21 Oct 2011

Gaddafi’s gone – but what next for Libya?

As Colonel Gaddafi’s body lies in a fridge in Misrata, Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum meets the men who captured him hiding in a drainage pipe – which is now a symbol of new Libya.

The liberation of Libya will be declared within 48 hours in Benghazi, following the revolution that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.

The chairman of the ruling National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, will make the announcement, now expected on Sunday.

Meanwhile a row has erupted over what to do with the bodies of Gaddafi and his son Mutassim, currently being kept in cold storage. The United Nations has said it wants a full investigation into the circumstances of Colonel Gaddafi’s death before his burial, which under Islamic tradition should be as soon as possible.

Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum has spent the day with the fighters from Misrata who caught Colonel Gaddafi on Thursday.

One of them, Omram Sheibani, said: “I saw him face to face. He was bleeding and not fully conscious. I took my Kalashnikov and said ‘Allah Akbar’ and jumped on top of him. I captured him in seconds.

“For the first time in my life I saw Gaddafi in the flesh, after nine months of war in which so many died.

“He sounded just he does on television, and he said ‘What’s happening, what’s happening?'”

Sun sets on Gaddafi era
They took me to see some of the things that they had taken from him - his shoes, his assault rifle, and his solid gold pistol.
I picked it up and was amazed at how heavy it was. The inscription said: "The sun will never set on the Al Fattah revolution."
That's the revolution or rather the coup, that brought Gaddafi to power in 1969. Well, it has set. And Libyans are grateful that those days are over.
Read more from Lindsey Hilsum: Gaddafi's golden gun and a new Libya

What next for Libya?

But amid the celebrations in Libya after Gaddafi’s death was a telling warning for the new leaders hoping to build a democratic, peaceful society.

In the months of conflict leading up to Gaddafi’s demise, every rebel success has been marked by jubilant fighters firing their guns into the air, a powerful demonstration of joy and freedom – but a dangerous one.

When Gaddafi died, such a hail of happy bullets was expected that National Transitional Council (NTC) Mahmoud Jibril felt he had to warn Libyans not to fire their weapons in this way because of the risks when the bullets fall back to earth.

The fact that everyone has got guns is a big issue. Analyst David Hartwell

In this statement lies a worrying truth for the future – months of conflict have left Libya as a largely militarised society. Or as senior Middle East analyst at IHS Jane’s, David Hartwell, put it to Channel 4 News: “The fact that everyone has got guns is a big issue.”

Gaddafi's gone - but what next for Libya? (Getty)

Factions and tribes

Mr Hartwell explained that many factions and tribes feel that their contributions were key in the fight to get rid of Gaddafi – and the fact that they all remain armed makes this a more inflammable situation.

So there needs to be a disarmament process – as well as a reconciliation process between the many, many different interests who united briefly to oust the leader.

“These are the guys who did the fighting and dying and so they feel they have an interest and can push their agenda,” he said.

Read more: How did Colonel Gaddafi die?

Libya is a tribal nation and always has been, but the NTC itself has also formed around groups who fought against Gaddafi, such as the Benghazi fighters, and the Misrata militia. Then groups such as the Berbers in the mountains also contributed to the fighting, and have their own agenda. And this balancing act has to happen amid the leaders of the transitional council stepping down, as they have promised.

Moreover, even the interests of the groups who fought against the NTC will have to be represented if peace is to be maintained, a government and constitution formed, and elections eventually held, Mr Hartwell said.

Political heritage

But forming a government – the most immediate challenge – requires more than just unity. It also requires political institutions and political will – something Gaddafi’s Libya did not have.

“There is no political heritage, no political culture, no political institutions. In theory they existed under Gaddafi but in practice they didn’t, so the biggest challenge is building a political culture. No one has been able to vote on anything for 40 years,” said Mr Hartwell.

He said the new leaders have to build this culture – which will take years – while at the same time keeping groups within the NTC happy.

“They have to do this at the same time as keeping people happy to stop them spilling out onto the streets. The real risk is not from Gaddafi loyalists, but from groups within the NTC who feel they are not getting a slice of the pie.”

Reasons to be optimistic

However Mr Hartwell said there are reasons to be optimistic, not least because the TNC has been doing a reasonably good job so far, for example in maintaining things the population needs for its daily life.

It is state building, trust me. David Hartwell

“They have kept law and order but also they have kept the services running and that’s key – gas, electricity, water – it’s hard to overestimate the effect it had in Iraq on the insurgency. It was tremendously powerful, it turned a lot of the Iraqi population against the Americans.

“Mundane things like that are incredibly important,” he said.

Libya can also rely on its wealth, as well as international assistance, to move forward. However he said the next few months will be key.

“There have been no large-scale expressions of discontent against the TNC either – maybe they are still wrapped up in defeating Gaddafi. That’s done now – the next few months with all these issues and vested interests will come to the fore.

“Moving from the military phase to the political phase – state building, and it is state building, trust me – will be a challenge. It’s not like Tunisia or Egypt where there were institutions, but they just didn’t work. In Libya there was only the green book – Gaddafi’s idiosyncratic witterings on life, the universe and everything.”

But he said he remained positive.

“The fact is, there is a lot of goodwill, rightly or wrongly, there is a lot of unity and the TNC has to harness that in a good way,” he said.