POMED Notes: Security Challenges to Libya’s Quest for Democracy
The Rafik Hariri Center hosted a panel discussion on Thursday (9/13) entitled, “Security Challenges to Libya’s Quest for Democracy” to discuss how the issues of security affect Libya as it continues to build its capacity for governance. The recent attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya made the discussion all the more pertinent. The panel included Dr. Karim Mezran, Senior Fellow at the Hariri Center for the Middle East; Dr. Esam Omeish, Director of the Libyan Emergency Taskforce; and Dr. William Zartman, Professor Emeritus, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University
For full event notes, continue reading below or click here for the PDF version.
Karim Mezran opened the session with a thoughtful eulogy for Ambassador Chris Stevens who died on September 11, during the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Mezran described Amb. Stevens as a man who truly cared for the Libyan people and was committed to their establishment of democratic institutions. The eulogy was followed by a brief moment of silence. Mezran surmised that the Libyans had taken too long to address their issues of terrorism, as officers had been killed in Benghazi over several weeks. He said that the government had missed several signals relating to Salafi violence, and that the consulate attacks were “no accident.” He expressed concern that Libyan leaders may be too prideful to ask for outside help. He also disagreed with interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril’s narrative that the Libyan revolution could have been successful without outside assistance. Mezran further stressed the need for Libyans to take steps towards a national reconciliation with Qaddafi loyalists.
Esam Omeish began by paying his respects for Amb. Stevens. He reiterated Dr. Mezran’s statement saying that, “Libyans and Libyan-Americans mourn the loss of Amb. Stevens, [and that] his legacy must continue in order to achieve a Libya that is [competently] governed, respects human rights, [etc.].” He discussed the destruction of Sufi shrines in Tripoli and instances of terrorism as worrying prospects for the Libyan government. He said that these events illustrate the looming absence of real security and the lack of action when it comes to issues that serve to promote further division. Omeish stressed the need to analyze the makeup of the Libyan security forces, in addition to the dizzying array of local militias. He was concerned that the subject has not been properly scrutinized, allowing command-and-control issues to fester. He was also certain that terrorists and Qaddafi loyalists are well armed with an extensive network of backers, the likes of which have the potential to bring the new Libyan government to its knees. Omeish said that extremism in the country is indicative of the proliferation of ultra-conservative religious leaders and that this issue cannot be continually pushed aside. He concluded by emphasizing the need to focus on security first, followed by an immediate initiative to promote reconciliation and development.
William Zartman began by stating that Bush and Obama both said that they were not at war with Islam. On the reverse, he said, Islam is not at war with the U.S., yet we are dealing with specific extremists groups that require a sharp response. The American people are used to viewing foreign affairs with a “get in there and fix it mentality.” However, Zartman said, “We need to stay engaged in Libya in order to help them achieve their goals, without taking the lead.” He said that the U.S. must learn from its own history, meaning that elections are not the end of the process, and that democracy is inherently messy. He further encouraged Libyan leaders to accept their own shortcomings and to address their problem areas. Zartman concluded by saying that “the Libyan government cannot allow initial weak position to become an excuse for not taking action.”
During the Q&A session, Dr. Omeish was asked about the appropriate response to the recent attacks on the U.S. embassy. He said that Libyan leaders must take swift but limited action, and that they should not allow the U.S. to lead, but instead, act as a partner. He took another question regarding the necessary benchmarks of security that must be met to allow for development and reconciliation in Libya. Omeish identified four possible benchmarks: 1) respect for the state, 2) significant buildup of the armed forces, 3) bringing key installations under state control, 4) and establishing a level of security for foreign investors and partners. Thus far, he said, Libya has not taken a measurement of any benchmarks. Dr. Zartman interjected, saying that the Libyan government must get a handle on rogue elements in the country and that development should not wait for security. North African governments are facing burning questions, most important of which are those addressing the issues of public welfare.
Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan employee of the World Bank and member of the audience, found that the Libyan government does not have the tools with which to carry out its necessary functions. He said that “Libya cannot have a government which exists on TV, while other groups control the streets.” He continued, saying that the recent attacks reflect events which came to a head, while the prime minister acknowledged that he had no control over Libya’s security forces. He urged Libyan leadership to explore options for enlisting outside help as they search for ways to institute governance. This sentiment was reflected by many on the panel, yet Dr. Mezran remained unconvinced that the authorities would be willing to ask for the help that they need.