Rebuilding the Ruins of Qaddafi

TRIPOLI – With the creation of a new government, Libya’s leaders should finally be able to focus on organizing the transition from the authoritarian state that they inherited to the more pluralistic one they envisage. But are they really able and willing to achieve that goal?

In the United States, the debate on Libya has focused on what steps its government should take next. Senator Robert Menendez argues it “must move quickly to embrace democratic reform,” while international development specialists, such as Manal Omar of the US Institute for Peace, believe that success lies in the cultivation of a vibrant civil society.

These views, however, overlook Libya’s unique history, and treat Libya as though it were just another Third World country in need of generic solutions. In fact, remedying the country’s ills requires building strong state institutions.

Since Libya achieved independence in 1951, it has been a fractured state. Rulers relied on loyal tribes and narrow cliques to prop up their regimes. Under a monarchy that led the country from 1951-1969, King Idris’s relatives and inner circle ran roughshod over fledgling state institutions. More interested in reigning than in governing, state institutions withered under Idris’s neglect.