By Clotilde Asangna

This essay offers a basic framework for analyzing Libyan democratization by looking at the deficit of a modern (post-modern) political transition élite and the potential of civil society.



1. The (Un)Democratic Concept

How well are existing theories equipped to explain the ongoing trajectories of the Libyan transition? Is Libya inherently undemocratic?

Even though Indonesia, Turkey, Mali, Bangladesh, and Senegal have been cited as Islamic democracies, there exists a wide range of scholars who maintain that democracy is not compatible with Middle Eastern politics, culture and religion.

Scholars who hold this argument often fall into two categories. The first group see Arabic cultures as an impediment to democratization.

While the second category speak of Arabic cultures as innately prone to irrationality and violence. However, there exists a third category that holds that Islam is “the other democracy”.

Finally, there are others who maintain that the so-called Arabic exceptionalism is the result of certain explicit anti-democratic religious and cultural structures.

Not only do these religious and cultural structures render civilization and globalization resilient to democratic ideals and norms, but also to diversity, capitalism, and modernism.

The ideal political system is democratic “to the extent that its most powerful collective decision makers are selected through fair, honest, and periodic elections”.

However, some scholars Huntington does not point out in the Third Wave of Democratization, that to go beyond this minimalist definition and label a country democratic only because it guarantees free and fair elections is to turn the notion of democracy into a fragmented noun, rather than a holistic descriptive category.

Huntington treats democracy as an isolated concept separate from other political structures like rule of law and human rights. A successful democracy is reliant on its ability to live up to the democratic ideals that brought it to power.

Democratic elections by Huntington’s standard can result in partiality, hence undemocratic governments, if the turnout is poor.

The poor turnout at the parliamentary elections in Libya was an indication that democracy was about to be constructed on fragile grounds.

Security conditions restricted movement and made it impossible for members of the electoral commission to coordinate elections in all parts of the country.

Huntington advances a conventional definition of democratic elections as “elections, open, free and fair, are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non.

Governments produced by elections may be inefficient, corrupt, shortsighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good.

These qualities make such governments undesirable, but they do not make them undemocratic”. By this standard, elections have the obligation to be free and fair to be categorized as a majoritarian democracy.

Libya is proof that Huntington‟s definition of democratic elections is only coherent and will guarantee legitimacy only if elections are open, free, fair and encompassing a majority of the adult population.

Libya has had two elections yet failed to reinstate functioning democratic structures and institutions.

The election of governing bodies has amounted to little overall growth of the state, as the government of Abdallah al-Thinni (in the Eastern city of Bayda) failed in its duty to exercise firm control of the military forces and corrupt practices continued to thrive under his leadership.

Also, a successful democracy requires some degree of freedom of expression and assembly; unfortunately, both variables are still under construction even with the end of Qaddafi‟s regime.

In addition, Huntington’s democratization process is crafted in three stages:

(a) bringing about the end of the nondemocratic regime,

(b) the inauguration of the democratic regime, and

(c) the consolidation of the democratic system.

While the undemocratic regime of Qaddafi was brought to end and replaced with a transitional government, the most important stage–consolidation of the democratic system–has yet to pick up momentum.

Electoral institutions are not yet in place, and liberal democracy is chiefly fragile.

Inaugurating and consolidating the democratic system has been near impossible not because of Islam or the Arabic culture, but because a large pre-modern state éliteis failing to install itself democratically, resulting in national security problems, the survival of the Jamahiriya and economic instability.

The Libyan case challenges well-defined theories of democratization because the structural legacy of the old regime that survived are extremely difficult to reform or even reverse.

The absence of a long-term democratic leader coupled with lack of institutions aimed at guiding effective resource distribution has enabled the gradual collapse of the state in the aftermath of Qaddafi’s fall.

Democratizing Libya will only be possible “when the balance of power begins to tip against the state élites, and a greater parity develops between their powers and those of social actors” (Kamrava).

Even though Libya is caught in political, economic and military disorganization, this essay demonstrates that society has yet to abandon the quest for democracy.

2. Dynamics of the Libyan Transition

There no doubt exists vast amounts of literature that point to the fragile security structure and struggling economic growth as having hampered the Libyan transition to democracy.

Both variables have been instrumental in forming the dynamics of Libyan democratization. However, this section is not a discussion of the activities of militias, extremist groups or the deteriorating security atmosphere in Libya, but a follow-up on the economic and social climate following the collapse of the old order.

Changes in the economy of the transitioning nation are important to the democratization process because economic development (among other variables) brings about and sustains democracy.

The main purpose of this section is to introduce and defend principles of analysis regarding the plausibility of the survival of democracy in post-Qaddafi Libya.

The success of every democracy is partly dependent on specific socio-economic stipulations. Economic development encompasses urbanization, education, industrialization and wealth.

Wealth was evident in Qaddafi‟s Libya, and industrialization was forthcoming. Huntington cites Libya among authoritarian governments that ensured economic prosperity, despite the coercive relationship between state and society.

Libya was considered wealthy and encompassing of a literate society relative to typical war-torn nations in the developing world. As such, there were expectations for Libya to recover its economy and transition quickly–one of the reasons for the NTC’s short-term reconstruction strategy for post-conflict Libya.

On paper, Libya was financially capable of covering the cost of post-war reconstruction. Nevertheless, failure to ensure national security adversely affected economic recovery, as militias and extremists seized control of oil production facilities.

Fallouts in the security sector eventually resulted in lower oil production and foreign investments, which forced the country into recession in 2016 as noted by the World Bank Group report.

Faced with recession, the GNA will require foreign investment and aid, until the state can once more depend on oil production. With increased oil production, the state will still be tasked with industrialization, diversification and privatization (requisites for capitalism).

Another premodern administrative technique that further marred Libyan democratization was corruption.

The transitioning Libyan state suffers from distributive capitalism. The end of Qaddafi’s regime did not result in the end of corruption in Libya.

Corruption is predominantly manifested in the post-revolutionary administration and public sector. Corruption in post-Qaddafi Libya is among the main causes accounting for why the transition regime in Libya has been incapable of accomplishing its socio-economic and developmental objectives.

The absence of a modern state structure for a coherent and suitable distribution of state resources and power has created economic and social imbalance. The transition state elite’s distributive largesse was adopted from the Qaddafi administration.

Qaddafi was more concerned with spending income generated from the distribution of raw material to quell political discontent, than enforcing socio-economic growth.

This system of administration was challenging (then and problematic now) because “if predefined social institutions are founded on weak collective interests when state building commences, their common identities have the likelihood to be easily obliterated through the state’s distributive largesse”.

In “distributive states” state and local domains emerge not as agents to extract wealth but to spend it. Under favorable conditions, state-building efforts are challenging.

In the Libyan case, the challenge is further compounded by the inexperience of the new government and minimal western support. Libya has a long road ahead, but basic state-building efforts are required for the completion of the democratization process.

While the development of specific solutions is beyond the scope of this paper, I will quickly sketch out one plausible starting point.

The post-revolutionary government needs to adopt modern problem-solving skills to target the economics of the country. In this regard, governmental institutions have been installed to ensure that the daily efforts of millions of working civilians are transformed into real growth.

There is a newly formed Libyan Audit Bureau aimed at targeting mismanagement of public funds and corruption. However, these efforts are primordial for a state that is dependent on hydrocarbon revenues for socio-economic welfare.

There is an urgent need to make allowances for a macro-fiscal strategy with a dependable fiscal statute addressing Libya’s economic objectives.

Another way to diversity the economic sector, attract foreign direct investment and generate revenue is to expand non-oil industries like tourism, technology and construction.

To this end, the government can set-up an investment fund to finance the development and expansion of such industries.

to continue …


Clotilde Asangna – A researcher in History of Humanitarianism and Human Rights, History of Philosophy and Quantitative Social Research. Clotilde has published papers and opinion editorials on topics relating to the MENA region, Arab Spring, transatlantic relations, human rights and identity politics in “third” states.


Source: IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) – Volume 24, Issue 6.






Related Articles