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Editorial : The Hindu: On a wing and a prayer
Wednesday, 01 February 2012 03:07

On a Wing and a Prayer


The Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) faces many serious problems in a situation complicated by violence, tribalism and hatreds, old and new. Violent protests in the former rebel stronghold of Benghazi last month delayed the finalisation of the country's new electoral law. There are complaints about the Council's lack of openness, and demands for the resignation of all but a few of its members. Vice-President Abdul Ghoga, seen by many Libyans as a self-seeking defector from the former regime of Muammar Qadhafi, has already stepped down. Secondly, some of the volunteer and largely untrained militias which were involved in the rebellion's bitterest fighting now control key areas, including Tripoli airport, and have become self-appointed guardians of the revolution. Several have clashed with others, and there is no national army to absorb rebel units and provide essential discipline. Thirdly, the lack of central control means former rebels have inflicted revenge killings, torture, and rape on the population of Tawergha, for the aid they allegedly gave the old regime's forces. Racism may also be a factor, as many Tawerghans are descendants of black African slaves from earlier times; other Africans in Libya have suffered attacks for being suspected Qadhafi mercenaries, and even Libyan groups of ancient standing, such as the Amazigh tribe, are angry about their exclusion from the NTC.

Those problems by themselves could seem intractable enough, but the Council also has to contend with obstacles to the revival of the oil industry. Most of the oil installations were not seriously damaged in the uprising, but output is at half its earlier levels, and recovery is complicated because various militias are guarding many plants and are refusing to give up their weapons. That in turn means foreign engineers are reluctant to return and revive the country's only substantial export earner. In effect, Libya could easily slide back into the chaotic violence which preceded Qadhafi's overthrow, and given the fragmentation of Libyan society, the Muslim Brotherhood, hitherto not a key political player, is potentially the only party well placed to win a majority when the scheduled elections are held in 2013. Nato, which was so eager to support the rebels, will watch this anxiously, but it was Nato that embarked upon regime change in Libya with no apparent consideration of the consequences or of the fact that ordinary Libyans would end up paying the price for its heedlessness. If things implode, the Western powers will have a lot to answer for.