After Gaddafi, What Comes Next for Libya?

Edward M. Gabriel (Ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001)


It is important to note that the outcomes in Libya could be more important to the United States than many pundits have predicted, with the Obama Administration implementing a very deft policy in this regard.


President Obama insisted that the NATO assert its leadership, with the United States playing  behind-the-scenes leadership, supply, and technology roles. The President enlisted the endorsement and participation of Arab countries, including Qatar, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates, among others in this effort, demonstrating an emerging Obama doctrine of utilizing multilateral means to solve contentious foreign policy issues and military engagements.
Events in Libya will also be more strategically important to US interests than previously believed. With the fall of Gaddafi regime, North Africa, except Algeria, has made the irreversible choice of reform and political openness.  And Algeria cannot continue its military autocracy for long under such circumstances. The countries of North Africa are among the most important to Europe, because of geography (Morocco is nine miles from Spain), strategic energy assets, pipelines and electric transmission, the impact of South-North migration, and investments made through the Barcelona Process to incentivize MENA countries most likely to succeed. Morocco was the first to achieve special partner status with the EU, and Tunisia and Egypt are targeted as among the most  important players in the region in terms of reform and strategic importance.


At least four overlapping issues must be addressed in the next year.  Reconciliation is vital among the various opposition parties and between the opposition and regime supporters who must demonstrate their commitment to the new government. A working consensus for action must be found, carefully balancing retribution with reconciliation.


Next is control of the weapons in which Libya is awash and which are spreading throughout the Sahel and into the Maghreb by groups who were mercenaries for Gaddafi. In this regard, the United States and European Union need an inclusive Sahel strategy to address the issue involving the Maghreb,  especially Morocco as it is currently the only government in North Africa that is progressive, stable, and a solid security ally.


Most visibly, the process of enabling a government infrastructure and procedures must be supported by the international community. The Transitional National Council (TNC) has defined a preliminary process beginning with electing a constitutional drafting commission to elections and a new government, all of which should take time and thoughtful analysis and an interim caretaker government.   The needed expertise, resources, and capacity building can come from the international community, including Arab countries, if non-competing and non-contradictory assistance modalities can be established quickly.


The G-8 announced a massive $38 billion plan in this regard for the countries currently undergoing regime change, and smartly added Morocco and Jordan. This insightful decision banks on the potential winners in the region and models for reform, as opposed to past policies that doled out money unconditionally, without rewarding countries implementing successful reforms. Additionally, Morocco and Jordan, in partnership with western countries, can lend their own experiences to their Arab neighbors in reform building measures and the promotion of civil society.


Finally, economic development must start immediately. Libyans are entrepreneurial people. They will create and restore their internal markets quickly but need to have cooperation from public-private partnerships to generate widespread opportunities for access to products, services, financing, and jobs. Economic strategies must apply to all of Libya as part of the strategy of reconciliation and enabling stability. The United States and the international community have the knowhow and will benefit from new markets. If we don’t do it, the Chinese will. So the maxim of mutual interests supporting mutual values cannot be delayed by conflicts over who are the “special friends” of Libya. And a lesson from Iraq  cannot be ignored—the engine for economic growth should be the Libyan people and companies. It is time to end the role of outside contractors who do not contribute to jobs and opportunities for Libyans.


The United States has announced an innovative policy for North Africa, the US-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO), which assists entrepreneurial and startup companies and intra-regional private sector partnerships to provide stronger economic cooperation, trade, and investment, and political trust across the Maghreb.  As NAPEO expands in 2012, it is a great time to embrace our newest ally and friend, Libya, through this opportunity. Additionally, the US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement is a potential launch pad to channel greater cooperation, investment, and trade among the Maghreb countries.


In summary, I do not know what the future will hold for Libya or North Africa, but I do know there is a small window of opportunity to advance reforms and political openness, if the United States realigns its thinking to involve all actors in the international community in a massive effort, and banks on and rewards countries that have already taken the irreversible path to democratic change.