Originally Published 2011-11-05 00:00:00 Published on Nov 05, 2011
With the Gaddafi regime in Libya becoming history, great care must now be taken to prevent the prospects of a dark, chaotic future being realised in the oil-rich North African country. If the wealth is used to create infrastructure, facilities and economic opportunities, then Libya can look forward to a stable and prosperous future.
Libya after Gaddafi - a big future

The 'liberation' of Libya is one of the few bits of good news in today's world. However, it is clear that while the Gaddafi regime has been overthrown, a number of challenges remain to confront the new Libya. Great care must now be taken to prevent the prospects of a dark, chaotic future being realised in the oil-rich North African country.

The biggest questions are - will the positive changes in Libya be sustained? Will these changes lead the Libyan people towards a prosperous and democratic future? Will these changes in Libya lead to greater stability in its adjoining regions?

Libya's future trajectories can best be understood by looking at its core physical characteristics.

When we think of Libya, the most visible feature is its vast oil reserves. Libya has around 50 billion barrels of oil reserves and an estimated 50 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas reserves. These huge reserves not only give Libya the potential for prosperity but also make it potentially one of the more important players in the energy market. Unlike other states liberated by the Arab Spring, Libya's economy is heavily dependent on oil. Libya is the world's 17th-largest oil producer. Revenues from the oil sector account for 95 per cent of its export earnings, 25 per cent of its GDP, and -most significantly - 80 per cent of its government revenue.

Libya is literally covered by the Sahara Desert. The only exception is the narrow 1,200 mile coastline bordering the Mediterranean Sea, where almost 80 per cent of its population resides. Apart from its reserves of oil and gas, Libya's desert, which receives abundant sunshine through the year, is crucial for the success of a proposed "Desertec" - a $ 550 billion scheme to harness solar power by installing giant mirrors in the Sahara desert which spreads over Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and, of course, Libya. The Sun's rays would power turbines which would generate electricity for not only local markets, but also the entire European continent. The Arab Spring this year has given a boost to the world's most ambitious solar project, which could be producing green electricity in the desert by 2015.

The critical fact, however, is that Libya, along with its huge energy potential is located in fairly close proximity to Europe - this means that much of the market in the foreseeable future will be in Europe. Thus, Libya will become increasingly tied into the European system. At the same time, there will be a tension between this movement towards Europe and Libya's natural linkages with the Arab world. Libya's new rulers would need to navigate these opposing pressures very carefully.

Another aspect of Libya's future will be focussed on Libya's location - Libya is located strategically at the northern tip of Africa and close to Southern Europe. This geographic location together with the sparse population has made Libya a passageway for migrants seeking to move from sub-Saharan Africa into Europe. Left unmanaged, such migration has the potential to destabilise several European nations; thereby creating the basis for conflict between Libya and Europe. Given the multiplicity of issues involved, migration through Libya will need to be closely watched and managed by future Libyan governments.

Then again, in demographic terms, Libya has a tiny population of around 6.5 million. However, like many of the Arab countries in its region, Libya has a particularly youthful population. Given the nature of the Gaddafi regime, large sections of Libya's population have been economically and politically marginalised for a very long period.

What these facts mean in practice is that significant sections of the already religious Libyan population have, over the years, gravitated towards religion as an identity and as a channel of expression. A few Libyans from within this constituency even participated in the Afghan Jihad and now form a part of the forces that overthrew the Gaddafi regime. Expectedly, like all other Libyans they are now articulating their own vision of the future Libyan state - in which they see Islamic law as the guiding principle.

Thus, Libya has a large constituency that believes in a positive role for tradition and religion in their government. This will inevitably create opportunities for tension between modernity and tradition. Libya's future constitution will need to take cognisance of and manage this tension in order for Libya to have a stable future.

The National Transition Council (and successor Governments) will thus be under constant pressure - not only from Islamic groups and parties but also from the various factions till now held together by the objective of getting rid of the Gaddafi regime. Each of these groups will now begin wanting to determine the course of Libya's future. In the process, they will want to lessen the role of other factions and the age-old processes of nepotism and corruption will have as much room to flourish as they did before - only the faces would have changed.

Overcoming these potential problems would require huge efforts towards creating a national identity and sense of purpose. The manner in which this tension is managed will also determine the success of Libya's Democracy in the future.

More than the importance Libya has as an energy producer, these huge reserves would also translate into vast revenues for the state. It is precisely at this point that Libya's problem began the last time round when the essentially tribal Gaddafi regime captured control over the state and over its resource wealth. This control was not vested in a transparent - equitable governance mechanism but in the hands of the Gaddafi family and of its cronies. Given this access to untold wealth, the regime consolidated its strangle hold on the country through patronage to its supporters and brutal repression of its opponents and challengers.

Thus, Libya's wealth would require the government to make strenuous efforts to ensure that all sections of the population partake of the country's prosperity. Moreover, the mechanisms of sharing this prosperity will also be important. If Libya remains trapped in the rentier frame of mind then the benefits will be short-lived. If however, the wealth is used to create infrastructure, facilities and economic opportunities, then Libya can look forward to a stable and prosperous future.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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