The Middle East Channel

Stopping the fifth column

The imminent fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime in Libya opens a world of possibilities for Libyans that would have seemed almost impossible a year ago. But scenes of rebels and their civilian supporters celebrating in Tripoli’s Green Square and in Qaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound should not obscure the still volatile situation in Libya. Even before ...

PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images

The imminent fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime in Libya opens a world of possibilities for Libyans that would have seemed almost impossible a year ago. But scenes of rebels and their civilian supporters celebrating in Tripoli’s Green Square and in Qaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound should not obscure the still volatile situation in Libya. Even before Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi’s cameo appearance at the Rixos hotel on Aug. 21 made it clear that the war was not yet won, triumphant declarations were premature.

Toppling a dictator is difficult; stabilizing a country and building a functional government is much harder. Not only is the rebel coalition internally divided, but now battlefield compatriots must make the transition to become political allies — and, just as importantly, political opponents — without devolving into violence. Libyans must avoid the fate of Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade: two countries where ruling cliques were removed from power with similarly remarkable speed, but subsequently stumbled into civil war and long-running insurgencies.

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Brian Fishman is a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation.

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