The zero hour approaches

The tyrannous decades of rule under Colonel Moammar Gadhafi appear to be nearing their closing minutes as rebel fighters advance on the dictator’s Tripoli stronghold. The only remaining variable has shifted from Gadhafi’s ability to cling to power to what type of country it is that the National Transition Council stands to inherit.

It is right that eyes shift to the future instead of staying fixed on the horrifying past. But consideration of Gadhafi’s rule is crucial to surviving the surely imminent transition of power in Libya.

The arrogance displayed by Gadhafi, his family and his henchmen as the first inklings of discontent spawned full-scale armed insurrection was built on years of extortion and corruption that turned one of the richest nations in the region into the Middle East’s basket case. The regime’s state-sanctioned murder, detention and terrorism could not have happened without the acquiescence and even full frontal support of Western, supposedly democratic nations.

Gadhafi, after all and through undoubtedly questionable means, won a lot of supporters during his 42 years in power. Through all this, there are lessons that need to be learned by whoever inherits control of Libya, although perhaps the more pertinent previous example emanates hundreds of kilometers to the east of Tripoli.

The parallels between the fall of Saddam Hussein and the impending downing of Gadhafi are numerous and predominantly serve as advice in how not to manage a country once the dictator is ousted.

Although the wave of sectarian and terrorist killings that swept Iraq since the fall of Saddam shocked the world, it really shouldn’t have. Plans made by coalition leaders did not stretch too specifically far past toppling the leader. Libya needs to learn from the mistakes of Iraq if it is to become the country most Libyans and most of the world hopes it can be.

It is encouraging that the NTC has already spoken of its post-Gadhafi plan, which would include the establishment of a constitutional authority and internationally overseen elections. The so-called Libyan Stabilization Team also sounds promising.

But the rebels are not a homogenous bunch. They comprise myriad political types, and the country they will soon take over will contain many influential people sympathetic to the old regime. There are those who don’t want foreigners to get involved in post-Gadhafi Libya. Given the state of post-Saddam Iraq, they may be on to something.

Whatever the composition of a new administration, it needs to concentrate on administrative issues, such as the stumbling economy, damaged public services and several gutted cities in need of rebuilding.

It also needs to eschew notions of sectarianism or religious or political differences. The similarities shared by the people of new Libya – those of freedom, democracy and fairness – far outweigh the divergences.