By Ranj Alaaldin
Yesterday will always be remembered by Libyans as the prelude to the
defeat of their tyrannical dictator. After capturing Zawiyah and
Zlitan, opposition forces made a swift and audacious entry into the
capital city of Tripoli and brought an end to Colonel Moammar
Gadhafi's 41-year-old dictatorship. With the capture and defeat of
Gadhafi comes victory. Yet the road to success will be a rocky one as
the face of the victory will be defined by the events of the coming
Whether jubilation in Libya will turn into chaos and instability will
depend on two things: the extent to which regime loyalists in Tripoli
launch a fight back and the Transitional National Council's (TNC)
ability to govern effectively and establish democratic governance.
Since the TNC has so-far faced only pockets of resistance in Tripoli,
it seems like a bloody-showdown has been avoided. But the TNC has yet
to secure the city and the old regime still controls one-fifth of the
capital. Gadhafi has been preparing for this day since the outbreak of
hostilities—this is still his last stand.
Much will depend on whether, and to what extent, regime forces
assimilate themselves into a civilian population of 1.6 million to
recapture Tripoli. As time goes on, the objective may change from
recapturing the city to "resistance," with the aim of undermining the
authority of the TNC and general stability.
A similar dynamic emerged in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 Iraq
war, when coalition forces faced a potent domestic insurgency
comprised of civilians and former Baath soldiers. The instability in
Iraq was attributed to a power vacuum after the army was disbanded and
the local Sunni Arab population grew marginalized. These sentiments
were compounded by the presence of foreign forces.
By contrast, the Libyan uprising has been continually driven by
Libyans. In fact, most soldiers have defected to the opposition and,
judging by the relative stability in TNC controlled territories, they
are capable of achieving sufficient stability with the support of the
local population. There is a legitimate and indigenous undercurrent to
the Libyan conflict that has carried into Tripoli.
Whether a protracted conflict against regime loyalists is avoided also
depends on the measures the TNC adopts to integrate them and existing
state apparatuses into the new and free Libya.
The TNC's methods of incorporation will make the difference between an
environment of stable governance and one of warring splinter groups.
Unfortunately, doing so will not be easy. Gadhafi fostered a network
of patronage in the capital which secured the loyalty of certain
segments of the population. As a result, there are many political,
tribal and military circles that had—and still have—a vested interest
in his survival. It remains to be seen how the TNC will engage with
these elements and give them a stake in the future of the country.
And the integration of Gadhafi loyalists is only half of the challenge
the opposition group faces. A democratic outcome and indeed any
amnesty for regime loyalists is dependent on consensus within the TNC.
Doubts about their ability to function as a unified entity deepened
after the death of their army chief Abdel Fatah al-Younes. Although
the removal of his divisive presence helped pave the way for recent
gains, it is much easier to unite in a common cause in the face of a
common enemy. Difficulties will naturally arise when politicians,
either backed up or opposed by powerful and battle-hardened military
men, have to reconcile conflicting ideological and political
ambitions, as well as varying social and tribal affiliations.
Nevertheless, despite skepticism from many critics and regime
apologists alike (like those who called for a cease-fire), the
opposition transformed itself into an effective fighting force.
Against all odds, they are liberating a nation and overthrowing a
brutal dictatorial regime. We should, therefore, give them the benefit
of the doubt as they take on a new set of uncertainties and
This piece was first published on the Wall Street Journal website
Ranj Alaaldin is a PhD candidate at LSE and a commentator and consultant on the Middle East.