April 06, 2011

The Challenges of Post-Gadhafi Libya

Late last night, I linked to Mona el-Ghobashy's excellent article in which she identifies just what Egypt's people won -- or rather, won back -- through their uprising:

The genius of the Egyptian revolution is its methodical restoration of
the public weal. The uprising restored the meaning of politics, if by
that term is understood the making of collective claims on government.
It revalued the people, revealing them in all their complexity --
neither heroes nor saints, but citizens. It repaired the republican
edifice of the state, Mubarak’s hereditary succession project being the
revolution’s very first casualty.

In critical ways, the Egyptian people are merely seeking a return of politics in a society that had been depoliticized by the previous three autocrats who ruled country.* The challenge for Egyptians now will be, according to el-Ghobashy, "[to construct] institutional checks against the rule of the many by the
few." Egyptians, in other words, must construct those illiberal institutions (ex. A, B) which enable and protect liberal society.

This is altogether different than the challenges Libyans will face if and when Gadhafi falls. Libyans will be starting from scratch. "Libya's history of independence," Lisa Anderson notes in The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1820-1980, "exhibited a consistent avoidance of bureaucratic state structures."**

Unlike French colonial administrators elsewhere, the Italian colonial rulers of Libya "made no attempt to maintain and strengthen local administration ... The administration the Italians established after their pacification of the country was designed to serve only Italian settlers ... By the time the country became independent, there was no nationwide administration or broadly based political organization." (Anderson, pp. 181-183)

The Italian governors of Libya systematically undermined the old Ottoman administration, which they viewed as a threat. Gadhafi, incredibly, managed to make things worse. Suspicious of the very idea of the Libyan state, he denied such a state was necessary and undermined any attempt to create functioning bureaucracies.

This will be the Libya that whoever replaces Moammar Gadhafi will inherit. The challenges for all international partners who seek to support a new government in Libya will also be immense. Most post-conflict states (see Hand-Drawn Diagram a) go through a stage where external aid exceeds the the government's capacity to effectively administer it, creating conditions ripe for corruption. In Libya's case (see Hand-Drawn Diagram b), you will have a similar situation with both a) a lot of government oil revenues and b) very little bureaucracy capable of redistributing resources within the society.

Lib Ya

I predict a raft of corruption and other grievances, then, within the new regime, which could in and of themselves become drivers of conflict in post-Gadhafi Libya.***

Okay... so have a great rest of the week, everybody!

*Look, people like Mona el-Ghobashy are the real subject matter experts on Egypt out there, but some books I have gone back to over the past few months on Egypt include Abdel-Malek's Egypt: Military Society, Waterbury's The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat, Cleveland's A History of the Modern Middle East, Vatikiotis's The Egyptian Army in Politics, and Hourani's Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1798-1939. That's as good a reading list on mid-20th Century Egypt as my non-expert mind can come up with. (These were also the books I could find on my bookshelves.)

**I have, previously, recommended Anderson's book on Libya and Tunisia. For the purposes of understanding the absence of state structures in Libya, let me specifically recommend Chapters 9, 10, 12 and 13.

***At this point, I more than welcome any bona fide Libya experts to tell me why I am either wrong or what else needs to be considered.