New Libya still a distant dream

The Gaddafi regime may have fallen, but it will take time to restore order and stability

With pockets of fierce fighting continuing in Tripoli and elsewhere, and former leader Muammar Gaddafi still at large, Libya’s new dawn must be viewed with caution.

But one thing is clear, the 41-year era of Gaddafi and his idiosyncratic and brutal system of government is over. The focus now for the people of Libya is to establish political stability and rebuild the economy. But it could be a very long road before genuine stability is restored.

With every new day in the battle for control of Libya, there is a new twist. When opposition forces marched almost unopposed into Tripoli on 22 August, the mood was triumphant. Within a few hours, the National Transitional Council (NTC), the rebel’s political arm, reported that 95 per cent of the city was under its control. It also said it had captured Gaddafi’s sons Saif al-Islam and Mohammed. As night fell, troops partied in the streets, firing bullets into the sky and chanting in celebration.

Dramatic events in Libya

By the early hours of the following day, however, Saif appeared among his supporters outside the Bab al-Aziziya compound, his father’s Tripoli home, fists pumping in defiance of the rebel attack. Mohammed was also now “missing”, admitted the NTC.

Gun battles between Gaddafi loyalists and opposition forces raged across Tripoli, while along the wide roads of the corniche, 14mm shells rained down on opposition troops from anti-tank rifles. East along the coast, in Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte, three Scud missiles were fired at the opposition-held town of Misrata, the first time they had been deployed since the Nato campaign began on 19 March.

A day later, a rebel soldier was being interviewed wearing Gaddafi’s trademark military cap, taken from his home in the Bab al-Azizya compound. In the background, the complex was being laid to waste having been captured during the night by opposition forces. By the time MEED went to press on 25 August, Gaddafi himself was on the run.

The events of 22-24 August show that when it comes to political transition in Libya, nothing can be taken for granted. But the momentum of opposition forces is now widely believed to be inexorable.

Nato announced in a press statement on 23 August that the Gaddafi regime had “passed the tipping point”, and that there is “no doubt” that the end of the regime is coming. Aside from Gaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, who told Syrian television on 24 August that the Bab al-Azizya compound was abandoned as a “tactical move” and that the regime can resist opposition forces for “months, even years”, it is a view from which no one has demurred.

Establishing control over Tripoli and guaranteeing the city’s security, along with that of the rest of the country, remains a significant challenge. And this is only the first step along a long road for the NTC if it is to ensure a stable and peaceful transition to a new regime. The most urgent priority is to restart the country’s stalled economy.

This relies on two things: unfreezing the overseas assets of the Gaddafi regime; and resuming oil and gas production. An estimated $100bn of overseas assets have been frozen, according to the NTC, while oil production has fallen from 1.6 million barrels a day (b/d) to just 50,000 b/d since the start of the conflict.

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Richard Nield is a freelance journalist, photographer and filmmaker covering the Middle East and Africa. In 10 years covering the region, he has been published and broadcast by clients including the BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Independent and Foreign Policy magazine. He has reported from throughout the region, including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, South Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.