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Larbi Sadiki
Larbi Sadiki
Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter.
Libya's new harvest: the seeds of democracy
Having ousted their dictator, Libyans must now transition from hard power of armed rebellion to the soft power of ideas.
Last Modified: 13 Sep 2011 12:28
Although the Libyan NTC has completed its mission in liberating the country from Gaddafi, it must be willing to let other voices be heard in the process of state-building [EPA]

Even with Gaddafi at large, Libyans are already buoyant about their future democracy. 

Just as they reclaimed the pre-Gaddafi tricolour flag, they have the power to reclaim a rich political history. Moreover, civic struggles have been waged in Libya since 1981 (e.g. the NFSL) - events that remain in the memory of many: a boon for democratic reconstruction. There is already a fierce, but healthy, competition underway amongst the country's nascent civic bodies attempting to construct an indigenous democratic road-map for Libya.  

To understand the ins-and-outs of fledgling democratic 'road-mapping', the heritage of the past and the ideational resources of the present must both be considered. There are, for now, four prominent political trends emerging. The explosion of partyism in Libya will be seen in the months to come.

'Liberation' & 'liberalisation': From the bullet to the ballot

Libyans triumphed through a war of liberation aided by outside parties, and some observers have rushed to make irrelevant comparisons to Iraq. However, unlike Iraq, Libya has been spared the problem of having to deal with foreign boots on its ground - luckily for them the war did not last long enough for that to happen.

NATO's mission must be re-defined or even ended -  and this time the decision should be made with a wider debate that includes voices outside of the National Transitional Council (NTC).

Very often war introduces a whole new set of problems - and Libya is no exception. Local agency must be reasserted, giving way to an indigenous search for a smooth transition along four paths: democratic transition, transitional socio-economic reconstruction, transitional reconciliation, and transitional justice.

It is time now to seek Africa, Arab, EU, and US help in the form of soft power instead of hard power. Over the years, Libyans have built a great deal of talent and skill in the Diaspora as well as bridges to the West, which now can be invested into reconstruction. 

Liberation and liberalisation often work hand-in-hand when the authority, in this case, the NTC - which has led the war effort for the sake of liberation - is swiftly replaced with a peace-building 'locomotive' to drive the engine of reconstruction. The NTC is the 'Churchill' of Libya - it works in war but not in peace time. This is an issue all Libyans, no doubt, will be pondering in the weeks and months ahead of the transitional phase.

Having ousted Gaddafi, Libyans must turn to democracy and state-building in order to stabilise the country [GALLO/GETTY]

The NTC has a feather in its cap in having completed its liberation mission. Keeping it intact, indefinitely or without new bloodshed, however, is another story. As in Egypt and Tunisia, relics of the ancient regime remain in polity and economy, and in Libya some of those exist even within the NTC. This will be a major challenge for the incipient post-Gaddafi Libya.

This is important because it is inextricably linked with the democratic transition process and the extent to which it is vital to begin building a new Libya on a clean slate.

The institutional heritage

Between 1951 and 1969, Libya experienced modest history of institution-building. Gaddafi's 1969 coup, conveniently 'baptised' as a 'Free Officers' Revolution, rudely interrupted that imperfect process. In particular, the coup suspended the country's 1951 constitution and all the electoral activities - among other institutions that pre-existed Gaddafi's revolution.

Libya held four general elections for the country's federal Chamber of Deputies between 1952 and 1965. Women in Libya won the right to vote in 1963, and they were able participate in the 1964 and 1965 elections.

A quasi party-system, albeit very embryonic, was in place for a short period in the early 1950s. The Independence Party and the Congress Party of Tripolitania were actively participatory and contested the country's first election in February 1952.

Regardless of the flaws and perhaps excessive monarchial power, those elections represented a unique electoral experiment not seen in other newly-founded republican systems, such as Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia.

Libya's 1951 constitution

By the standards of the time, the constitution contained institutional and democratic articles, defining King Muhammad Idriss al Sanoussi as a constitutional monarch (although Article 59 makes the king's powers quasi absolute).

It was adopted by a Constituent Assembly on October 7, 1951 after deliberations were held in Tripoli and Benghazi by the representatives of Barqa, [Western] Tripoli, and Fezzan. This constitution also adopted the federal institutions that reproduced the unitary political system and the name 'Libya' which was first introduced by Fascist Italy in 1911.

Libya boasts a fascinating and enriching diversity. Cyrenaica was the first Greek colony in North Africa founded in 631 BC and functioned autonomously for centuries. On the other hand, Tripolitania was for most of its history a Barbary state before becoming an Ottoman province. From 1943 to 1950, both came under British tutelage, with the French controlling Fezzan.

Moving forward

Libyans currently seek democratic inspiration from the constitution written in 1951, there is a good reason for this.

The range of rights, freedoms and laws; as well as diversity, was enshrined in article 188 which allowed for

In depth

More from Larbi Sadiki:

  Libya: freedom is in the air
  The battle for Libya: Up in smoke
  Libya: Filling the void of a stateless state
  Libya's postponed democracy
  To bomb and protect
  The pen versus the sword
  Libya's falling tyrant

two capital cities: Benghazi and Tripoli. The budget was not a state secret as in Gaddafi's Libya, and was supported by the office of an auditor general (articles 159-172). Several articles also governed the bicameral system adopted by the monarchy.  

Chapter seven of the parliamentary system is comprehensive when read in its historical context. The function of cabinet, ministerial obligation, monarchical powers are all defined clearly and the document resonates with majoritarian rule, legalism and the stress on rule of law. Article 82 forbids members of the royal family from ministerial assignment, and 86 makes ministers responsible to parliament.

The new constitutional seeds

For now four tendencies, not equal in terms of following, impact, role and resources, have started working towards a Libyan democratic road-map. Of these four, the NFSL and the Muslim Brotherhood are likely to surge in terms of popularity, political recruitment, and institution-building. Historical pedigree is what makes these two forces uniquely endowed to gain further prominence. 

The NFSL has a practical and methodical vision of democratic reconstruction for the pre-constitutional phase until the phase of the Constituent of Founding Assembly or Parliament, with a high premium placed on legality, popular mandate, pluralist power-sharing, economic reconstruction through sustainable development, reconciliation and transitional justice.

The Muslim Brotherhood Libya (MBL), like existing currents in Egypt and Tunisia, will recruit well. Like the NFSL, the MBL foresees transition through the founding of a Transitional National Congress and a Transitional National Charter mostly to organise, with international and Arab assistance, elections for a transitional parliament and a transitional administration. It upholds a multi-partyism, social justice, Arab and Islamic identity as well as national solidarity.

The NTC's future is transitional and for now assumes only a care-taker status, which itself with be subject to modification and no doubt a new mandate with new blood.

The Democratic Party, formerly known as the Libyan Freedom and Democracy Campaign, was founded in mid-July 2011 and is the newest civic body to enter the political fray. Its 17-point political manifesto is drenched in liberalism - both political and economic. It talks of the "natural rights of men" and "law as the expression of the public will" - but it is short on practical ideas despite favouring a big UN role during the transitional phase and Western democratic mentoring.

Libya 2013

Transition is complex, open-ended and always subject to reverses. However, despite this, I think homogenous Libya in 2013 will be ready to meet the travails of democratic consolidation once constitution-framing is completed.

I view the regional and tribal diversity of Libya as a huge bonus for democratic reconstruction. This is one reason why the founding fathers of the new Libya must opt for a bi-cameral system that allows for both horizontal and vertical power-sharing and representation.

Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratization: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004).

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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