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Six months after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, the prospects for stability and democracy in Libya seem remote. Fighting between rival militias and tribal groups is exposing deep divisions. Earlier this week, oil-rich eastern Libya declared itself “semiautonomous,” and the interim government seems unable to assert control even in the capital, Tripoli. We get an update on the situation in Libya.
- Ibrahim Sharquieh Deputy Director, Brookings Doha Center
MR. KOJO NNAMDINearly six months after the fall of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, hopes for a transition to a stable democratic government in Libya are meeting reality. Libya's interim government is struggling to maintain control amidst violence and power struggles between malicious and tribal chiefs. The latest challenge is in the oil rich eastern region. Local leaders there have declared themselves semi-autonomous, reviving old divisions and threatening the already fragile unity of the country.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITripoli is now controlled not by government security forces but by competing militias. And in the South, a hundred people were killed in tribal fighting last week. Many fear Libya is in danger of becoming a failed state. Joining us to discuss that situation by phone from Doha, Qatar is Ibrahim Sharquieh. He is the deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center. Ibrahim, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. IBRAHIM SHARQUIEHThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIRight now, there's a transitional government with an interim leader. Is there any timeline for an elected government in Libya?
SHARQUIEHThat's correct, yes. That is actually on June 23. There's supposed to be an election of a council that - this council will be tasked to draft their constitution. And after drafting the constitution, there should be a referendum. And early in 2013, we should see legislative elections as well in Libya.
NNAMDIOne of the more serious issues for the National Transition Council are divisions and violence. In the south, more than 100 people were killed last week as we just said. Tripoli also has issues with security. What does that say about the government's ability to unify and control tribal leaders and militias?
SHARQUIEHThis is -- there are plenty of indicators that suggest that the security situation in the country is actually deteriorating. Last week, we have seen over 100 people killed in the southern city of Kufra in the tribal clashes between different tribes. And also, we have seen, over the past two, three months, a number of incidents clashing security forces in the capital Tripoli. So the National Transitional Council has been struggling trying to control these security situations.
SHARQUIEHBut unfortunately, there hasn't been enough evidence to suggest that the NTC, the National Transitional Council, is able to do so so far. So the situation continue to be challenging, and the NTC has to show that they're in control of the situation.
NNAMDILet me invite calls from our listeners. The number is 800-433-8850. Do you think Libya is in danger of becoming a failed state? You can also send email to email@example.com, a tweet, @kojoshow. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask your question or make your comment there. Having stepped in during Libya's civil war last year, do you think the U.S. and Europe have any role to play in Libya now? 800-433-8850. We're talking with Ibrahim Sharquieh, the deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center.
NNAMDIIbrahim, yesterday, a group of militia and tribal leaders in the eastern province announced that they want to become semi-autonomous. How serious is this?
SHARQUIEHUnfortunately, Kojo, this is very serious. And that was not expected to happen at this particular time, just a couple of months after the end of the Gadhafi regime where even the people still living the joy of that victory of the revolution. For us to see that now a group of people, about 3,000 people in that city of Benghazi that are now declaring the eastern part of the country to be semi-autonomous area. This has many implications. One is, as we have said earlier, is the challenge to the security situation in the country. But more than that is this group of people.
SHARQUIEHThey're responding to the perceived marginalization, what they call that happened over the past 40 years for the eastern part of the country where they believe that Gadhafi took advantage of the situation and only empowered the people in Tripoli, the western part of the country, at the expense of the eastern part of the country, where most of the oil and gas exist, actually, where estimates of approximately about 80 percent of the oil reserve exist in the eastern part. So it's a reaction also to the perceived marginalization that happened over the past 40 years, and they are taking it now their own way.
NNAMDITwo things about that I'd like to ask, the first I'm not that familiar with. It's my understanding that the 3,000 or so people who declared their region is semi-autonomous have appointed a cousin of a member of the royal family, the cousin of the king. Could you explain what that's all about, and what message that's intended to send?
SHARQUIEHThat's a very strong message, actually, Kojo. It's -- the -- Ahmed al-Senussi, who has been appointed as the leader or the president of this new council that they have announced, he is the cousin of King Idris al-Senussi, who was the king before Gadhafi came to power. So that sends a very strong message, actually, to -- for this group of people to go back to the federation system that existed before the Gadhafi -- Gadhafi's coup and where Libya was a federation of three states.
SHARQUIEHSo that appears to these calls for going back to the kingdom by appointing the president, who, himself, this new president actually was jailed under Gadhafi and was part of the resistance against Gadhafi. So that there is this disdain. And also, there is a call -- a very clear call within this group to go back to the constitution that existed before Gadhafi and under King Idris Senussi. And that's the message that were given for now.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining the conversation, we're talking with Ibrahim Sharquieh, the deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center, about the situation in Libya, which some people think is quickly becoming a failed state. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think the U.S. and Europe should play any role in Libya now, having stepped in during Libya's civil war last year? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIThe other thing I don't quite understand, Ibrahim, is the comment from the Interim head of Libya who called this declaration of semi-autonomy, quoting here, "a dangerous conspiracy by Arab nations to tear the country apart." To which Arab nations is he referring, and what are they doing allegedly?
SHARQUIEHWell, Mustafa Abdul Jalil made this statement without explaining who exactly he referred to by this statement. There haven't been any other explanations provided either by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the NTC, or other NTC officials. In the past, there were some problems and dispute happened between Libya and Qatar, accusing Qatar of interfering in the Libyan internal affairs.
SHARQUIEHBut it's not very clear that -- whether Mustafa Abdul Jalil was particularly referring to Qatar or to someone else, or to some other countries, because even that, you know, some think the issue or the dispute with Qatar was over supporting some groups situated in Tripoli.
SHARQUIEHSo it wasn't really about Benghazi and about the eastern part. So this -- yet to be seen what or who Mustafa Abdul Jalil was exactly referring to. But, however, the thing that we keep -- we have to keep in mind, actually there hasn't been any evidence or indicator to suggest that there has been any external intervention or support for the group in Benghazi and for the declared semi-autonomous area.
SHARQUIEHThey went to the public. They protested. And they gathered and they declared themselves all on their own, without seeing any link to other groups, at least publicly, that's supporting this -- their call for the semi-autonomous. So it's not really clear why Mustafa Abdul Jalil made the statement, or he -- or who he exactly was referring to.
NNAMDIWhat would it mean, according to the proposal, to be semi-autonomous in that region?
SHARQUIEHSemi-autonomous is a kind of a federation system that -- where they leave the foreign ministry and the defense and the presidency to the central capital -- in this case, Tripoli. But they would take care of their education, economy and police force and having its own parliament. So that is what they're referring to as the semi-autonomous.
SHARQUIEHBut let's keep in mind that this is self-declared, that this is what they're -- you know, what they declared for themselves to have. It has not really been recognized by anyone. And on the contrary, there were protests even inside Benghazi that protested at the same time that the -- were against this semi-autonomous. And they called for the unity of the country, and they opposed it in the public protests and others.
SHARQUIEHAnd we have been seeing also on the media and social media where calls from most of Libyans against this move and calling for the unity of the country. So it is yet -- that we've yet to see how credible this is going to be, and whether they're going to really form a force that would impose semi-autonomous status. But I think it's still -- we're still far away from there. And we're having the elections in June, and we will see what's going to happen next.
NNAMDIHere is Ahmad (sp?) in Dulles, Va. Ahmad, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AHMADKojo, thanks a lot for taking my call. I have a little comment and question.
AHMADI'm originally from Egypt. I grew up here in the states. Basically, I am a little worried with the statement that, you know, they wanna break off a portion of Libya. It makes me fear that there will be civil war there. My question is, with the political situation throughout the world, do we think or do you and your guest think that NATO would be willing to protect civilians in a civil war?
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Ibrahim Sharquieh?
SHARQUIEHI think -- let's not take things out of context here. I think, yes, there are some security points here in Yemen, whether -- in Libya, I'm sorry, whether it's in the south, in Kufra, or in other places, or in the capital, Tripoli. But it's -- I don't think really that the situation has deteriorated to a -- to the extent that we can be talking about a civil war. Even in the capital, Tripoli, yes, there are security forces in the capital, but these security forces, there is a level of coordination within them and with also the central authority of the National Transitional Council.
SHARQUIEHSo I think we're still far away, very far away, from talking about a serious civil war. However, if things escalate and go out of control and the NTC continues to show failure in controlling the security situation and failure in responding to the people's demand, then, yes, we can be talking about this as a possibility. But for now, I don't think we're there yet.
NNAMDIAhmad, thank you for your call. We move on to Dango (sp?) in Silver Spring, Md. Dango, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANGOThank you, Mr. Kojo Nnamdi, for the first time taking my call. My question is on Libya, which is in North Africa, actually, northwest, a little bit Northwest Africa. Even though the media call it Middle East, it's actually in Africa. The question is, is Libya better off now with Gadhafi killed than what it would have been if there were elections, everything settled?
DANGOAs the African Union told Mr. Obama not to come to Libya, that after I come to Libya, the whole place will break apart. Even weapons washed out, went down to Nigeria, Chad. And he didn't listen. He just did what he wanted to do, with over 300,000 Africans killed by Obama, trying to send the military down to Malta, perished. Nobody talks about it. Is Libya better off now that Gadhafi is gone?
NNAMDIOne -- before you go, Dango, I have to ask you about one claim that you made about 300,000 Africans killed by Obama. Please be more specific.
DANGOOkay. Listen, when the Tomahawks were falling on Libya, I don't know why you don't see it. If you see Al-Jazeera, you will see all the (unintelligible) foreign media. See, Africans work in Libya for more than 10 years because Libya was the richest country on the continent in GDP, okay? So they come to work there, all the way from Chad, Nigeria. Everybody comes to work there. So they were working there. So when the Tomahawks started falling, people were being killed.
NNAMDIA lot of those people were, in fact, killed. Dango, thank you for your call. Care to respond to that, Ibrahim Sharquieh? Not the part about Africans who are working there, being killed, but I guess is Libya better off without Gadhafi?
SHARQUIEHThat's a very good question, actually, to be asked at this particular point. Now in order to know the objective answer to this, we have to keep in mind a number of things. One is that, under Gadhafi, there was a dictatorship. There were human rights violations. There was no freedom of speech, and the people were living under just, you know, a dictatorship. So that was the situation that we had under Gadhafi.
SHARQUIEHAnd now, yes, it is a concerning situation, especially with the security situation. But let's keep in mind that this is a transitional period, and with the transitions -- the transitions, in nature, are messy, are difficult, are complicated, and there are challenges. So, currently, Libya is going or undergoing through serious, very serious, security challenges, but that's a transitional period. We need to know the answer to this later when this transitional phase is over...
NNAMDIAnd we're running out of time very quickly, Ibrahim. But we're seeing headlines now about the Muslim Brotherhood forming a new political party. You see that as, conceivably, a positive development.
SHARQUIEHWell, that is definitely a positive development, Kojo, because when part of the transitional phase that we -- that a successful transition goes through is opening the door for formation of political parties. And we have seen the first group.
SHARQUIEHThe Muslim Brotherhood are coming forward and are trying to form a political party and be part of the political process. That is actually what the other security groups are invited to do and to disarm and become part of the national army. And for those who are not interested in becoming the national army and going to form a political party, that is exactly the transition...
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Ibrahim Sharquieh is the deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center. Ibrahim, thank you so much for joining us.
SHARQUIEHThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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