After Gadhafi's Death, What Challenges Face Libya?

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Robert Siegel speaks with Dirk Vandewalle, an associate professor of government at Dartmouth who has long studied and written on Libya, about Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi — and the country's political challenges after Gadhafi's death.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Joining us from London now is Professor Dirk Vandewalle of Dartmouth College. He's a Libya scholar. Welcome to the program once again.


SIEGEL: And I have some questions about Libya's future, but first, I want to ask you about the man who is now dead. Moammar Gadhafi is commonly described as eccentric, as unpredictable. Is it fair to say that this was a delusional megalomaniac, a madman who had so much oil and gas that he had to be taken seriously?

VANDEWALLE: Well, I think it was a person who, for almost 40 years, no one said no to and so, in a sense, created around himself his own world, a world that became increasingly self-reverential. No one could really talk about his bizarre behavior, the way he dressed, and so it became a standard. And I think increasingly he just internalized it and thought that was perfectly acceptable.

SIEGEL: You're saying he could actually indulge in his delusions and people went along with it. He would threaten them, otherwise.

VANDEWALLE: Absolutely. That was the whole point. At the - from the moment Gadhafi came into the room, everybody was quiet, and so he was really always the center of attention. And no one could really say what they thought for fear of getting killed.

SIEGEL: Well, let's look ahead for a moment and let's assume that the cause of overthrowing Gadhafi and, if there was such a thing, Gadhafism is now complete. Does that strengthen or loosen the bonds that have unified the rebel forces that overthrew him?

VANDEWALLE: Well, in many ways, I think it probably does both. On the one hand, what we're seeing, obviously, is an enormous amount of euphoria going on right now, but on the other hand, it also means that, particularly for the Transitional Council now, the rubber hits the road. This is the moment at which all of these plans that they've made have to be implemented and that, I think, will be a very, very difficult process.

In light of the way that Gadhafi very systematically eviscerated anything that had to do with a modern state. Truly, what we have in Libya is almost a (foreign language spoken), kind of a blank slate on which now the Transitional Council will have to build.

SIEGEL: I read a quotation attributed to the Russian envoy to Libya today. He said: Today's problem of Libya is not the problem of Gadhafi's life or death. It's a problem of consolidating fragmented Libyan society and of strengthening the armed forces. Does that sound about right to you?

VANDEWALLE: Well, it certainly does. I mean, the first part is absolutely right. This is a country that has never truly been a unified country in a modern sense that we think about it, so certainly, that is what needs to happen.

The second part is even more accurate in the sense that Libya has never truly had a modern military. And the first requirement of a modern state is that those in charge of that state must have - what labor and the sociologists once called it - must have the monopoly of violence.

That means that it must control the means by which it can hold the country together and, certainly, in Libya, with all the militias that still exist, with an incomplete army, that monopoly of violence does not yet rest in the hands of the Transitional Council. So think down the line of all the other challenges that are coming up for the Transitional Council.

Within eight months, there must be elections and so this puts an enormous amount of pressure on the Transitional Council and so the death of Gadhafi, in a sense, is now accelerating that process.

SIEGEL: Is there a strong sense of being Libyan among Libyans? Has the Gadhafi era eroded tribal identity sufficiently so that people think of themselves, number one, as Libyans? Or is that a challenge, still?

VANDEWALLE: I think it is a challenge because this is not just a problem with Gadhafi. This is a problem in Libya that goes back all the way to 1951 when the country was created. Remember, for 18 years prior to Gadhafi, you had the Kingdom of Libya, but King Idris of Libya himself had enormous problems visualizing Libya as a unified country.

And it's that kind of sense, that lack of national vision for a unified Libya that, of course, Gadhafi then exploited. So that question of nation building, as I would call it, creating a national consensus, making individual Libyans understand that the institutions of the state that are being created are legitimate and should be adhered to, that, I think, is a very, very difficult process that is coming down the pike for Libya.

SIEGEL: Well, Professor Vandewalle, thanks a lot for talking with us once again.

VANDEWALLE: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Dirk Vandewalle of Dartmouth College, a scholar of Libya who happens to be, this week, in London.

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