The US-organized capture of an Al Qaeda terrorist who has been wanted for many years; the “express kidnapping” of the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, and the continuous trickle — dramatic in terms of the death toll — of immigrant boats setting out from its coast, have reminded the world that Libya is there. Two years after the capture and death of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the North African country is attempting to rebuild itself in a climate of growing anarchy.
They are starting from zero. Gaddafi did a thorough job of dismantling the country’s institutional framework in the course of his 42 years in power. And now other forces are fishing in its troubled waters. Al Qaeda and its allies have turned Libya into a base for recruiting and arms supply, and its influence has flowed over into Mali and Algeria. And political Islamism is seeking to take control of the process. Ali Zeidan, himself a defender of human rights who returned from exile, has termed his kidnapping an attempted coup d’état, and has accused, without actually naming them, several parliamentarians belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. With the support of their allied militias, the Islamists are attempting to overturn the result of the ballot-box, which, in a historic vote in July of 2012, gave a majority to a pro-Western coalition, the Alliance of National Forces.
In this context, it is high time for the international community, which supported the revolution of 2011, to involve itself more decisively in Libya’s transition to democracy. The attack on the legitimate government has brought condemnation from the US, the EU and NATO, but international support ought to make itself felt continually, not only in critical situations.
Not comparable to Iraq
It is obvious that this is by no means easy. It is up to the Libyans, and to them alone, to find their own way and forge their own state, and this will no doubt take time. But the West can and must accompany this process of institutional construction with auxiliary personnel, and material and moral support. Essential as they are, programs for border vigilance and training of future security forces are not enough.
The challenges are huge. No solid authority exists, while antagonistic forces and armed militias do. But Libya has oil, a young population, religious unity, well-educated people and, above all, a silent majority that took to the streets because it wanted a decent life and was not prepared to tolerate new impositions.
Libya is not only a key land in terms of European stability. It is also a laboratory for what can be expected to come of the Arab Spring. It is not comparable to Iraq, not to mention Somalia. The issue now is to prevent things from deteriorating to that stage.