Iraqi Libya

GENEVA – As post-revolution Libya looks ahead, Iraq looms as a perilous example. After 42 years of dictatorship, Libya, like Iraq in 2003 after the fall of Saddam Hussein, needs more than wishful thinking to become a vibrant democracy. It needs organized state-building in Tripoli – and realistic policymaking in Western capitals.

Successful transitions depend from the start on factors that are still crucially missing in Libya – a relatively cohesive leadership, an active civil society, and national unity. Without these, Libya will most likely fail to find its footing and, much like post-Saddam Iraq, suffer from persistent political division and volatile civil disorder, in addition to a multifaceted array of geopolitical pressures.

Avoiding that outcome presupposes a strong political center. But, from the start of the uprising in February 2011, Libya has been politically atomized. It lacks the sort of civil society that could have led the uprising and planted the seeds for post-authoritarian politics, as was the case in Tunisia and (more problematically) Egypt.

Libya’s transition was arguably further impeded by NATO’s intervention, as the rapid shift from a spontaneous popular uprising to an elite-led and externally supported movement prevented the revolution from following the linear course seen in Tunisia and Egypt. Thus, despite substantial international support, the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) still lacks the level of consensus needed to form a viable government.