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As Gaddafi’s reign ends, the work of creating democracy in Libya begins | Alaa al-Ameri

The new leaders will become very powerful, very quickly. For democracy to take root, it is vital Libyans hold them to account

The long battle to remove the Gaddafi family from power is nearing its end. Now the real work begins.

The country must be run, peacefully, by the National Transitional Council (NTC) – a body mostly composed of returned exiles and technocrats from the old regime – through a period of post-conflict stabilisation, to be followed, it is hoped, by democratic elections and the formation of Libya’s first ever freely elected government.

By historical standards the task ahead is daunting – Libya must become the first oil-rich Middle Eastern secular democracy. If your first reaction to that is “what about Iraq?”, let’s have a quiet chat when the others have gone.

The NTC has won wide acceptance, and in many respects has performed admirably, but it remains more a collection of fiefdoms than a coherent governing body.

Well before the arrival of the rebels in Tripoli, many Libyans in the free areas of the country had become disillusioned with what they saw as the council’s lack of leadership, its shambolic performance, ineffectiveness and lack of transparency. The council’s inability to prevent or meaningfully investigate the murder of Abdel Fattah Younes, former commander-in-chief of the armed forces, did nothing to allay these concerns.

And yet the council has been given a relatively easy ride up until now because it was the political face of the fight against Gaddafi. This must stop here. Now that it is about to assume authority over the whole of Libya, it must also assume the burden of intense scrutiny that comes with it.

The early political successes of the NTC were due to the urgent need for international acceptance. This pressure helped to produce commitments to limit power and set out a clear vision for a post-Gaddafi Libya based on the rule of law and universal human rights. Now that the NTC is swimming in international recognition, from where will it receive the degree of pressure required to keep it honest?

Most of the NTC’s failings so far have been caused by inexperience, incompetence or misguided clashes of ego between otherwise good-willed and relatively benign officials. These faults are forgivable and easily remedied. Within its ranks, however, as well as on its periphery, are to be found the amoral, the personally ambitious and the ideologically extreme.

As with the road to Tripoli, the path to democracy and genuine human freedom in Libya must be forged by the Libyan people. Although the NTC is the public face of this revolution, it is not the revolution itself. The fall of Tripoli and the liberation of Libya began in February with the cries of ordinary people across the country for individual rights and for the wealth of Libya to be used in the interests of its people.

By July, a young Benghazi resident, complaining to me about what he saw as the hijacking of power by returned exiles and old regime officials, summed up the role of the young in Libya’s revolution: “We clean the streets, paint the walls and die in the desert.”

It is for the Libyan people to hold the NTC accountable, but they will need help in doing so. With access to vast unfrozen assets and oil wealth, the NTC will become very powerful very quickly. This must be countered by a concerted effort to monitor the usage of funds and to empower civil society within Libya.

Despite popular cliches, democratic rights are not instinctive. They are not granted by God or anyone else. They are earned through the kind of sacrifice we’ve witnessed in Libya over the past six months.

As a result, people who have been subjected to decades of violent autocratic rule tend to maintain an excessive level of subservience to authority long after their liberation. The only way to remove it is to educate people about their rights. Libyans must be aware at all times that the NTC members are their subordinates, not their superiors.

Institutions that provide a counterbalance to power must be developed and strengthened at all cost. A genuinely diverse, independent and free media must be jealously protected against all encroachment. The same international networks that bred the Arab spring will become an essential resource for the development of homegrown democratic social institutions.

As we celebrate, we should remember that Gaddafi himself rode to power on a wave of populist euphoria. As attractive as it is to imagine that our troubles are behind us, we must bear in mind that we are inheriting a country with no functioning institutions, set within a volatile region and cursed with an economic resource that for most countries has spelt nothing but misery.

In the past months, when people complained that those supporting us were only after our oil, my instinctive response was “take every last drop of the damned stuff”. As far as I’m concerned, if someone could suck every ounce of oil and gas from the Libyan desert tomorrow, I’d be as relieved as a patient having a boil lanced.

As it is, no such remedy is available. And so we must manage the condition. Those who have supported us until now must stay on our side and help to win the greater battle – to become the world’s first democratic Middle Eastern oil economy. If we fail it is entirely possible that we will one day look back on the Gaddafi years with as much nostalgia as some Iraqis remember Saddam. But if we succeed, well, I don’t have the words to express what that future will look like. Let’s reconvene in 10 years and compare notes. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds