Libya and the Rule of Law

Article Summary
Following the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, Libya is now faced with turmoil and an escalating arms race. This is due to the fact that none of the sub-state forces present in the country are willing to submit to the authority of the transitional government. Al-Hussein al-Zawi argues that the present state of lawlessness in Libya should come as no surprise; for given the absence of civil society or state institutions, the country is, in effect, being built from the ground up.

The Libyan revolution achieved most of its declared objectives when it managed to topple Qaddafi’s regime and announce the liberation of all Libyan lands; but the political and security aspects of the equation will lead, for the foreseeable future, to the greatest challenges faced by members of the Transitional National Council. This is in contrast to the apparent ease with which the economic aspect will be dealt, considering that Libya possesses great financial capacities that will help it rebuild its economic system according to a new development model expected to focus on the basic needs of ordinary Libyans. The difficulties pertaining to the political and security aspects are due to the heavy inheritance of political chaos left over by the fallen regime within which everybody seemed to hold responsibilities while, in fact, no one was really responsible for anything except Qaddafi, who sat atop a power pyramid devoid of a supporting base. It follows that transitioning from such a totalitarian regime to a democratic one will require strategic foresight, [meaning that] all involved will need to accept the extent of their proportional representation, and steer clear of the lure of the absolute power [with which] supporters of the counter-revolution [seek to temp them], in every country [affected by] the Arab Spring.

Setting forth on the road towards transition and democratic change is impossible if it is accompanied by insecurity ruled through armed chaos and characterized by rebel groups not accepting one of the primary constructs of a state built upon justice and the rule of law, namely the state’s exclusive right to resort to justifiable violence and restricting the right to bear arms to its own security agencies according to the democratic social contract that binds a nation state to its citizenry, who have approved the country’s constitution and accepted their political elite’s mandate to embody the revolutionary goals and fulfill its aspirations. [This mandate] comes from loyalty to the sacrifices of the martyrs who have given their lives in the fight for freedom, Libya, and the dignity of its people.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the chairman of the Libyan Transitional National Council, was clear when he spoke of the armed conflicts that erupt from time to time between different revolutionary groups, and which could affect the country’s unity and stability. He also affirmed that achieving justice and progress as well as organizing elections is an impossible task without security; nor would security be attainable if the fighters continued to refuse to surrender their arms.

It would seem that the delicate security situation in Libya is primarily due to the unwillingness of many of the armed organizations that spearheaded the fight for freedom to commit to following to the orders and instructions of the supreme political authorities. This in turn could greatly exacerbate the difficulties that stand in the way of a smooth political transition towards pluralism, democracy, and institutional rule, because security agencies represent a core facet of any political project geared towards building a modern state committed to the rule of law and the principles of justice and equality.

In truth, the difficulties that the Libyan revolution is facing are similar in some respects to the difficulties being faced by other countries affected by the Arab Spring; but the lack of national traditions in Libya when compared to Egypt or Tunisia, which possess strong traditions, exacerbates the dangers that threaten the Libyan State. This is especially so considering that the revolution conducted by Omar al-Mukhtar’s descendants was more radical than those which occurred in its two sister states, because it completely uprooted the previous regime and is now trying to build a state completely different from the one which Qaddafi ruled for more than forty years. It goes without saying that the weakness or absence of the state, according to German philosopher Hannah Arendt, is but an open invitation for violence; and it is therefore in the interest of all Libyan political factions to contribute to the consolidation of the state and work towards reinstating the Libyan people’s trust in their national institutions - especially those responsible for security, which are being rebuilt according to professional norms that respect human rights, and allow them to operate within the powers afforded by the constitution and the laws. Security forces that abide by their set jurisdictions and refrain from using excessive physical force represent one of the most important elements necessary in any political system that claims to function within the rule of law. 

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