By Adrian Hong.
Tripoli, 6 October:
Libya today is facing a crisis that is arguably greater in magnitude than any it has faced . . .[restrict]before. The nation faces, simultaneously, three potential major national crises: an armed showdown in Bani Walid, potential American drone strikes in the East and the possibility of an escalation of unrest in the South.
Amidst the major challenges on the horizon, the General National Congress is delaying the installment of the new Mustafa Abushagur-led government. Libya does not have another month, or perhaps even another week to delay. It must allow the Abushagur government to be fully empowered as soon as possible, to take charge and confront immediate problems.
The view from abroad and among the diplomatic community in Tripoli on Libya is overwhelmingly negative. Despite a storybook victory by the former rebels against the Qaddafi regime, one diplomat in Libya yesterday even used phrases like “failed state” or “Afghanistan” to describe Libya’s potential future.
Prime Minister-elect Abushagur was chosen by a democratically elected GNC. He was tasked to form the best possible cabinet for Libya’s important next steps. In a presidential system, like the United States, as the legislative branch cannot fire an independently elected president, the Congress confirms individual cabinet appointments to keep the executive in check.
In a parliamentary system, like the United Kingdom, the prime minister serves at the pleasure of the Parliament, and thus does not have to submit cabinets in whole or individually for approval. The executive is judged on its overall performance, and the Prime Minister is removed if it is not satisfactory. Libya’s Congress at present has the privileges of both Presidential and Parliamentary systems with the responsibilities and accountability of neither.
The GNC currently insists on picking both the Prime Minister and deciding his team. It is akin to hiring a football coach, demanding that he win games, and then insisting that he have no say over his choice of players, formations or plays.
Even worse, the new coach is being attacked for his choices before the team has played a single game, or even held a practice. Checks and balances, integral parts of a democracy, do not exist for the GNC. Because the GNC is currently serving for only a single term leading up to a constitution that may radically restructure Libya’s governing authorities, the public cannot threaten to kick out non-performing or corrupt GNC members at the next election. There is also no strong judiciary or executive counterweight to Congress.
The GNC was entrusted by Libya’s people with two simple mandates: first, to select a Prime Minister and empower the executive to steward the nation, and second to appoint a committee to draft a new Constitution. Everything else is secondary and – as initially conceived in the 3 August 2011 Constitutional declaration – beyond its mandate altogether.
Already, the GNC has ordered the Ministries of Interior and Defense to confront Bani Walid and apprehend the kidnappers of the fallen Omran Shaban. No legislature in the world has the authority to directly order the armed forces of any nation.
Regionalism and political nepotism have seen certain GNC members demanding that each and every major town have its own cabinet minister, or that nephews and cousins of GNC members, without qualifications, be given ministerial portfolios. GNC members have publicly torn-up documents submitted to them by the prime minister-elect or cursed him with profanity on the floor of what ought to be a sacred temple of democracy, upset at their own individual candidates not being candidates.
After protesters from Zawiya (demanding a minister from their own town) stormed the GNC, Congress members last night called for immediate security and a state of emergency for the GNC grounds, forgetting perhaps that their priorities ought to be rather the immediate security of Libya’s cities and streets.
The risks are not exaggerated. If an Abushagur cabinet is not allowed to take office soon, the most urgent priorities in Libya will continue to be unmet. If the standoff in Bani Walid is not resolved or escalates, media and observers will inevitably begin talking of the spectre of “civil war.”
American drones and troops may soon be ordered to act unilaterally, in the absence of a strong executive in Libya and pressed by domestic US pressures to respond to the Benghazi attacks, challenging Libya’s sovereignty and putting the East in the same category as Pakistan’s ungovernable north-west – Wazirstan – where a host nation is seen to be unable to guarantee security, and thus foreign nations must secure it themselves. Needless to say, this would be a disaster.
Unrest in Sebha and Libya’s relations with minority communities also have the potential to be tinderboxes. And separate from this, a fourth Sousa policeman died Thursday after an attack on a security checkpoint, in a situation that may develop into a much larger problem.
If Abushagur is ultimately removed by the GNC, Libya will have had three Prime Ministers in less than one month, and four leaders – Abdurrahim Al-Kib, Mohammed Magarief, Mustafa Abushagur and whoever is chosen next. That may be some sort of record.
Nations will have a hard time taking any new government seriously, foreign investors will hesitate before signing any deals and suppliers will have legitimate fears over whether invoices will be honoured or paid. Many may write off the nation in frustration.
This weekend will be a make-or-break time in Libya’s history. The public must take ownership and demand a fully empowered executive to confront Libya’s challenges, fill the security vacuum and move the nation forward. The alternative will have ramifications far beyond the shores of Tripoli. Libya’s success or failure does not matter only to Libya’s future.
Failure now will reinforce those who alleged – absurdly and incorrectly – during the height of the Arab Spring that Muslims and Arabs are incapable of governing themselves, that only strongmen and dictators can “control” societies in the region.
There are very loud voices in the world eager to apply labels of “failed state” or “civil war” to the nation, to serve an agenda that demands stability in the region at the expense of human rights and democracy. What happens in Libya now will have serious ramifications not only on the success of the Syrian revolution, but on all democratic efforts to replace dictatorships in the future. The “Libya Model” will either be a positive example, or a warning against change for oppressed peoples worldwide.
There is the well-known phenomenon of the “resource curse” – oil and mineral rich nations end up being suffocated in corruption and petty power politics, resulting in a paralysis, warlords and corrupt elected officials, with the people suffering as a result. A small class of political elites become wealthy and act with impunity, without strong power structures and divisions of authority to keep them in check.
The actions of the GNC bring to mind a quote from Boston loyalist Byles Mather in the era of the American Revolution hundreds of years ago: “Which is better – to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?”
If events continue in this direction, the hard-fought war Libyans shed their blood for will have only ushered in an era of 200 new tyrants, although it has to be said that many Congress members are genuinely working to achieve a positive outcome to the present crisis.
Libya’s revolution is not over. As difficult as it is, it is not enough to remove a dictator. For the sake of future generations, a new, accountable authority must take its place. Right now, Libya’s silent majority must raise their voices loudly and express their will. At present course, the future does not look bright.
Adrian Hong is managing director of Pegasus Strategies LLC. He writes from Tripoli.
The views expressed in Opinion articles do not necessarily reflect those of the Libya Herald [/restrict]