Four scenarios likely in Libya after GaddafiBy OMAR ASHOR | Friday, July 22 2011 at 11:31
Middle Eastern autocrats routinely warn their people of rivers of blood, Western occupation, poverty, chaos, and Al Qaeda if their regimes are threatened.
Those threats were heard in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and — rendered in black comedy style — in Libya.
But there is a strong belief across the region that the costs of removing autocracies, as high as they might be, are low compared to the damage inflicted by the current rulers.
In Libya, four scenarios may negatively affect prospects for democratisation: civil/tribal war, military rule, becoming “stuck in transition”, and partition.
The civil/tribal war scenario is the worst risk. Egypt’s revolutionaries understood this. Repressive dictatorships cannot win free and fair elections. But they can use extreme violence to consolidate their control over the state, its people, and its institutions.
So, to win, Libya’s Gaddafi has deliberately and successfully turned a civil-resistance campaign into an armed conflict. That will have ramifications in the post-authoritarian context.
A study published by Columbia University on civil resistance has shown that the probability of a country relapsing into civil war following a successful anti-dictatorship armed campaign is 43 per cent, versus 28 per cent when the campaign is unarmed.
'Stuck in transition'
Libya, of course, can survive the gloomy prospect of post-authoritarian civil war. But this requires containing tribal and regional polarisation, as well as the rivalries between the Interim National Council and the Military Council, and between senior military commanders.
Unlike Egypt, whoever takes power in Libya will not necessarily inherit poor economic conditions that could threaten their legitimacy and undermine their popularity. This might lead a group of senior officers to rule directly, especially if victory in Libya comes militarily.
A move by army officers against Gaddafi and his sons might end the conflict, with military commanders getting the credit — and the political capital. But four decades of military-based dictatorship may be enough for Libyans, a majority of whom never really benefited from their country’s wealth or potential.
Getting “stuck in transition” is a third possible scenario, with Libya remaining in a “gray zone” — neither a fully-fledged democracy nor a dictatorship, but “semi-free”.
This means regular elections, a democratic constitution, and civil society, coupled with electoral fraud, skewed representation, human rights violations, and restrictions on civil liberties.
Getting stuck in transition usually kills the momentum for democratic change, and widespread corruption, weak state institutions, and lack of security serve to reinforce a myth of the “just autocrat”.
The fourth scenario is partition, with the old three-province, Ottoman-style setup commonly mentioned: Cyrenaica (east), Fezzan (south), and Tripolitania (west).
All of these scenarios will be affected by outcomes in Egypt and Tunisia. Either country, or both, could offer Libya successful transition models, erecting an important obstacle to military dictatorship or civil war.
Mr Ashour is director of the Middle East Graduate Studies Programme at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. (c): Project Syndicate, 2011. www.project-syndicate.org
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