Country Report Libya November 2009

Outlook for 2010-11: Domestic politics

The Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, has ruthlessly repressed political dissent, and there are now few real domestic threats to his rule. Colonel Qadhafi celebrated the 40th anniversary of his seizure of power in September 2009. There is no agreed process in place for the transfer of power but the appointment of Colonel Qadhafi's second-eldest son, Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, as general co-ordinator of the Popular Social Command in October 2009 has made him the most likely successor, and gives him powers that are equivalent to being head of state. Saif Qadhafi is the country's leading reformist, and his new position affords him control over parliament and the executive and a mandate to implement his economic reform programme. Colonel Qadhafi is likely to withdraw slowly from domestic politics, investing more time in his symbolic role as "king of kings of Africa". Other possible successors include Mutassim Qadhafi, Libya's national security adviser, who has recently accompanied his father on state visits and met the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, in April. Little is known about Mutassim Qadhafi, but he is thought to be central to Libya's domestic security structure. However, the succession is unlikely to become a pressing issue while Colonel Qadhafi retains power, which he is likely to do throughout the forecast period.

Significant political reform is unlikely. Colonel Qadhafi remains wedded to Libya's opaque and ineffective jamahiriya (republic of the people) system and continues to manipulate its structure to maintain the illusion of democracy-as demonstrated in early 2009 by the apparent rejection by the local-level Basic People's Congresses and the General People's Congress (akin to a national parliament) of his flagship economic policy, the Wealth Distribution Programme (WDP), which would have dismantled the existing government bureaucracy and devolved the distribution of hydrocarbons revenue to local-level administrative structures. In reality, the Libyan leader will continue to deny any individual minister the opportunity to build up a personal power base. Saif Qadhafi's appointment as, in effect, head of state may have partly been intended to counterbalance conservative and vested interests within the regime.

Although there is little immediate threat to the ruling elite, should the socioeconomic environment deteriorate further through, for example, rising unemployment, collapsing oil prices or growing inequality, the government could be faced with increased unrest. Feelings of political exclusion have been exacerbated by the collapse of the WDP and the eradication of Libya's privately owned media, which was nationalised in June 2009. However, with the economy expected to remain relatively strong and the opposition, with the exception of domestic Islamists, either in exile or lacking clout and coherence, the prospect of any threat to the regime appears limited.

The greatest fear for the authorities remains the potential challenge from home-grown Islamist militant groups, in light of regionwide concerns over the threat posed by al-Qaida affiliates and past Islamist-inspired assassination attempts against Colonel Qadhafi. Reconciliation and rehabilitation negotiations have proceeded secretly. The largest local militant organisation, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, has denied its affiliation with al-Qaida and renounced violence. However, these concessions were made by imprisoned members of the group, making it difficult to establish whether they are genuine. To combat the growing threat from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, regional co-operation is likely to increase.

© 2009 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
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