Academics and Research / News

Three Questions: Nader Hashemi on Libya

DU Assistant Professor Nader Hashemi

Nader Hashemi, an assistant professor in DU’s Korbel School of International Studies, is gaining a reputation as an expert on the Middle East.

Hashemi answered Three Questions about the future of Libya, where revolutionary forces — with aid from NATO and the United States — brought down the government of Moammar Qaddafi and killed the dictator last week in the town of Sirte.

What does the passing of Moammar Qaddafi mean for the average Libyan?
The death of Colonel Qaddafi represents the end of political tyranny in Libya and the possible dawn of a new democratic future. The Libyan Revolution has now entered a new phase of re-construction and consensus building.

Qaddafi, it should be remembered, was the Libyan state. He ruled the country with an iron hand for 42 years and ruthlessly crushed all dissent. Most Libyans have no memory of life before Qaddafi. His picture and presence were everywhere and his secret police kept a close watch on society. Most Libyans, I suspect, are still in a state of shock. Yet with the fall of Sirte and the death of the despot, the people of Libya now have the opportunity, for the first time in modern history, to build a new society and political system. In a very real sense Qaddafi’s death, therefore, signifies that Libyans have been collectively reborn.

The country consists of several competing factions. What will need to happen for a peaceful future?
A peaceful future will depend on the ability of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) to create an inclusive democratic process that incorporates all Libyans. There are several key cleavages that can tear the country apart if this process is not handled properly, leading to civil war and anarchy. I’m referring specifically to regional cleavages (East vs. West) tribal cleavages (pro and anti-Qaddafi) and ideological cleavages (secularists vs. Islamists).

Another important challenge facing Libya is the de-mobilization of the various militias that constituted the rebel army that toppled Qaddafi.  The country is awash in weapons and they need to be collected to ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands. Linked to this is the creation of a new security force that can provide internal and external security. What’s needed is an effective police force and a national army that is under civilian control and which is accountable to democratically elected leaders.

Finally, Libya desperately needs a “truth and reconciliation” process similar to the South African model. The crimes of the past need to be acknowledged, the guilty need to be punished and those who confess to pass injustices should be forgiven.  In other words, Libya needs to turn over a new page in its history that clearly distinguishes the sordid past under Qadaffi from a new democratic future. For this to happen, effective leadership is important.

How should the international community engage with the new government?
The international community should not dictate or impose on Libya its preferences for how society and government should be organized. Any assistance to the new government in Libya must come from the Libyans themselves. Having noted this, this does not mean that the international community should remain silent when it comes to human rights and questions of democratic governance.

On [Oct. 23], one of the leaders of the Libyan opposition council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, gave a speech during the celebration of Libya’s revolution, where he stated that shariah would form the basis of Libya’s legal system. Depending on the interpretation of Islamic law that emerges in Libya, this raises some important concerns regarding the treatment of minorities and women. The international community should speak loudly and consistently when international norms are violated in Libya but should simultaneously pursue policies that strengthen civil society so that Libyans themselves can wage the important political battles needed to build a just society.

Finally, it should be remembered that after decades of political tyranny, it will take a long time before Libya is able to establish a democracy — at least a generation. There are no quick fixes here or easy solutions to complex social and political problems. For example, one question the Libyans will have to democratically negotiate is the proper role of religion in politics. They must contemplate how much or how little religion they wish to inject and which interpretation of religion they wish for their new political system. To assume that this debate has already been democratically resolved is to impose a Western view of history and politics onto Libya. This is just one of the many challenges facing a new Libya. In this sense, one of the best things the international community can do is to be patient as the people of Libya begin the long and arduous process of building a new democratic future.

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