What’s next for Libya

Marketplace Staff Aug 22, 2011

What’s next for Libya

Marketplace Staff Aug 22, 2011

Bob Moon: It’s looking more and more like we can bid farewell to the dictator known as the “Mad Dog of the Middle East,” more than 40 years after Muammar Gaddafi took control of the country in a military coup. This morning, President Obama declared the rule of Gaddafi over.

His statement followed a push by opposition fighters into the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Loud and repeated gunfire could be heard over a telephone line as one of Gaddafi’s sons was being interviewed by the Al Jazeera news service. A short time later, he was reported captured by the rebels. But there’s no word of Gaddafi’s whereabouts.

To get a sense of where this seems to be headed and what it means for the people there, we turn to Prof. Mansour El-Kikhia. He’s a political science professor at the University of Texas in San Antonio, and a native of Libya. Welcome.

Mansour El-Kikhia: Thank you.

Moon: How surprised were you by the developments of this weekend and today?

El-Kikhia: I was very surprised at the speed of the push. I didn’t think it would go so fast. I was always a firm believer in “when,” not “if,” and this has been borne out. But I was a little bit worried about by the speed, and I think my worry is proving to be true, because now the revolution is finding a pushback from Gaddafi forces, and it’s causing a little bit of a headache.

Moon: You were just in Libya before the summer; you have friends and family there. How are people feeling?

El-Kikhia: Elated at the end of the Gaddafi regime. I mean, it’s really funny how people change, just given a little bit of freedom to express themselves. And I’ve seen this for the first time in Libya in many, many, many years.

Moon: If Gaddafi is ousted once and for all, what happens the next day?

El-Kikhia: I’ll tell you, it will be a joyous day once Gaddafi’s ousted, and then they have a new problem emerging: how to recreate Libya in a different vision. And that’s going to be a much, much more difficult job to do than removing Gaddafi.

Moon: Yeah, how confident are you that the rebels can stabilize the country then and build something sustainable?

El-Kikhia: I think they will. I think the intentions are quite good, and they’re not seeking power. They’re trying their best to obtain legitimacy. And very soon, they will — after Gaddafi’s removed — they will have elections to bring to power a constitutional, legitimate government to undertake the elections and the writing of the new constitution. I think they will do it.

Moon: But it’s going to be tough, isn’t it? I mean, there’s no economy to speak of other than oil.

El-Kikhia: Of course, of course, of course. But Libya never had any economy other than oil. For the last 40 years, Libya’s 99.9 percent dependent on oil. And hence, this is Libya’s dilemma for many years. Gaddafi’s rule has done little to remediate the situation.

Moon: Now most of the food is imported there; 70 percent of the population is employed by the public sector. If something happens, it has to happen fast, no?

El-Kikhia: It has to happen very fast, and the council must demonstrate that they have something better than Gaddafi to the Libyan people. They must do it very, very fast.

Moon: Now as far as building a real political and economic system in Libya, what would you like to see first?

El-Kikhia: Well, the truth is, the first thing I would really like to see is a consistent framework that allows for checks and balances that for someone, it provides some means to protect rights. And the rest will have to come over time, based on experience. Forty years is a long time; to achieve of a miracle over one year or six months is not possible. So I think two, three, four, maybe five years to have a new system in place to iron out some of the bugs, and it’s going to grow, keep on growing. That’s it. That’s what we can hope for.

Moon: When are you going to go back?

El-Kikhia: First week of next month.

Moon: And what are you hoping to find?

El-Kikhia: The chaos, but we’ll survive it. It’s a wonderful chaos.

Moon: Mansour El-Kikhia is a political science professor at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Thank you for joining us.

El-Kikhia: It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me.

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