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Leader: In Libya, peace will be harder than war

THE future of Libya without Muammar Gaddafi need not be as bleak as commentators have warned. The nature of his passing, still unconfirmed at the time of going to press, will have a bearing on the transfer of power. The first challenge for his successor will be how to deal with the cadre of committed and heavily armed supporters which the former leader gathered around himself. There will be a desire to hold members of the outgoing government accountable for its repressive and violent acts; but, as in Iraq, the regime has been so long in power that few outside the inner circle have had any experience of managing the country and its resources.

The conduct of the National Transitional Council (NTC) so far gives grounds for hope. The territory won during the rebellion is relatively peaceful, as is the the NTC leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil. He was justice minister under Colonel Gaddafi until February this year, but managed none the less to impress Amnesty International and other agencies by his attempts to use the law to protect opposition members from arbitrary judgments. On Tuesday, he included himself in those who would have to be accountable for their actions under Colonel Gaddafi.

The question that the international community has never been able to answer satisfactorily is whether a repressive but stable nation is preferable to a free but unstable one. Far too many illegitimate governments have been supported by the great powers, occasionally for ideological, but largely for commercial, reasons. The courting of Colonel Gaddafi in recent years has been linked closely to the country’s oil reserves. But political scruples can come at a high price. The present state of the Congo, for example, shows how the quality of life of ordinary citizens can deteriorate to such an extent that many look back wistfully to the time when it was a Belgian colony, despite the brutality and injustice of that era.

The answer, naturally enough, is to try to avoid these extremes of repression and anarchy. There are, similarly, more weapons in the diplomatic arsenal than the extremes of collusion and neglect. In Libya, there appears to be a will to establish a liberal democracy, shaped by Islam but with greater tolerance than has been seen in other Arab states. The example of Egypt has shown that, in order for such principles to prevail, they need to be accompanied by material improvements for the electorate. This, supremely, is where the Western nations can help. After a war that has cost a billion or two, it makes economic as well as moral sense to invest similar sums in helping to rebuild Libya. Whether the present gov­ern­ment can sell this idea to its own electorate remains to be seen.

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