With Khadafy gone, are the rebels ready to lead?

I’ve covered stories in Libya several times, and interviewed the late Moammar Khadafy​ on a few of those visits.

On Thursday, 9News asked me to talk about him on the day he was caught and killed. “What’s next for Libya?” I was asked. My answer was, “If I sit here and actually tell you what’s next for Libya, kick me out of the room.”

No doubt, plenty of experts will authoritatively tell us anyway. But here’s why they shouldn’t: No one knows. And if you don’t believe that, consider this: At the beginning of this year, you could have asked that question to the leaders of the very nations where rebellions rose up — Khadafy in Libya, Mubarak of Egypt, Assad in Syria, Ben Ali in Tunisia, Saleh of Yemen — and they themselves didn’t have a clue … even though each one had eyes and ears on every street corner of his country.

So we can only guess about what’s next, and we can only base those guesses on our experience. Mine, covering many nations rent by revolution, is that a whole spectrum of opinions and ideologies bands together to fight a common foe. The Arab adage is, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But that bond sometimes doesn’t last beyond the last rifle shot. One thing we know about Libya is some of the rebels who fought shoulder-to-shoulder were guys who, before the revolution, wouldn’t have sat at the same table together.

History also shows that when so many have waited so long for a place at the table, they’ll push everyone else out of the way to get a chair. Such conflicts can torment a nation.

What’s more, those who speak now for Libya liberally use the word “democracy.” However, that means different things to different factions. For some, it means American-style freedoms of everything from speech to religion to opportunity. But for others, democracy means too much freedom — the freedom to upset moral and cultural norms that have stood them well for millennia.

I never went to Libya without meeting someone who told me, “Oh, I have a brother living in the United States,” or, “My son is going to college in your country.” There is not the kind of intellectual vacuum in Libya that I’ve seen in less sophisticated countries like Afghanistan, Sudan or Yemen, a vacuum that can enable the radical forces of terror to gain a dominant hold on power. Quite simply, Libya has an educated and comfortable middle class whose lives have gotten better these past few decades — and they know it wasn’t thanks only to the force of Allah.

But now that the rebel factions must actually govern, they face a problem. For 40 years, Libya was a one-man show, with Khadafy at the top of everything: government, military, business, oil. Under his leadership, there was no individual initiative. Not even individual sports; everything had to be a team endeavor, everything had to be in the collective.

That’s one reason he stayed in power so long: He didn’t permit the organization of any kind of civic group that might grow into organized opposition. Every decision about people’s lives emanated from the top.

The new Libya is born without a skeleton to build on. That’s worrisome. On the other hand, the new Libya is born without a legacy to emulate. That’s encouraging.

Greg Dobbs
Covered foreign stories for more than 30 years, first as is a correspondent for ABC News, then for HDNet television.

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