Libyan Official Calls for Libyan Lead in Transition

By: 
Thomas Omestad

Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), the immediate successor to the ousted regime of Col. Moammar al-Qaddafi, needs significant international help to prepare the North African nation for a democratic future, but Libyans themselves must be in the lead, and outside governments and institutions must show patience as Libya tries to address its many challenges, a key senior official in Libya’s new government told an audience at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on September 23.

September 29, 2011

Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), the immediate successor to the ousted regime of Col. Moammar al-Qaddafi, needs significant international help to prepare the North African nation for a democratic future, but Libyans themselves must be in the lead, and outside governments and institutions must show patience as Libya tries to address its many challenges, a key senior official in Libya’s new government told an audience at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on September 23.

“We need help to quickly gain expertise and skills that we have lacked,” said Ahmed Jehani, the NTC’s minister of infrastructure and reconstruction and chairman of the Council’s Stabilization Team. “We will lead, and if you are willing, you will support us.” For emphasis, he added later, the transition process must be “Libyan-led.”

Jehani expressed “deep gratitude” for the U.S.-backed, NATO-organized military intervention, which was authorized by the United Nations Security Council in response to looming, mass atrocities as Qaddafi regime forces sought to put down the insurgency last winter and spring. “The Libyan people will never forget the support America gave us in our period of need,” he said.

President Barack Obama has vowed continued U.S. support for Libya’s new government, and U.S. Ambassador Gene Cretz recently returned to Tripoli to reopen the American Embassy in the capital. “We will stand with you in your struggle to realize the peace and prosperity that freedom can bring,” Obama said at a United Nations meeting on September 20. Obama met one-on-one with NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil. The president sounded a cautionary note on Libya’s transition, saying, “After decades of iron rule by one man, it will take time to build the institutions needed for a democratic Libya. There will be days of frustration.”

Libya remains in a fragile and uncertain state. “The security situation is improving rapidly,” Jehani said. Yet anti-Qaddafi forces are still meeting significant pockets of resistance from former-regime loyalists in Qaddafi’s home town of Sirte and the desert redoubt of Bani Walid. Qaddafi himself remains at large and claimed in a recent audio message that the new government will collapse once NATO ends its aerial bombardment of loyalist forces still fighting. NATO has extended its campaign by another three months.

Jehani, a former World Bank official and lawyer who lived in the Washington, DC, area for nearly 30 years, said the NTC was committed to laying the groundwork for a democratic state that upholds human rights, with an early focus on developing a justice system based on the rule of law. “Sadly, my country needs a great deal of help in this area,” he said. But he hailed the initial progress that has come with Qaddafi’s ouster: “For the first time, Libyans are making their voices freely heard without fear of punishment.” As part of its emphasis on rule of law and transitional justice issues, Jehani said Libyans are exploring ways of developing “truth and reconciliation” efforts. The NTC has also issued a Constitutional Declaration that calls for 60 days to draft a new constitution. Jehani identified other NTC priority areas as police reform, public finance and the provision of basic government services. Under a Qaddafi dictatorship that “emasculated” lower-level decision-making, he said “the whole system of administration broke down many years ago.” He acknowledged the need for Libyans soon to see “real improvements” in basic services.

Though Jehani welcomed technical advice from other countries and support for macroeconomic adjustment by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, he also pointed to a degree of national self-reliance on efforts to renew the economy. “We can disburse our own funds for our own priorities,” he said, noting that Libya produces about two percent of global oil supplies. With its oil potential and a population of just six million people, many analysts believe that Libya’s long-term economic prospects are among the best in North Africa.

Jehani referred to an “urgent need” to rebuild and upgrade infrastructure. He also briefly touched on Libya’s economic development priorities, including tourism, energy, fisheries and technology. More than half of Libya’s population is under the age of 30. “Our priority is to create employment for our youth. Otherwise, there is going to be a problem,” he said.

Jehani also acknowledged political sensitivities around the composition of the NTC, which includes members who spent much of their careers in the Qaddafi regime. He said such members bring experience but also are seen by much of the public as tainted. “The whole effort of stabilization may go through a metamorphosis because of that,” he said. He took a cautious tone in addressing how post-Qaddafi Libya will deal with social issues, especially the role of women. He called Libya a “mosaic” of cultural expectations and attitudes. “We have to be patient with these things because they take a long time,” he argued. “If you’re not careful, you’re going to have a backlash.” Said Jehani, “Libyan society needs to produce its own forms [of social change].”

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September 29, 2011
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