I woke up yesterday morning to reports of celebrations in the streets of Tripoli as the rebel forces marched through the streets relatively unopposed; but the scenes of jubilation betrayed the very real fact that, as of writing, the Libyan capital is still a warzone, and that Gaddafi loyalists maintain a hidden presence within the city. The future of this country hangs on a knife edge, and it is up to us now, as well as the Libyan people, to help shape the way forward for Libya and encourage it back into the arms of the international community.
What I envisage now for Libya is a process of rebuilding, and unifying the country through national dialogue and with support from the UN. A sense of unity in Libya is now the most crucial step in its struggle against oppression and is urgently required if it is not to regress into a state defined by warring factions and further bloodshed. This would represent a catastrophe for the Libyan people and a disaster for the Governments and policy makers who have thus far fuelled the transformation. The way to achieve this, however, is by allowing the Libyans to rebuild their country in a way which safeguards their own interests, not those of the West. To do this would risk replacing political oppression with corporate oppression, and present yet another opportunity for Western resentment in an area of the world which is already extremely unstable.
This sense of unity can be achieved by making the appropriate preparations for democracy and by building the infrastructure central to its establishment. Essential to the unification of the Libyan people will be both their inclusion in the governance of their own society as well as a comprehensive judicial system which is fair and independent of the Government. Patently, the National Transitional Council will need to relocate to Tripoli, it would be misguided and naive to think that governing a Libya in transition could take place from Benghazi. At the earliest possible opportunity the NTC will need to specify a time frame, preferably around six months, in which elections can be held. It will be critical, during this timeframe, that the NTC are able to show themselves to be effective in Government and not allow the aforementioned disputes between factions to dictate the future of the country.
Unification and stability will not be easy and will require some resources the Libyans do not possess. Any financial resources given to the transitional Government must be carefully targeted to maximise their effect and reduce the risk of corruption during this intermediary phase. It is my hope, however, that the transitional Government, when set up, will be able to free up some of the frozen Libyan assets, which in the UK and USA alone, equate to around $50bn. It is important to recognise that there are still tens of thousands of refugees who have fled Libya into neighbouring Tunisia who need to be re-homed after the devastation of the past six months. It is my belief that to use these frozen assets to support the Libyan people would not just unite the country, but also be symbolic of a new Libya, one in which the people are not ruled by fear or oppression, where individuals can effect change, and where the rule of law is standard.
Another important consideration for Libya is whether to put troops on the ground to ensure a lasting stability. It is of paramount importance that we do not commit UK troops to this peacekeeping effort or we risk being perceived as a state interfering with Libyan internal affairs for our own gain. Our involvement so far has been to try and prevent human rights abuses as far as possible. If ground troops are to enter the country they must have a UN mandate to do so, and, in my opinion, be from a Muslim or North African country. It is also important that the role of NATO comes to an end with the establishment of the new Government who will then be free to determine the next course of action for Libya.
There may be general agreement among MPs about the way forward for Libya, but general agreement is not enough - we need a comprehensive plan to help Libya back to its feet and encourage the kind of institutions we take for granted in our Western democracies. The path ahead for Libya will not be easy, but with the right support from the international community, and particularly the UN, I am confident the blood that has been shed in the past six months will not be in vain.