With the end of the Moammar Gadhafi regime seemingly in sight, it is an opportune time to step back and revisit one of the themes we discussed at the beginning of the crisis: What comes after the Gadhafi regime?
As the experiences of recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan have vividly illustrated, it is far easier to depose a regime than it is to govern a country. It has also proved to be very difficult to build a stable government from the remnants of a long-established dictatorial regime. History is replete with examples of coalition fronts that united to overthrow an oppressive regime but then splintered and fell into internal fighting once the regime they fought against was toppled. In some cases, the power struggle resulted in a civil war more brutal than the one that brought down the regime. In other cases, this factional strife resulted in anarchy that lasted for years as the iron fist that kept ethnic and sectarian tensions in check was suddenly removed, allowing those issues to re-emerge.
As Libya enters this critical juncture and the National Transitional Council (NTC) transitions from breaking things to building things and running a country, there will be important fault lines to watch in order to envision what Libya will become.
One of the biggest problems that will confront the Libyan rebels as they make the transition from rebels to rulers are the country’s historical ethnic, tribal and regional splits. While the Libyan people are almost entirely Muslim and predominantly Arab, there are several divisions among them. These include ethnic differences in the form of Berbers in the Nafusa Mountains, Tuaregs in the southwestern desert region of Fezzan and Toubou in the Cyrenaican portion of the Sahara Desert. Among the Arabs who form the bulk of the Libyan population, there are also hundreds of different tribes and multiple dialects of spoken Arabic.
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