When Gaddafi falls – what next?

With the aid of a five month bombing campaign by NATO it would seem that the rebels are within touching distance of their aim to topple Muammar Gaddafi[1]. They have taken the towns of Zawiyah and Gharyan which are within a couple of hours driving distance of Tripoli and are reported to have taken areas of the capital itself.

Very few will shed a tear if and when Gaddafi is toppled, quite the reverse, there will be wild celebrations and not just in Libya. I myself will raise a glass to Gaddafi’s downfall…

After the celebrations the question will be, what next?

The key to this question is in the nature and the make up of the rebel forces. They are in the main a disparate collection from across the political and religious spectrum held together by the common aim of toppling Gaddafi. There is already a sign of what may come with the comments of a rebel to Reuters. It is interesting that the same concerns are now being expressed about the rebels that I outlined in the article Libya – Lessons of the Uprising. It’s worth noting that the Reuters article also uses the term ‘disparate’ in its description of the rebel forces.

It should be borne in mind that the rebels could not have won without the fire-power of NATO, their rebellion would have ended in Benghazi. Neither are all the rebel groups united under the Transitional National Council banner and those that are operate more or less autonomously. The death of Abdel Fattah Younes illustrates the difficulty facing the TNC in maintaining discipline among the rebel factions. All of this means that whatever replaces Gaddafi ‘s regime will most likely be weak and unstable.

The military victory for the rebel/NATO alliance is just the first stage of winning power in Libya. As with Afghanistan and Iraq there will be a breathing space, a ‘honeymoon period’[2], while the opposition is scattered, leaderless and demoralised. The outcome of this period depends on the new regime’s ability to deliver on the everyday necessities such as electricity, food, fuel and being able to provide security and jobs.

There is every chance that the rebels could split into their natural rivalries, whether religious, political or tribal. Gaddafi may have gone but the forces left behind may prove large and cohesive enough to coalesce into a significant opposition in a similar manner to the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Baathists in Iraq. Clearly, with this volatile mix, guaranteeing security will probably present the greatest challenge for post-Gaddafi Libya.

It would be a cruellest of ironies, having intervened in Libya to prevent the prospect of a failed rogue oil state on the borders of Europe, NATO through its rebel allies creates exactly that…

Gary Hollands – August 21st 2011.

*Update October 21st 2011: Yesterday, following a NATO air strike on his convoy as it was leaving Sirte, Gaddafi was captured and executed by rebels.

Notes and references

1. Caveats. As the situation is still very fluid, this article will be updated as new events are confirmed. The main conclusions however will remain.. For some further background please refer to previous articles, Libya – Observations as the uprising unfolded and Libya – Lessons of the Uprising. Apologies for the rough edges, spelling and grammatical errors, these are entirely due to my rushing this article.

2. This does seem to be a general feature with the overthrow of regimes that happen either wholly or partly with the direct military aid of external entities. This period can be as little as a few months as in the case of Iraq. I’ll expand on this subject at a later date.


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