The rebels say they believe everything will go smoothly, and they appear to have trained some police to protect sensitive infrastructure and maintain law and order. But hope is not a plan. They need to get things under
control as quickly as possible, appealing for foreign help if need be.
European governments could step up to this challenge, since they are tied to Libya via gas pipelines that float beneath the surface of the
Mediterranean. If Libya succumbs to chaos, it will be to Europe that refugees will flow, and mostly European investments in Libya that will be lost. Unfortunately, Washington seems to have allowed Europe to remain distracted with its own financial problems. There does not appear to be any serious plan for dealing with chaos in Libya, which could quickly turn into a humanitarian disaster. American boots definitely do not belong on the shores of Tripoli, but it has happened before and may happen again.
The TNC will have to be particularly alert to risks of revenge killings against Qaddafi
loyalists, and of score-settling among rebels. They have already lost
one of their military commanders, apparently to rebel-affiliated attackers
who resented his role in Qaddafi's army. In immediate post-war situations,
the urge to exact quick justice is enormous. But allowing vigilantes to even the score will only
lead to a spiral of violence that is hard to stop and inimical to democratic
Virtually overnight, the rebel leadership will need to shift its focus from fighting Qaddafi's forces to protecting them. In the past few months, the local
councils that have emerged in liberated areas have not generally allowed violence against regime supporters. But that is partly because many of Qaddafi's loyalists
have fled from newly liberated towns to Tripoli. Their concentration there
and in his hometown of Sirte is going to make the challenge of transition much greater there than anyplace else in Libya.
It is critical that regime loyalists and rebels alike do not grab and
"privatize" state assets, as often happens in chaotic moments and
takes years to reverse. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the government has been trying for years to recover valuable mines from those who took possession of them during the civil war. The liberty Libyans have fought for will require
massive rebuilding of the country's infrastructure and economy, which is in
miserable condition. Early efforts to ensure
transparency and accountability could help Libya avoid the kind of
corruption that has plagued Afghanistan and Iraq.
Only the most selfish and egotistical leader would fail to make arrangements
to transfer power and try to avoid bloodshed. Tunisia's President Zine el-Abidine ben Ali
fled, but left the country with a constitutional succession that is enabling
a relatively smooth transition. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak tried to
leave power in the hands of his vice president, a move negated only when the
army stepped in. Yemen's President Saleh has so far refused to allow a
constitutional succession, leaving his country seized with violence.
Qaddafi is still calling on his supporters to fight and vowing to restore his own version of law and order in Tripoli. This is Qaddafi's last misdeed. There is no constitution in Libya, so no clear constitutional succession. The revolutionaries have wisely written their own constitutional charter, but the real challenge will not be on paper. It will be in the avenues and alleys of Tripoli.