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World

Libyan government struggles to assert authority

Libya has had a democratically elected parliament since early July, but much remains unsettled ten months after the death of former ruler Moammar Gadhafi. Power struggles rage on, and attacks remain common.

Libya's experience is all too familiar. After the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, people hoped violence would end. Euphoria was running high in October 2011 after rebels killed the long-ruling dictator. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy hosted an international conference on Libya, and the German federal government welcomed the shift in power.

Though NATO troops supported the rebels by enforcing a no-fly zone, the international community's efforts did not stop the deaths of 30,000 people fighting for or against Gadhafi. Many of the victims were civilians.

In the months following the revolution, political uncertainty dominated. The former constitution was no longer held to be valid, so a legal framework had to be established. In early July, eight months after Gadhafi's death, an elected national congress finally replaced the transitional government in Libya. The assembly's task is to create a functioning state. The election of officials to the national legislative body represents the first democratic vote in Libya in more than four decades.

Mending tears in society

Rebuilding a post-revolutionary society brings enormous challenges, said political scientist and peace researcher Jochen Hippler of the University of Duisburg-Essen.

"The most important task now is building a functional state," he told DW. "The places where society has broken down must be repaired, and the contradictions and tendencies toward fragmentation need to be brought under control."

If those measures succeed, he added, building up the economy is comparatively easy.

A man, with an inked finger, flashes the victory sign as he celebrates with the new Libyan flag at the end of voting day in Sirte July 7, 2012 REUTERS/Anis Mili

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While Libya still sees attacks by religious groups and militias, the power of the General National Congress is largely limited to the capital of Tripoli.

"When you head a few dozen kilometers away - or even in to some districts of Tripoli - things look quite a bit different," said Hippler.

Militias, numerous tribal forces and various ethnic groups like the Tabu tribe, the Berbers and the Tuaregs are fighting over their own interests.

Political scientist Jochen Hippler, (c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Hippler: Conditions are much less stable beyond the capital

In the city of Tarhuna southwest of Tripoli, transitional government troops seized more than 100 tanks and 30 rocket launchers on Thursday (23.08.2012). The weapons belonged to a militia whose loyalty to the newly elected General National Congress had come into doubt. Reports suggested the people behind a series of attacks that recently cost two security guards their lives in Tripoli were associated with a group from Tarhuna.

Waiting for a new constitution

Abdel Rahim el-Kib, a man with limited political experience, has been serving as interim prime minister. As of two weeks ago, the national congress also has a new president, former dissident Mohammed Magarief. Many European observers initially welcomed the election results, interpreting them as a sign that a constitution with a secular orientation could emerge.

"The issue of values is really in flux at the moment," Hippler said. "My impression is that the euphoria was too hasty. The radically religious - and sometimes extremist religious - tendency seems to have gained strength."

Libyan Salafis Muslims use a bulldozer to raze a Sufi mosque in central Tripoli REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Libyan Salafists destroyed local Islamic shrines

Hardline Salafists in Tripoli recently destroyed several Sufi shrines, which they regarded as idolatrous. Hippler views that as a disturbing sign.

"The next one or two years will be decisive when it comes to creating a political and cultural climate that appeals to the entire society," he said. "And until people recognize that, we won't be able to come up with a reliable assessment of which values will make their way into the new constitution."

How long it will actually take before those values take shape remains anyone's guess.

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