x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Early morning in Libya gives reason to hope

There are still plenty of ways in which things could go wrong in Libya, but so far the transition seems to be progressing reasonably well.

Paradoxically, a revolution's most dangerous days can come after it has succeeded. With a tyrant deposed, the unity that made victory possible can quickly desert an insurgent coalition. Looting, score-settling, banditry, sabotage, indiscipline, old-regime holdouts, factionalism and conspiracy can threaten a government-in-embryo and usher in disorder, humanitarian crisis or even the seizure of power by one well-disciplined faction.

But Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) has avoided immediate chaos. It now seems possible the NTC will obtain the legitimacy it has long sought.

To be sure, countless things could go wrong. Reports that some men have been rounded up on suspicion of being mercenaries, on the sole evidence of their skin colour, are disturbing and alarming.

And the Telegraph reported that refuse is piling up in Tripoli because NTC officials overruled their own "stabilisation team": the old-regime-friendly firm that had held the rubbish contract could not be allowed to continue. This is exactly the opposite of the keep-things-going approach supported by the stabilisation group, which spent months planning for this time. Indeed, pragmatic decisions about routine matters will convince Libyans, or not, that the NTC is capable of governing well.

The next days will tell the tale as the NTC works to get civil administration operating. Already a security council, uniting civilian leaders and top insurgent soldiers, has been named to oversee public safety in Tripoli. It says it will regularise the 40 or more rebel militia units, disbanding them or bringing them into the country's armed forces. This is a tricky business, but at least the NTC has avoided the temptation to disband the security forces en masse, an approach that has haunted America's post-war operations in Iraq.

Libya's stabilisation team is now trying to put its plans into effect countrywide, restoring services while handling the bigger challenge of combining justice and reconciliation. Indeed, most low and midlevel officials of the old regime will keep their jobs, galling to many but preferable to a breakdown of administration.

The Interior Ministry has resumed operations, and regular police are returning to work, news reports say. A new constitution and elections have been promised within 18 months. Only a few top NTC figures are in Tripoli so far but more say they will move from Benghazi this week. The oil industry is making progress toward full operation. And so on.

It is only early morning in Libya, but so far the day is dawning bright and clear.