x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Libya's fate is now in Libyans' untested hands

It is time for Libya's rebels to make good on their vows to defend the interests of their countrymen.

Democracy was never part of Col Muammar Qaddafi's worldview. "No representation of the people," he reasoned in his 1975 doctrinal Green Book. "Representation is a falsehood."

But as the sun set on Tripoli Sunday evening even Col Qaddafi must have realised how wrong he was.

Libyans have, after four decades of tyranny, risen up to represent themselves. It is now essential that Libyans be protected and counted in ways the Qaddafi regime never could or would deliver.

Urgent issues need addressing. The fate of the Qaddafis and other regime figures is one, as is maintaining the fragile unity of the opposition factions. But of far more immediate concern is the protection of Libyan citizens in the political and financial turmoil certain to surface once the euphoria of Col Qaddafi's overthrow has faded.

The death toll of the six-month conflict could be as high as 30,000 by some estimates. And continued fighting in parts of the capital is in stark contrast to the joy of the newly renamed Martyr's Square. Col Qaddafi's location is unclear; he has vowed to fight until the end. Upwards of 300,000 allied fighters may see things similarly.

A quick return to normality, if indeed such a thing ever existed in Libya, is unlikely. But it is possible to avoid prolonged bloodshed as long as disparate factions don't act on vengeful instincts.

Nato's airstrikes played a major part in ending the war. The no-fly zone mandated by the United Nations saved Benghazi from being overrun by Col Qaddaf's troops in the early days of the fight, and ultimately paved the way for the rebels' advance across the country and into Tripoli. But the international community's role should not end now.

Nato yesterday confirmed it will continue to monitor any remaining Qaddafi forces, and will bomb them if they make "any threatening moves towards the Libyan people". The introduction of international peacekeeping forces in the country, especially in Tripoli and former Qaddafi strongholds, could also guarantee regime loyalists and other innocent civilians are not targets for revenge attacks. Humanitarian aid shipments and support for capacity-building will also be needed.

Ultimately though this will be a Libyan-led reconstruction. The rebels and their political backers have told the world for months they spoke for all Libyans. Now is their time to prove it by protecting all of them from the uncertain future that awaits.