March 15th, 2012
01:53 PM ET

Libya's frustrating transition

Editor's Note: Barak Barfi is a research fellow at the New America Foundation.  You can read more from Barak Barfi at Project Syndicate and be sure to check it out on Facebook and Twitter.

By Barak BarfiProject Syndicate

Although Libyans are now celebrating the first anniversary of the revolution that toppled Moammar Gadhafi, they are increasingly frustrated with their new leaders. Libyans complain that the interim government, known as the National Transitional Council (NTC), has not moved quickly enough to purge and prosecute senior Gadhafi officials, or to rein in the militias that overthrew his regime.

Though the NTC is dedicated to implementing Libyans’ demands, it lacks the technical capacity and time necessary to do so before the elections tentatively scheduled for this coming summer. Facing such constraints, it must concentrate on a small number of important initiatives, before turning power over to an elected government.

Political experience has never been a prerequisite for NTC membership. One representative was named to the Council because he defected with his MIG fighter plane 20 years ago. Other members were previously political prisoners or exiled dissidents.

Unseasoned in the art of politics, the NTC frequently lacks the foresight needed to make critical decisions. During last year’s eight-month revolution, the NTC concentrated on overthrowing Gadhafi, gaining international recognition, and securing access to frozen Libyan assets. Those tasks left little room for attention to planning a post-Gadhafi Libya. Today, the NTC simply does not have the human resources to consolidate the transition.

Libya has never been blessed with a professional bureaucracy like that of neighboring Egypt. Gadhafi frequently farmed out power to municipalities and citizens in an attempt to bypass the civil servants who consistently thwarted his grandiose plans. And almost two decades of international sanctions prevented a generation of Libyans from gaining the necessary technical skills by studying at Western universities.

Even the oil sector - the lifeline of the Libyan economy, accounting for 95% of the country’s foreign-currency earnings - suffers from a shortage of professional managers. According to an American diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, “Libyans put forward for employment with foreign (oil) companies often lack formal qualifications or applicable practical experience.”

Instead of injecting new blood into senior government posts during his 42 years in power, Gadhafi merely shuffled cronies between ministries. His last foreign-intelligence chief, Abu Zayd Dorda, epitomizes this trend. During his 30-year political career, Dorda held numerous cabinet portfolios, ranging from agriculture to economics to municipalities. Dorda later served as Speaker of Parliament, Prime Minister, and Ambassador to the United Nations.

Today, the NTC is hard-pressed to find competent, politically untainted bureaucrats to fill its ministries. But that does not concern most Libyans, who are clamoring for the dismissal of Gadhafi loyalists. One name on the tip of many tongues here is Central Bank Governor Sadiq al-Kabir. Others, such as Libya’s former ambassador to France, Omar Brebesh, were found dead, apparently tortured by a militia that spearheaded the campaign to overthrow Gadhafi.

Lack of skilled civil servants is also making it difficult for the NTC to push through the changes that Libyans are demanding. The Council is not ready to try senior Gadhafi officials, many of whom are now in the custody of militias, because the existing justice system was never tasked with prosecuting political cases. Such trials were held in revolutionary courts staffed by Gadhafi zealots and operating outside the formal judiciary. With no prospect for a fair trial in the foreseeable future, Gadhafi officials languish in jails.

Such bureaucratic inertia does not sit well with the many Libyans who are still undecided about the revolution. But it is not only a shortage of capable public servants that hamstrings the NTC. Just as pressing are the time constraints under which it is operating. Since its inception last February, the NTC has consistently declared itself to be a transitional body that would cede power to an elected government once the country was liberated. With elections set to be held no later than June 23, the Council has less than four months to prepare Libya for its first free vote in sixty years.

As a result, the NTC simply does not have the time necessary to implement the changes the Libyan people expect. It will not be able to disband the myriad militias that are destabilizing the country, because it cannot find their fighters the vocational training that it hopes will entice them to return to civilian life. It will fall on an elected government to carry out these reforms.

With the NTC confronting so many dilemmas with so little time, it must concentrate on a small number of key issues that can be resolved before it hands over power. The Council needs to focus on establishing some degree of rule of law, and on curbing militia abuses. It must respect and protect individual rights in order to demonstrate to Libyans that the type of arbitrary justice that characterized the Gadhafi era will not be tolerated.

The NTC may not be able to solve all of Libya’s problems. But, by chipping away at the mountain of challenges that the country faces, it can ease the burdens that will confront the elected government that emerges from the popular vote in June.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Barak Barfi. 

Post by:
Topics: Libya

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Who are the brain police

    The problem with most post war analysis of Libya is that of comparatives. Remember that the Jamahiriya was a socialist form of governance. By its nature socialism requires a certain amount of dictatorial rule or the dissatisfied will want the exoneration provided by capitalism. Now in Libya, the wealth came from petroleum and that wealth went back into mostly infrastructure modernization, housing and government facilities. The citizens were allotted a stipend and civil and human services were provided at minimal cost. Libya had become the most literate and achieved the highest standard of living in Africa. Like most other nations throughout history a certain amount of corruption and cronyism will exist.
    The new regime, some of whom may very well have a grudge remaining from the monarchy of Idris, some military leaders or bureaucrats of the Jamahiriya, and then a mix of Islamists, other Gaddafi haters, and exiles who may be opportunists of the NATO and the " West" make up the NTC. If a majority of the Libyans were in favor of the current situation we may never know. Some evidence shows the Jamahiriya was popular right up to the armed invasion by the rebel NTC/NATO of each city and the citizens had little choice but to die or submit.
    Now the Libyans must realize democracy does not mean a "Free-Ride" but the freedom to succeed or fail.

    March 15, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Let the Libyan people tread the path of trial and error process. They need to learn from history. Regrettable mistakes are painful for the affected generation but an useful lessn for the next.

      March 16, 2012 at 6:21 am | Reply
    • Johstone

      @ Who are the brain police. Totally agree with u.

      March 18, 2012 at 6:48 am | Reply
  2. George Patton

    What the right-wing news never talks about is the simple fact that under Mohammar Qaddaffy the living standards among the average Libyan have gone up a great deal. For instance, Libya's literacy rate jumped from 23% in 1970 to 96% in1990. In fact, under Libya's King Idris, the rich were indeed getting ever richer while the poor got poorer!

    March 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Reply
    • Mark Anthony

      Highly commendable thoughts, thank you for sharing.

      March 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Reply
  3. libya muslims brotherhood are evil

    Those evil muslims in Libya killed and ra ped many people, tortured as islam allow them that, kill the leader after sado mized him, then put his body on the floor so other idiots muslims can take pictures for the dead as islam allow that, then they didnt give the body to his family to barry him and barry his body far in the desert for no reason as islam allow that evil things to happen, they dont have val;ue for life and dead people this is islam ./.

    March 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  4. the wise

    Stop fighting Israeli wars my good comrades.

    You owe them nothing. Not your pity, and certainly not blood and treasure.

    Tragic things if this sort will continue, as long as we bloody our hands on israels behalf.

    March 15, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Reply
  5. shiia are terrorists

    we must help israel aganist the terrorists hizboallah , iran , syrian shiia and irasqi shiia , those are the evil shiia muslims with blood on there hands, we must not allow new hitler to rise.

    March 16, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
  6. Heath

    Rot in hell with Hitler, Gaddafi

    March 17, 2012 at 11:11 am | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.