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Alistair Thompson: Early success should fool no one that rebuilding Libya will take a long time

Alistair Thompson Alistair Thompson was Conservative candidate for West Bromwich East at the general election. He also runs Media Intelligence Partners with business partner Nick Wood, the former press secretary to Conservative leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.

With our TV screens still filled by jubilant rebels dancing in Colonel Gaddafi’s compound and elsewhere, chanting ‘freedom’ and ‘Allāhu Akbar’, it would be easy to get caught up by the euphoria of the moment.
The advance by the rebels in the last couple of weeks has been stunning and the leaders of most important western powers, UK, US and France, are rightly pleased at their achievements.
NATO forces performed brilliantly, air strikes smashed Gaddafi’s military machine and allowed the rebels to remove the dictator with minimal civilian casualties and at pace that only a few months ago was unthinkable. 
Our own PM will be happy, not least because his decision to play the key role in this operation, pushing President Obama and others to take military action has paid off. And Mr Cameron and his advisers should be proud that that their first major foreign intervention, has been a great success, proving that the UK can still play a major role on the international stage.

 So it would be easy to buy into the rhetoric that what lies ahead is the creation of pro-West liberal democracy that respects the rule of law and the human rights of every citizen, regardless of whether they were involved with the previous regime. But what we have seen is history repeating itself. In echoes of the now infamous, dead or alive speech by George Bush, a £1 million pound bounty has been put on the dictators head. Not a good sign for thing to come.
And in echoes of Iraq, Afghanistan etc, before the final shot has been fired the NTC and the NATO seem to be overplaying the level of control in the country, placing great store in the transition plan.
But this piece of paper I fear will fail and what really lies ahead is a path of hardship, violence and uneasy compromise.
Food and medical supplies are running short, there are frequent power and water cuts and rubbish collection and other basic services are not running.
So there are many problems that face the NTC, which is still based in Benghazi, signalling that they are not confident of the security situation in the capital. But the biggest challenge is whether Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil can hold together the disparate groups which have formed the rebel alliance, because the unifying force of ‘getting rid of Gaddafi’ is fading and there are few other shared objectives.  
And if there is no unifying force, cementing the rebels together, the alliance will start to unravel, resulting in a rush by the main players to seize as much power as possible prior to any negotiations.
What this will look like on the ground is a rush to seize either territory, or key assets. Given that Libya is mainly desert, I would expect to see a dash for key assets, major towns, cities and oil installations on the coast.
If this rush to seize power happens then we should expect the rebels to turn in on themselves leading to a period of instability, violence and shifting alliances.
And why do I say this? Because this is what we saw in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Once the old structures of Government have been kicked away, the absence of the police and army and without a well developed civil society Libya will descend into chaos.
I hope I am wrong, but if history teaches us anything nation-building in countries without a unified population and political structures is a long and very painful process.


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