Libya was one of the few democratic success stories of 2012, according to the latest Freedom in the World survey from Freedom House, the US-based rights watchdog.
“Having ranked among the world’s worst tyrannies for decades, the country scored major gains in 2012, especially in the political rights categories,” the report said.
Freedom House now ranks the North African state as “Partly Free” (4 for political rights and 5 for civil liberties) rather than “Not Free” (7 and 6). But some analysts fear that new-found freedoms are vulnerable and embryonic state institutions fragile until the government’s authority is extended across its entire territory.
It is premature to call Libya a democracy, said Larry Diamond, a professor and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “Political order is still so fragile there,” he told a discussion of the report at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
“The command by the state over the means of violence is still so inadequate that I think state building remains a major challenge,’ he cautioned. “And until the militias can be reined in and the authority of the democratically elected state now, Freedom House judges, can be firmly established, there’s still tremendous fragility and vulnerability in the unfolding story in Libya.”
The state’s inability to rein in Islamist and other militias threatens to undermine Libya’s democratic prospects, as anticipated in a report from the National Endowment for Democracy which addresses the country’s transitional challenges.
“Libya’s transitional authorities – weakened by their lack of democratic legitimacy – have struggled dealing directly with these militias,” says Juan Garrigues, a Research Fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) and a Senior Advisor at the Dialogue Advisory Group.
“Transitional authorities’ and militia’s claims throughout the last year that armed groups would come under the control of the state once a legitimate government was in place will now be tested,” he writes for Open Democracy:
The question that remains is whether these militias will hand in their weapons once, and if, the security forces are strong enough to secure the country (as the militias claim) or whether the armed groups will hold on to these weapons until they feel their principal interests and objectives are secured (as some others suspect).
Libyans’ sense of pride and responsibility has ensured relative stability until now. However, if the second scenario emerges and militia commanders refuse to disarm and continue to consolidate their power through exploiting their growing political and economic ties, Libya’s hope of becoming one of the Arab Spring’s few success stories could quickly dissolve.
“Despite successful parliamentary elections in July 2012, Libya faces numerous obstacles to state development,” says the Middle East Policy Forum:
Rife with internal divisions and regional tensions, Libya struggles to achieve national cohesion and advance the political process. Moreover, the country’s fractious and divisive political environment inhibits institution building and complicates efforts to restore internal security. In light of Libya’s institutional and security challenges, the following panelists will discuss current developments and prospects for Libya’s political future.
“Libya: A State in Search of Itself”
Dr. Mary-Jane Deeb
Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress
Dr. Karim Mezran
Senior Fellow, Rafiq Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council
Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm, Moderator
Director, Middle East Policy Forum
January 24, 2013
6:30 pm – 7:45 pm
Lindner Family Commons
Room 602, 1957 E Street NW