Prospects for the Future of Liberal Democracy in Libya

Last Updated: 12 Feb 2021
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Following the death of the infamous former Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi former Libyan leader, a lot of debates and concerns have been raised worldwide about the future of the nation. A range of issues from social, economic, religious and political are being raised and the big question seems to be, what next? After years of authoritarian rule and with the ‘enemy’ finally out of the picture, the Libyan government faces different prospects for its development and in this essay I will be looking at different possibilities for the nation in relation to the promotion of liberal democracy.

Currently under a transitional government, Libya stands the chance to embrace change and adopt what may be considered by some as positive western ideals. According to a Freedom house report “another country that endured decades of brutal misrule, Libya, now has the potential for significant gains thanks to the overthrow of al-Qadhafi. ” (Puddington, 2012) Democracy has at no other time in history been knocking at the doors of many political regimes and with voices calling not only from foreigners but also from indigenous citizens it would be very hard to ignore the relevance that democracy plays in our modern day society.

Over the past year especially, the world has witnessed many political resistance campaigns; what is now popularly referred to as the Arab Spring has flooded the news very often and one common outcry from these people is the need for change. One might wonder what fuelled this uprising from the people to demand new leadership, in my educate d opinion, decades of authoritarian rule, human rights abuses, oppression on opposition and the inability of people to speak freely amongst others have all led to this desire for change. Before delving into the prospects for democracy in Libya, I feel it will be essential to underline what democracy entails.

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Robert Dahl in his book ‘On democracy’ lists various desirable features of a democratic society as follows:

  • Control of military and police by elected officials.
  • Democratic beliefs and political culture
  • No strong foreign control hostile to democracy
  • A modern market economy and society •Weak subcultural pluralism (Dahl, 2005)

Based on this it is fair to say that liberal democracy demands the inclusion of people, it believes in equality and fairness and encourages the notion of two (or many) heads being better than one.

However it is also true that democracy is not the only route for stability, in reality “the highest risk of political crisis lies in the middle ground between authoritarianism and democracy” (Goldstone, 2005) I believe a democratic and representative government can be attainable in Libya despite being broken into various sects for close to fifty years. Both pro and anti Qaddafi forces can push Libya forward but as to whether this will mature fully into a liberal democracy is tricky. The prospects for Libya would look bleak especially when considered from the perspective of historical precedents.

In the Libyan case, several factors cement this view. To begin with, Libya is a society filled with many different tribes. From what might be considered extreme Islamists, to the more moderate ones, to the presence of Christians and then other religious and secular divisions the presence of diversity in terms of culture or beliefs could either hinder or promote liberal democracy. In other parts of the continent, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, this situation has been witnessed before but “among the most important lessons to emerge is the importance of avoiding factionalism. (Goldstone, 2005) Take Rwanda for example, where Hutu’s and Tutsi rebels have shed blood over conflicting tribalistic views. In places where there is a vast difference in opinions, quite often people tend to disagree rather than agree and in order for democracy to prevail it is mandatory that people learn to compromise and agree for the better of the people. In the eastern part of the nation, we can find the current ruling rebels and in the West where Sirte is located there is a stronger presence of pro Qaddafi forces or loyalists. In order for democracy to take place it will take a combined effort from the North to South and East to West.

A scholar who has engaged in different studies of transitional governments, Professor Michael Greig made several observations on the Libyan scenario, he bases his conclusions from his studies on transitions over the last 170 years of history and notes that the more diverse a society is, the less stable new regimes tend to be. (Coleman, 2011)With the murder of the former leader, the fear for this transition to be peaceful of fairly smooth is that loyalists might try to hold reprisal attacks, there could be various terror attacks even on innocent victims and militants, leaders, or officials under the former regime might strongly esist cooperating with the new government and this will undermine attempts to achieve a sound and stable democratic environment. Should this occur, it could lead to an indefinite civil war and the country which already seems to be broken down into various fragments could end up losing more lives, it could also deter foreign investment and trade and regardless of the large oil reserve the country has, it could still have serious economic implications such as higher inflation rates.

On the political front also, as to how confident citizens are in the government and how effect institutions being put in place will benefit the nation, only time will tell. Indeed Libyans have been shown a glimmer of hope since the death of their former leader however can they be guaranteed that another Qaddafi will not surface? “And while Libya has benefited greatly from the demise of the Qadhafi dictatorship, the country confronts an array of daunting political and security challenges, and has yet to hold its first elections”. Puddington, 2012)The Libyan people understandably seem to have trust issues in their new government and with this lack of trust, the people might not be too welcoming to the new rules or laws that might be put in place. Should they not have faith in the new government for too long they could be a coup d’Etat or some other form of uprising. Unrest could take place and this could just mean that democracy will fail yet again. Furthermore, there are serious doubts about how women, former members of the Qaddafi government and minorities will fare in the new order.

The role of women is essential in achieving a liberal democracy. Women can be instrumental in broadening the parameters of democratic participation. They can challenge and sensitize others about the preconceived notions of what Islam can entail in a liberal democracy. For example, in Turkey, women activists achieved this to within the Islamist Refah (Welfare) Party. Libya has no democratic role models in the Arab world from whom to seek mentorship.

One main factor that the people of Libya have going in their favour is the fact that when they finally decided to come out and rebel against their long term leader they were not influenced by the western nations or the international community as a whole. The effort was undoubtedly from within the very borders of the country and throughout the country there were many cries which eventually fell unto the ears of the international community. The freedom house report confirms this by stating “America’s firmness in assisting NATO’s Libyan campaign was an important step.

After initial hesitation, the administration has also cautiously supported the process of building democratic systems in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. ” (Puddington 2012) The Libyans did indeed capture and kill Muammar Qaddafi with the help of NATO forces however they initially started the movement and asked for help to take power away from Qaddafi. The significance of this is that there are dependency theorists for example who believe that the western world continues to infiltrate third world nations and prevents them from standing on their own but in this particular case that can be debunked.

The issue of neocolonialism at least at the time that the uprising in Libya took place was arguably not present or wasn’t the main driving force and this means that the people of Libya do indeed have a voice of their own and will not be coerced into making policies or vital decisions presented to them by countries like the United Kingdom and United States of America. Liberal democracy therefore can eventually be introduced and maintained in a society like this where the people have a voice and do what they believe and agree together is best rather than allowing external forces to impose laws on them.

Another positive factor about Libya which should well favour the nation is that due to its large oil reserves and the fact that they are a major exporter of oil to different parts of the world, they have a more attractive economy as compared to others in the Arab spring. It is common for nations to establish and develop their political and democratic institutions before any significant change is seen in the economy, however the presence of an already good and healthy economy makes it fairly easier for the presence of democracy.

The important thing here would be to have competent people in government to take key and important decisions and also to manage the resources of the nation well. When this is done and the citizens see an even better improvement in the economy it will build their confidence in the government and promote more civilian participation (a very important feature for liberal democracy). With higher literacy rates than other African nations (Puddington, 2012) and with the introduction of new laws for the land Libya in the future can definitely be a success story.

To reiterate what has been mentioned above in this essay there is a fair possibility of the existence of a liberal democracy in Libya. It is important to note that “remarkably, after several years of assembling and sifting data , the panel found that economic , ethnic , and regional effect shave only a modest impact on a country’s risk of political instability. Rather, stability is overwhelmingly determined by a country’s patterns of political competition and political authority. (Goldstone, 2005). Although Libya is a country that is divided along tribal lines, it also has a good educated population and a decent economic growth. Research has shown that economic, regional and ethnic effects only have a modest effect on a country’s risk of political instability and “clearly, what “works” in establishing a stable democracy is moving toward a political system with completely open and fully competitive parties that maintains strong checks on executive authority. (Goldstone, 2005) Stability is hugely determined by the prevailing patterns of political authority and competition. The key to maintaining stability lies in the following

  1. Making democratic institutions that promote open and fair competition
  2. Avoiding political polarization and factionalism
  3. Imposing substantial measures against abuse of executive power

Furthermore, wealth and few or no communal tensions help, but a country does not need wealth or a homogenous population to achieve stability.

The fact of Libya having a well educated population also aids in its capability for liberal democracy. Educated people tend to hold liberal views and be more tolerant of divergent views. In the case of Libya, there exist factors that are in its favour in terms of achieving a liberal democracy. In addition, its oil reserves and a wealthy treasury are assets that can be used to build democratic institutions and improve capacity building in its current institutions. The enactment of laws that curb excesses by the executive will be huge boost in this direction.

Thus, the prospects of democracy in Libya are not so bleak when considering its wealthy treasury and its small and talented population which have proven that they possess a voice to speak out for the promotion of a good agenda in Libya. Unlike poorer countries who may have to seek external funding to support their democratic initiatives, it need not do so. It has the necessary capital to start a wide range of socio-economic programs aimed towards a liberal democracy.

For now, the rebel leaders seem to be receiving acceptable levels of support from the populace and this among other factors serve as crucial pointers that the prospects of a liberal democratic Libya are real. To conclude, we deduce from the above highlighted points that democratic development in Libya is faced with numerous challenges, political and economic, internal and external of long year’s authoritarian regimes, coupled with bad governance, fear of mismanagement of accumulated capital and mass participation, non-conducive investor atmosphere and a shield from the West.

At a minimum, the core elements of developing political democracy are: A strong, pluralistic civil society independent of state control and able to hold government accountable; Regular and effective mechanisms to choose and to change representatives, governments, and policies by non-violent means; wide dispersion of economic resources and state commitment to broadly distributed human development; The rule of law incorporating the principles of the supremacy of the law, equality before the law, and the impartial and fair administration of the law; Strong institutions and an international environment which supports, or at least not harmful to, the above element. This is what Africa and other emerging liberal democracies need in achieving political and economic development of this ‘new world order’ regime.

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Prospects for the Future of Liberal Democracy in Libya. (2017, Jan 22). Retrieved from

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