Keeping Libya’s promise after Gaddafi’s death

Gaddafi is dead, but the revolution lives on. As one battle comes to an end, another begins today.

Gaddafi killed in Sirte
Celebrations over Gaddafi’s death mark the start of a new fight – to keep the spirit of the revolution alive [REUTERS]

The Arab Spring, still unfolding, began with death. But that is how life is laboured into this world. And the significance and substance of new life can sometimes be commensurate with the “volume” of death, or the size and stature of the deceased.

Gaddafi was larger than life. He was a “prophet” of revolution, then pan-Arabism, and then pan-Africanism, gradually moving his amorphous programme of statehood from nationalism to transnationalism. On the way, he littered his political history with unruliness, spreading his death squads far and wide, lending support in funding and arms to all and sundry, from Ireland to Chad.

The self-appointed “prophet”, mentor, architect and non-president president of Libya, “king of kings” of all Africa, wanted a larger power ratio than that occupied by demographically sparse Libya. He sought the mirage of power that would reflect the the country’s huge surface area and the largesse beneath the Libyan Sahara, its reserves of black gold.

One thing stood in his way: his narcissism. It was bigger than even that of Narcissus himself.

That is why the death of Gaddafi unleashes huge potentialities and possibilities that will enliven the remarkable Libyan people. Now it is their turn – after the thousands of deaths, injuries, the devastation, pain and suffering – to breathe life into the new Libya, the post-Gaddafi Libya. But there are challenges.

Rationalising the revolution

There is no need for Libyans to reinvent the wheel. The task now is to “quarantine” their passions. Like their Egyptian or Tunisian neighbours, Libyans should not surrender their revolution. Indeed, the bathing water of this revolution has been bloody, and ought to be poured out, discarded. The baby born from this process will need more than nursing: It will need many loving, but – above all else – “thinking”, parents.

Today, they are tasked with laying down their weapons and their emotions to nurture their revolution, or risk the very life of the infant-revolution’s condition. New conditioning – post-conflict reconstruction – needs rational tutelage. This needs to be rationality within Libyan specificity, and all of its complexities – tribal, regional, ideological, and even personal – must now measure to the challenge of life-giving in all its entirety.

Baby steps to democracy

This “rationality” must not guide the illusion of seeking absolute closure through unrealistic teleology. Democracy is always postponed. It must be relativised. This would mean, in this instance, to search for a means to install a system of participatory governance through the following:

  • To rationalise the revolution to ensure it turns to reconciliation at this moment. Yes, there are other Gaddafis at large. There are loyal clients, including tribes in the south. Already there has been lots of blood spilled to enable the heroic Libyan people to snatch this victory. Enough. There have been grave violations of human dignity, carried out by the rebels also. Maybe that is the “collateral damage”‘ of all revolutions, which in their wake they victimise and kill before they can give life. Libyans have even traditional instruments and forums for enacting reconciliation. There are also existing experiences they can learn from (eg: from those in South Africa).
  • To consider a form of deferential federalisation, which may be of use when seeking to empower tribes and regions. The moment calls for vertical and horizontal creativity in democratisation. Gaddafi’s death is a defining moment. The definitional agendas must pay attention to participatory governance in ways that diffuses power, and to share it in order to build a reproducible centre.
  • To frame a democratising road-map that integrates the revolutionary ethos with the pluralist ethos. The Arab Spring geography will have to rationalise post-dictatorship democratic reconstruction by allowing parallelism. The revolution must be maintained as the realm of people’s power: not a counter-power, rather a parallel power.
  • The Euro-American model of apportioning and integrating power to enact legislative, executive and judiciary links in the chain of statism must be borrowed – with one addition: the link of peoplehood. Legislators are implicated in the formal and top-down game of competitive party politics and power. They rarely “represent” anymore. They tend to obey the masters of finance, partisanship and ideology. It will be one guarantor of wide and deep representation.
  • Moreso than in Egypt and Tunisia, slicing the economic cake in Libya will have to be fairer than it has been in the past. Neither Egypt nor Tunisia has Libya’s largesse. Six million people sit on huge reserves of oil and vast tracts of land. Theoretically, they have the potential to be amongst the richest people in this world. Setting order to the Libyan house will require distributive justice, just as urgently as erecting durable, reproducible, legitimate, and popularly elected and contested civic bodies, watchdogs and institutions.   
  • To invest in human development so that the full potential of each Libyan can be released. What we need are ways not only to regurgitate the lingo of “human development”, the ubiquitous spouted cliché. Rather, we need to encourage the Libyans to believe more in their capacity to measure up to this moment. Mubarak and Ben Ali bequeathed institutions of sorts, including parties and civil societies, even if fragile. Gaddafi leaves nothing … except a trail of mutinous tribes, progeny, and those tainted by his association. This, unfortunately, includes even the likes of Mahmoud Jibril and other NTC members.
  • To link this to the above, the work of the NTC must be limited to that of a caretaker administration and no more, rationally, soberly and collectively. The NTC – and this is the political symbolism of Gaddafi’s death – is now more than ever under the spotlight. Who are its members? What is the nature of any association they had with Gaddafi? Are they apt to continue as they are without modestly and voluntarily explaining themselves to the Libyan people? Accountability begins now – but through transparency, legality and honesty.

The spectre of Gaddafi

Is Gaddafi dead? He is physically. The challenge now is to manage the legacy, to put to bed the question of what lives on and what dies with Gaddafi.

His progeny and his aides, including a certain Moussa Ibrahim, a former student of mine, are now either detained by the rebels or will soon be caught. As one of Ibrahim’s former mentors, all I can wish is to plead for a legal process of justice. Kangaroo courts will complicate transition, not facilitate it. Triumph through death is ephemeral, though justice and magnanimity it is lasting.

To an extent, there is partial closure in Gaddafi’s death. It spares Libya bloody showdowns and trials, which no matter how impartial are bound to be partial. That is one advantage Libyans have over Tunisians, who must not digress in democratisation by seeking Ben Ali’s extradition, and Egyptians whose own trials are imperfect – even if the cause of justice they seek is right.

There is probably a little of Gaddafi in every Libyan: anger, frustration, injustice, victimhood, and even hatred. Now, as Gaddafi’s body is laid to rest, so should all of these emotions. To let them take hold of “New Libya” would mean prolonging that residue of Gaddafi’s rule. To do so would be to give Gaddafi an undeserved lease of life.

The accounting [hisab] of Gaddafi’s rule now begins by mortals, historians and rebels – and by his Creator. Gaddafi should have known better. The Holy Quran (28:83) states: “That home of the Hereafter We assign to those who do not desire exaltedness upon the earth or corruption.” Gaddafi was guilty on both counts; of desiring exaltedness and of engaging in corruption. He disobeyed not only God’s will, but also the will of the Libyan people.

Libya lives on, deservedly free and proud – and forever sovereign through their glorious revolution. But for them, too, the challenge is to institute a democracy that seeks neither self-glory nor returns to corruption and oppression.

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.