a short period of time. Secondly, after 42 years of Qaddafi rule, there are no established political parties (other than the TNC) and any sort of election would simply be a means to validate the TNC’s rule over the country. While this may not be a bad thing, the elections would certainly not be fair. Lastly, after the war devastated the national infrastructure and eliminated the Qaddafi-centric means of government, there is no national infrastructure that would allow elections to take place.

Presumably, Libyans will push all the possible nationalist buttons, including ruling out the American offer to assit in drafting a constitution and any sort of foreign election monitoring (much like neighboring Egypt). Without foreign election assistance, it is impossible for the Libyan rebels to concurrently end the fighting, create the political foundations of a new Libyan state, potentially try Qaddafi and any captured regime members, and organize free and fair elections. It is essential to start the political transition process, but shooting for elections in eight months is either disingenuous or naive.

Photo from LA TImes

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