I was told by some friends from the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) that Gaddafi’s regime would be dead by the end of August. Today I can say they have given me the heads up, and they are right. I had some doubts – I have since the outset of Libya’s uprising believed that Gaddafi’s end was near, but not quite so soon.
Today Libya’s epic triumph is nearly here – zero hour, as some leaders have called it. Libyans are about to breathe freedom, and Libya’s sweet air as never before, without Gaddafi.
As Libyans prepare to pull the curtain back to one side, sweeping away their vile dictatorship, they will be opening up an arch of possibilities, domestically and regionally.
What a time to ditch Gaddafi’s rule into history’s dustbin. It will be Gaddafi’s last Ramadan – at least at the helm. Libyans, when Tripoli finally surrenders, will be celebrating two Eids, the end of the fasting month and the end of an era in which they have for 42 years been starved of the oxygen of freedom, agency, self-government, and saw the country’s massive wealth squandered on everything – especially armament and misadventure – but the Libyan people’s welfare.
There will be jubilation next door in Egypt, where the Eid returns without Mubarak. And Libya’s eastern and western neighbours – Egyptians and Tunisians, respectively – will be joining in the celebration in what has to be the best Arab Eid since the 1973 Ramadan War.
Delivering freedom is more difficult than delivering people from colonialism or authoritarianism, as illustrated by the disappointing national stories of Arab nation- and state-building from Libya to Yemen.
In order to deliver freedom, their challenges will be particularly awesome – once Libyans’ victory sinks in and the guns fall silent. But it will be the reconstruction of a democratic Libya will be Libya’s greatest battle in the post-Gaddafi era.
The demands of reconstruction
Reconstruction in any era in any land must decide the fate of the evils that shackle a given people’s freedom. Post-World War II reconstruction decided the fate of fascism, post-Soviet the fate of totalitarianism, and before that, the American and French revolutions ended slavery and monarchical absolutism.
Libyans know Libya best. They, and not any other force on earth, can dictate how they go about reconstructing a land that has unrivalled riches in their region: resilient and steadfast people, a repertoire of struggle against fascism and now authoritarianism, a rich and diverse history, the vast land, a maritime coast, and huge gas and oil reserves.
Three immediate demands must top the agenda of reconstruction.
When the people say their final word, recover Tripoli and unite all Libyans from all tribes and all regions in their moment of triumph, they must turn their attention to reconciliation. Recrimination, retribution and punishment must be restrained by the more overriding urgency of seeking legal recourse, protection, and a vista into a new era where it stands as their arbiter in peace and for good. All must rise above short-term gratification from vindictiveness and blood-letting. This will be a tough test.
Generosity of spirit in triumph is a must. The end of Gadaffi is a moment to share, and demands collective ownership. All Libyans, according to their available resources, and in varying degrees, have made this moment possible. Singularity in claiming victory and seeking gain for one region, group, ideology or authority over others will sour the moment. The NTC played its role, especially under the stewardship of Mustafa Abd Al-Jalil, an honourable man, who has not been motivated by self-gain or self-empowerment.
Mr Abd Al-Jalil has the moral courage to know what to do when the NTC’s status and role come up for either expiry, or temporary renewal and enlargement for handling caretaker tasks in the immediate period of Gaddafi’s collapse. There are now several groups who have been reconstructing themselves for this moment, including the NFSL, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Democratic Party of Libya, amongst others.
There is urgency for solidarity, partnership and synergy for the purpose of steering Libya out of this period of fluidity and power vacuum into the safety of collaborative, representative, legal and ordered reconstruction of state and people, up to the moment of electing the constituent assembly, as envisaged by the NFSL, the Democratic Party of Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood and the NTC itself.
A triumph against Gaddafi without triumph on these three fronts will mean an incomplete achievement.
What happens in the immediate period of regime collapse gives a flavour of how Libya’s new caretakers will approach the challenging task of reconstructing the great Libyan people into a productive and self-governing human resource ready for the travails of sustainable, democratic, equal and peaceful development. John Stuart Mill is right here: there is no development, democratic or economic, without an educated citizenry.
Gaddafi’s reign wasted not only money, but also invaluable time: 42 years of inertia. The time left is for reconstruction and not destruction.
A league of Arab democracies: Nabil al-Arabi
Regionally, the hearts of most Arabs pounded for the courage of the Libyan people. Now the League of Arab States has a rare opportunity to reconstruct into a League of Arab Democracies. Not long ago the Saudis invited the Jordanians and the Moroccans to join the Gulf Co-operation Council. It is still not clear what motivated such a move, other than monarchical affinity.
The moment right now favours democratic synergy. Nabil Al-Arabi, the Arab League chief, should be inspired by the Libyan people’s coming victory to restructure the organisation he presides over, even if he creates a second chamber for the purpose of the greater sake of co-operation among the Arab world’s new democracies.
Libyans did not begin the Arab revolution. However, they are about to close one link in the Arab revolutionary chain: three neighbouring countries with a total population of 100m Arabic-speaking people, covering a surface area of more than 3m square kilometres, are free. That is how it must have felt when the colonists left Algeria to join Morocco or Tunisia, or when the free officers came, one by one, to ditch monarchical rule in several Arab states.
The three countries should experiment with open borders and the free movement of people, goods, and ideas to show that the dawn of Arab democracies will not have any semblance to the era of Gaddafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali. Mr Al-Arabi has a golden opportunity to make this a reality. Just as Arab youth are steadfast in the struggle for freedom and democracy, their elder statesmen should meet them halfway in helping reconstruct a better Arab world.
Tunis, Cairo and now Tripoli: the call of freedom
Green Square, Tripoli, impatiently waits to join Tahrir Square and Habib Bourguiba Boulevard in an epic call for freedom across Arab geography. Tomorrow it will be the turn of Marjah Square and Yusuf Al-Azm, Syria, as the circle gets wider, and the dance for freedom louder, drowning out and silencing the guns of brutality for good.
Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter.