As Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) forces continue their invasion of Tripoli, we speak to CIGI experts Gordon Smith, Bessma Momani and Mark Sedra about what steps the rebel alliance, and global governance bodies, should take to restore order after the seemingly inevitable demise of the Muammar Gadhafi regime.

CIGI: Though fighting in Tripoli continued throughout the beginning of this week, it seems only a matter of time before the forces of the NTC are in control of the capital, and the rest of the country. With such a rapid and somewhat unexpected deterioration of resistance, what are the first steps the NTC should take to reconcile their own internal divisions and begin to govern Libya?

Gordon Smith: They’re going to have a number of challenges. One is what to do with Gadhafi, depending on whether he’s alive or not. My guess is that he won’t be, or that he will have fled the country. And there are also his sons — are they to be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) or in Libya? One of the things that the NTC has to look at is how they consolidate their position in the country. They haven’t needed to agree on a lot so far, aside from removing Gadhafi, but they will have to decide who they can use from his regime, whether it’s police, the civil service or otherwise. The NTC will have huge resources at their disposal though — billions and billions of dollars — which of course is a great advantage.

Bessma Momani: The good news is that the NTC has had a good six months to practise governing, and they’ve done a lot to try and seek unity among the various factions. There will be some jockeying for power, but there is more possibility of unity in this initial phase than one would expect. The real challenge will be a disarmament policy and that gets the guns out of the hands of non-professional rebels who are not soldiers. One of the things that the NTC has proclaimed is that there’s a constitution that’s been drafted. In the constitution, they are enshrining the right of political parties. The questions will be: When will an election take place? How much time will political parties have to organize? I think we need to wait until the Gadhafi regime is overthrown. But when the NTC is able to demonstrate how far it’s gone in organizing, I think we’re going to be more impressed than disappointed.

Mark Sedra: First of all, the NTC will have to establish an interim government to administer the country until free and fair elections can be held. Libya is a diverse country — whether on tribal, sectarian or ideological lines — so, they’ll have to establish an inclusive government that might even include some officials from the Gadhafi regime. It would be a mistake to purge the government of all officials who worked for the previous regime as was done in Iraq through de-Ba'athification. This only deprived the Iraqi state of some of its most qualified civil servants and crystallized anti-regime sentiment. The NTC will also have to decide what to do in terms of transitional justice. Do they hand over Gadhafi, his sons and other high-level regime loyalists to the ICC or do they hold domestic trials? The first few days and weeks of such fragile transitions are critical and will set the tone for the new regime. Order must be restored, preventing the type of looting, revenge killings and sectarian violence that we saw in Iraq.

CIGI: As the conflict in Libya wore on, anti-Gadhafi forces gradually acquired more recognition de-Ba'athification de-Ba'athificationin — in particular from countries in NATO and the G8 — and are now armed and supported by many in the international community. With Gadhafi now effectively marginalized, what can global governance structures continue to do to ensure a peaceful transition to a more democratic Libya?

Smith: First of all, I wanted to underline just how much has been done already. It has surprised me how little reporting has been done on Canada’s role in this conflict; there has been more than a thousand flights over Libya by Canadians planes — everything from surveillance aircraft to CF-18s — which is quite extraordinary. As I said, there isn’t a need for the international community to inject massive resources into Libya, but they will certainly need expertise in getting refineries up and running and fixing the various things that are destroyed after six months of conflict. It’s important that Libyans themselves decide how to go about constituting a national assembly, but the international community should be there to assist with technical expertise, when asked, in the creation of a new form of government.

Momani: The Libya Contact Group, which involves various NATO countries and their aid agencies, so the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department for International Development (DFID) and others are already playing a role in this, and the World Bank’s Robert Zoellick has already committed to assisting the NTC. All of those insights are important to providing the type of expertise that’s needed, but on an ad hoc, requested basis. I think that’s key and sets it apart from what we saw, for example, in Iraq. This is more of a bottom-up situation, where the NTC is requesting helps when it needs it. So if, for example, if it needs to learn more about the best practices of tax collection it can go to the World Bank or, in this case, most likely the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and request that through the Libya Contact Group. It will be a lot of good advice and they can pick and choose what is appropriate for the local context. All of that makes sure that this is a different kind of situation than what we saw in the past, which is a failed nation-building policy.

Sedra: The international community can provide crucial financial assistance and advisory support to facilitate Libya’s democratic transition. Some have called for the deployment of a peacekeeping force in the aftermath of Gadhafi’s fall to provide security space for the transition. I think deploying international troops would be a mistake. NATO has played an indispensible role in the rebel victory, but deploying boots on the ground could have the effect of framing the struggle as an international rather than a Libyan one. The overthrow of Gadhafi should and must be understood as a Libyan achievement. This is vital for a healthy and legitimate political transition.

CIGI: With another "Arab Spring" country on the path to regime change, will this give impetus to other active protest movements, particularly in Syria and Yemen? Are other regimes in North Africa at risk?

Smith: There’s no doubt that the imminent fall of Gadhafi is going to have an impact on Syria. It’s going to further confirm to the Syrian people that they can succeed in overturning Bashar al-Assad. But let’s look closer to Libya — Egypt is still far from over, and frustration is growing that the military is still in control there. Libya has shown us that a rebel movement can overcome a military regime. I’m not saying that’s still to come in Egypt, but the enthusiasm throughout the region will be heightened. Morocco is interesting to watch — the king there has handled matters quite well. They are advancing the process of democratic reform, so events in Libya may have less impact there. It’s important to note that all these countries are very different, so while events in one place can affect another, each situation has to be looked at individually.

Momani: Absolutely, it’s going to embolden the Syrian or Yemeni protest movements. The rest are pretty dormant, but this is definitely going to give them more impetus to fight. But I think there is a lesson in the Libyan case that shows that without NATO’s heavy involvement, it could not have been done. So initially, I think there will be more requests from Arab Spring protests to have NATO get involved. But I suspect that after seeing how difficult it was and how drawn out it was to get rid of Gadhafi, NATO powers will be less than anxious to help on other fronts. If other regimes are already deep into this like Bashar Assad, where he’s already persona non grata in the international community, I think this will make him want to be more oppressive, ironically. But in situations where the protest movement hasn’t yet taken hold, I think the impetus will be to be more reformist. So we can see, for example, in Morocco and Jordan, two kings who are working very hard to provide as much reform as possible to their people to placate them from taking to the streets.

Sedra: Each state in the region is very different and faces different political dynamics. Gadhafi’s ouster is sure to generate momentum for protest movements across the Middle East, many of which had seemed to stall as the war dragged on in Libya, the opposition in Bahrain was suppressed and the Syrian regime began their violent crackdown. This may give the Arab Spring a shot in the arm. But of course, each movement is unique and it is difficult to predict the causal impact of the dramatic events in Libya on the region as whole. What is clear is that we are still in the early stages of these revolutions and there is no guarantee that any of them will succeed.

"When the NTC is able to demonstrate how far it’s gone in organizing, I think we’re going to be more impressed than disappointed." - Bessma Momani
The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.
  • CIGI Senior Fellow Bessma Momani has a Ph.D. in political science with a focus on international political economy and is full professor and interim assistant vice‑president of international relations at the University of Waterloo.

  • A former Canadian deputy foreign minister, NATO ambassador and G7/G8 Sherpa, Gordon Smith is a leading expert on the evolution of the G20 and global summitry.