After months of violence throughout Libya, there are signs that there has been a decisive turn in efforts to throw General Muammar Gaddafi from power after 42 years. Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound, Bab al-Aziziya, was captured by hundreds of rebels, as the ruler’s feared military units and intelligence agents melted away. However, the transition will not likely prove as easy and simple. Gaddafi remains at large, Tripoli continues to be chaotic, and the rebels have not yet captured the former ruler’s hometown of Sirte.
The storming of the compound marked the effective collapse of his regime. Two days later, diplomats from 29 countries, and representatives from NATO, the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), gathered in Istanbul for the meeting of the Libyan Contact Group, a coalition of Arab and European governments as well as the United States and Turkey, to plan for the post-Gaddafi era. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu opened the meeting by saying, “The military victories of the National Transitional Council against the Gaddafi forces in Tripoli have brought the Libyan people closer to the noble cause that they been fighting for—freedom, justice, dignity and democracy.” He went on to proclaim that the NTC should be officially proclaimed the new government of Libya.
However, the transition will not likely prove as easy as Davutoglu predicted. First, there has been no decisive victory. Tripoli remains a point of struggle between rebel and loyalist control. Vicious violence from members of both sides continues and recent reports estimate that at least 30 loyalist soldiers have been gruesomely tortured and executed at a military encampment in central Tripoli. Rebel soldiers have faced similar violence over the past few months, as have Libyan civilians who have been in various cases pushed out of their homes, isolated from hospital care, threatened, held captive, and murdered.
While British and French soldiers continue to guide rebels troops on the ground, this week preparing for an assault on Sirte, the last coastal town still in the hands of pro-Muammar forces, the quest to find Gaddafi continues. A two million dollar bounty has been placed on discovery of Gaddafi, whether dead or alive. Gaddafi made a brief audio broadcast on loyalist television channels on Thursday, addressing supporters who continue to fight on behalf of the regime. In his statement, he urged loyalists to, “Go cleanse all of Tripoli. Go out and clear it of all the rats.” He advocated that loyalists track each and every rebel down, regain control of the area, and keep the “enemy” from touching the pure land. After four decades as the head of state, Gaddafi is on the run, a fugitive unlikely to return to power. The source of the broadcast remains unknown, but Gaddafi made it clear that he will not surrender, but before that, die a martyr.
If this really is the end of Gaddafi’s rule, which analysis of recent events readily confirms, then we must assess what’s next for Libya. As a leader, Gaddafi has lost power, credibility, and geographic control. But in the power vacuum, who will take control? There has been no clear victory in Tripoli. The rebels and loyalists continue to fight in erratic battles that lack strategic calculation and organization. In Tripoli, rebels have been shown firing into the air, at times accidentally into each other, buildings, or at cars. In moments of celebration or victory, they have fired without aiming alongside children. The political organization is miles away in Benghazi and in Tripoli, there is little on the ground organization or direction for the troops assembled there.
The NTC was formed from representatives of local councils formed in February to diminish Gaddafi’s control over the country. Each of the forty members is charged with representing a geographical area or social segment (youth, women, political prisioners). As a group, the NTC has been overseeing efforts to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime, working to ensure territorial security, and overseeing initial steps in putting together a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. While an Executive Committee had been set up, it was dissembled last month. Most interestingly, the NTC is led by former Justice Minister under Gaddafi, Mustafa Abdel Jalil who, after years of dissatisfaction, finally resigned in response to what he deemed to be an excessive use of violence against Benghazi protesters by the regime.
Another important fact about the NTC is that to date, only one member of the NTC, Salwa Eldgili, is a woman. In the post-Gaddafi Libya, the question is not only who will take control and how, but also how will the rights and freedoms of Libyans be protected. Under Gaddafi’s regime, formation of rival political parties and leaders was suppressed. This will be a major gap to fill in the weeks to come in order to ensure that as Libya transitions from Gaddafi’s power, it does not simply devolve into armed conflict between various constituencies or tribes. Beyond that, the omission of women in the NTC is particularly alarming, despite its pledge to focus on women as a special area of concern, and echoes omission of women from early committees created in Egypt and Tunisian post-revolution. Without a strong commitment to respond to the public’s needs and demands, including marginalized constituency who have had their voices ignored for the last 40 years, there is no guarantee that a new Libya will not echo the struggles, betrayals, and abuses present in the old state.
As the situation continues to move toward the next phase, there is an incredible role and opportunity growing for civil society, which has largely been absent from Libya’s political landscape during Gaddafi’s rule. During the Gaddafi era. These voices and perspectives were largely marginalized and civil society remains undeveloped, with little power to provide the linkage, training, services and support necessary to fill the gaps in mobilization required at the next stage to advocate for Libya’s women and children. Women, in particular, have experienced exacerbated situations of violence, including aggravated rape, over the past few months. The support of civil society cross the region, alongside Libyan women activists, youth, and experts, will be crucial in taking the first step to bridge the gap between the needs of the people and the new political landscape.