Libya’s moment of truth

Sunday 01/05/2016

After the return of UN-backed Libyan Prime Minister Faiez al-Sarraj to the capital Tripoli, hope is returning to Libya but it is hope laced with caution for the moment of truth is really here.
As most “Arab spring” transitions have failed, Libyans must draw the right conclusions.
A number of questions are press­ing: Will the Sarraj government be able to impose its authority across the country? Will it be able to re­pair the extensive damage caused by five years of war? Will it suc­ceed, even partially, in disarming all the militias? Will it learn from the mistakes of the other “Arab spring” governments that failed to combat corruption and find a radi­cal solution to terrorism?
The Sarraj government will have to focus on three areas: Security, the economy and foreign policy. It must draw a detailed plan for bringing security back to Libya. To achieve that, it must fight wide­spread organised crime and go after the Islamic State (ISIS) and Ansar al-Sharia militant groups plus their political supporters.
It must also disarm the vari­ous militias, even if it has to do so gradually.
There should be an equally urgent plan for economic recovery, starting with repairing Libya’s ports and oil refineries so as to gradu­ally regain previous levels of oil exports.
Today, Libya exports only one-fifth of the amount it did before 2011 and, with low oil prices, Libya will be pushed to find alternative sources of income and invest in clean energies, similar to what is happening in the United Arab Emir­ates and Saudi Arabia.
The second issue regards restruc­turing Libya’s financial institutions and revising a highly suspect list of welfare recipients. There are internationally recognised, compe­tent Libyans capable of reforming Libya’s economy.
A third issue consists in drawing detailed plans for urban recovery. These plans will play a major role in providing jobs for many of the unemployed in Libya and even in neighbouring countries.
Implementing these security and economic programmes will, to a large extent, diffuse the tremen­dous social tension in Libya and prepare the ground for a foreign policy in tune with the democratic transition period.
The first issue the Sarraj gov­ernment will have to deal with is calling for international help to tackle ISIS and all the other terror­ist organisations in Libya. But, can this mean a remake of the Syrian or the Iraqi scenarios in Libya?
In other words, will there be air strikes by major international forces in conjunction with land operations by the Libyan Army?
Then again, we do not know whether rearming the Libyan mili­tary can be done quickly. And who would supply the Libyan Army? Could they be restricted to just the United States and Europe or will Russian and Chinese suppliers be considered, similar to what hap­pened under Muammar Qaddafi’s autocratic rule?
Furthermore, how would the re­construction contracts be awarded? And what would the outlines of the Sarraj government’s policy be towards Libya’s neighbours and re­gional power houses such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey?
Will such a policy take into con­sideration the interests of the en­tire Libyan population or just those of the parties and interest groups making up the government?
All of these numerous questions point to one thing: The Sarraj gov­ernment has a heavy and serious mission ahead.
It is daunting but not impossible. With determination, wisdom and genuine consensus, this govern­ment can succeed.
Its greatest achievement will be in safeguarding lives and property from bandit militias and safeguard­ing the country from the evils of partition.
The latter objective can be at­tained by recognising and respect­ing cultural specificities of all races and ethnicities making up Libyan society. Another major achieve­ment for the new government would be to safeguard the country from the divisive evils of move­ments using religion for political purposes.
The best scenario possible would be for the Libyan people to quickly close the door on political Islam and the new Salafist movements in Libya through ballots, not bullets. Allowing these movements to re­main in Libya represents a serious security threat to the country, its neighbours and the world.