Nov. 1, 2011
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab
SRU professor says Libya faces challenges
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Dust is just starting to settle following the rebel-led overthrow of 40-year Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and Ahmad Khalili, associate professor of professional studies and a longtime Middle East observer, says it may be a long time until a new democratic society is in place.
Khalili, who joined the SRU faculty in 1998, teaches sociology courses, including “Religion and Society” and “Global Inequality.” He was among the panelists participating in this week’s “The Middle East Uprisings: Recent Development, Future Prospects” panel discussion sponsored by SRU’s Middle East Studies Center.
“How things work out in Libya will be a long process. It will take time,” Khalili said.
Khalili said he bases his conclusion on the country’s history. “The people there had been under Gaddafi’s rule for 42 years. He came to power in a bloodless coup d’état in 1969 and had been the dictator until his capture and death in October.”
The longtime Libyan ruler was buried almost a week after being captured and subsequently killed outside his hometown of Sirte. Gaddafi was captured by the National Transitional Council, which began its uprising against the long-term leader in early 2011 after watching similar, successful populist-led revolts in several nearby Middle Eastern countries.
Gaddafi was forced to abandon much of his power earlier this year when the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, aided by NATO’s implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya, pushed him into near-exile. Before being forced from power, Gaddafi had been the fourth longest-serving Libyan leader. NATO lifted the no-fly ban earlier this week.
The NTC placed Gaddafi’s body on display for days before burying him in a private ceremony attended by close family members. Also buried in the desert was Gaddafi’s son, Mutassim, and the country’s defense minister Abu Bakr Younis, both killed in the gun battle. The location of the burials is being kept secret out of fears of looting or conversion to a martyr’s site, officials have said. Another son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, is reportedly negotiating his surrender to authorities.
“Gaddafi led a group of army offices and launched a revolution. He was the leader and gradually gained unlimited power,” Khalili said. “For 40 years he used the money his country took in from oil sales for social welfare for the people of Libya. He became a very popular figure and that led to his long-term success as a dictator.”
Gaddafi was certainly involved in many terrorist actions. Arab nationalism was mainly pro-Soviet and anti-Western, which was more or less a characteristic of postcolonial era in part of the Middle East and North Africa in the 1960s and 1970s,” Khalili said.
“During the new millennium, the 21st-century, the region’s old ways were subject to change. There was a shift in power from the old Soviet Union, the rise of China and the shift of global power and, of course, the invention of new technology and new communication methods which facilitated communication between people, particularly youths, and the formation of the new generation movement. The young generation had more access to information technology and could communicate with each other. This led to a grassroots coalition against the dictatorial regime,” he said.
“These factors spread all over the Middle East,” Khalili said. “The new generation wants more freedom; more freedom of expression; more freedom of activities – so they rose up against the dictatorial government.”
Under Gaddafi’s leadership and through the country’s wealth as an oil provider to the world, Libyans developed one of the strongest economies and highest standard of living in Africa, Khalili said.
“Libya is not a poor country. Gaddafi had a really strong social welfare system. They have the economic advantages not found in other countries of the region,” Khalili said. “They have to build their economic institutions along with their other institutions. I believe they will eventually rebuild, although they do not have much productivity other than oil. They will have to continue to rely on their oil resources as a major economic base. Transition to democracy in Libya is less likely to happen soon as long as the state’s revenue continues to rely solely on oil rather than other sources such as taxes. This is an essential condition for development of civil society and separation of power.”
“The critical challenge to the emerging new Libya is the formation of the new constitution that defines the structure of the legal authority. After 40 years of one-person rule, one person making all the decisions, in a country where elections, political parties and all forms of civic engagement were banned, establishing of political democracy in a fragmented society is not an easy task,” Khalili said.
Libya is a nation of 7 million people. “They are not poor, but they will have to start from scratch. There are 150 different tribes in Libya. Therefore a new civil society will have to be formed and recognized by diverse groups. Libya is not a ‘nation state’ with defined bureaucratic and civil institutions. The civil society, because of its history, is very weak in Libya. It will take time to develop. Egypt, on the other hand, has a different history, so it will be a different story in the end.”
“Because of the nature of a dictatorial regime and restriction of political activities in the country, the people of Libya did not have the opportunity to experience democratic political engagement. They are just now starting to build their confidence and move forward. It will be a long process,” he said.
Khalili, who is from Iran, said the length of development and the final outcome are not yet predictable. “The new TNC government in Libya has to put together a constitution. Don’t expect a democratic society to be established soon, but it will happen eventually. Democracy is a culture that has to be built on its own values and knowledge. It has to be grown and is not something you can establish overnight – it just takes some time.”
The outcome will depend on how other Middle Eastern countries continue their own work in building a new society: Europe, the United States and China will all be important to the transition, Khalili said.
Islamic influences can’t be discounted, Khalili said, “The fact is that Islam claims that it can offer an alternative style of state based on justice. Whether Libyans will be willing to develop and Islamic state is very unknown. Under Gaddafi, Libya developed a mixture of Islamic-socialist ideology under the banner of the Green Revolution. It is expected that some Islamic institutions within the society maybe included in the new constitution. But, Libya is not going to become an Islamic state.”
He said no names of potential leaders have risen to the top as the TNC begins work on developing a new form of government and a new constitution for the nation.
“Uprisings of this kind in the 21st-century are not relying on a single leader. In reality, some kind of coalition seems to come about. There is no doubt there is going to be conflict in the formation of a power structure within the country,” he said.
“It will take time,” Khalili said.
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