Economically, the model invoked by interim leaders and technocrats is Dubai; politically, it is Turkey. Crucially, the Libyan people united in their revolution to force a break with the past, giving most of the population a stake in coming together now to forge a better future.
However, while these positive indicators bode well for the long-term, they are increasingly eclipsed by a degenerating situation on the ground. This is closely linked to the failure of the transitional authority to accomplish its first and most pressing objective of disarming the population but, more importantly, the increasingly independent and powerful revolutionary brigades (or militias as they are sometimes referred to).
The most prominent of these brigades are territory specific, with the most powerful coming from Misurata and Zintan. They refuse to relinquish their weapons, subject themselves to NTC authority and consequently have considerable control over the security, political and commercial environment within their respective regions of influence.
Of course, this could be acceptable and effective were militias integrated into a representative and proper power-sharing mechanism; but as of yet, the NTC’s lack of authority and the absence of a respected national army and police force has provided for violent clashes between militias and NTC forces (and between rival militia groups themselves); a lack of transparency and accountability; and human rights abuses, including most notably against prisoners and the displaced people of Tawergha.
More broadly, these deficiencies have profound consequences for the future of the region as well as the interests of the international community, largely because of the proliferation of arms and the open borders that cannot be properly policed without organised security forces.
Far from dealing with these ongoing problems, holding elections prior to disarmament could exacerbate divisions and entrench the prevailing military balance of power. They could also intensify the dangerous process of personalisation in Libyan politics – this time, around militia commanders – that seems a hangover from the Qadhafi era.
This is especially worrying given that the 200-member national assembly elected in June will draft Libya’s new constitution.
In addition, the Islamist advantage demonstrated in Tunisia and Egypt emerged from the combination of a religiously-based legitimating discourse, pre-existing networks and formidable resources from the Gulf. In Libya that advantage is amplified further by the Islamists’ links to some of the more powerful armed groups.
Our experiences in both Iraq and Libya suggest that postponing elections until there is a capable and coherent security apparatus will help the democratic process rather than regress it. In Iraq, elections took place despite a Sunni boycott and despite ongoing violence. Whilst this was a necessity in Iraq, because of the need to quickly transfer power from a foreign force to the Iraqi people, Libyans are in a position to independently determine their future.
Elections in Iraq went ahead without prior reconciliation among the country’s population, which increased resentment among the Sunni population toward the Shia, now the democratically elected rulers of the country. The Sunni agitation led to an emboldened and more determined insurgency, a breakdown in security (because of the lack of an effective army) and, consequently, terrorist bastions throughout the country.
The Iraq case becomes partially relevant as a touchstone because, unlike Tunisia or Egypt, Libya is post-conflict. Of course, Libya has no agitated bloc and divisions among the population are not as severe as Iraq’s, but the general precedent is instructive. Irrespective of whether equal rights would be enshrined in the forthcoming Libyan constitution it is ultimately an issue of perception and trust: Libya needs more time and international support in reconciling its differences and remedying fears of neglect between different political and ideological factions, between new and old power bases, tribes and regions.
Libyans have already started to embrace their democratic rights by demanding more from their transitional government but there must also be an honest recognition that elections under the current circumstances will not deal with the militarisation of competing power centres: instead, they will reflect and embed an unstable situation.
Ranj Alaaldin is a Middle East and North Africa political and security risk analyst. Dr Alia Brahimi is a research fellow at the London School of Economics.