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Emira Woods: Libya Must Shape its Own Future

August 22, 2011 ·

Emira Woods takes questions on what can and should come next for Libya.

Libyans celebrated as the end of Qaddafi’s regime seemed near. [Gianluigi Guercia/AFP]

As the Libyan people celebrate freedom from the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, many are wondering what will come next for the North African nation. In an interview at 12:30 PM EDT, Emira Woods, Co-Director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, stresses the need for the Libyan people to seize the opportunity to create a political and economic Libya that works for the benefit of all the people of Libya.

“After 42 years of Muammar el-Qaddafi, it is now long overdue for the Libyan people to determine their own destiny,” says Woods. “The question is, can this be a real revolution, where the interests of all the people are heard, are reflected, where the political infrastructure that is put into place is representative of all?”

Interviewer: What does it mean for the Libyan people that the end of Qaddafi’s rule seems to be at an end?

Emira Woods: The most critical issue now is for Libyans to be able to control their own destiny. After 42 years of Muammar el-Qaddafi, it is now long overdue for the Libyan people to determine their own destiny. Whether it’s the oil sector or other elements of their economy, or it’s their political decision-making, it is now time for the Libyan people to take control of their own destiny and not for short-term interests of the United States or other NATO countries to determine key next steps in Libya’s future.

Interviewer: Do you think there is a chance that the Transitional National Council might hand over any part of Libya’s sovereignty to outside interests?

EW: Well I think the Transitional National Council is a big unknown. There are varied interests in the council, including interests that were allied with the CIA and other western agencies and other western forces, including interests that were quite frankly at odds with each other. You know, the internal fighting and bickering that led to even the recent assassination of their general from within I think shows quite a splintering of the rebel factions.

EW: The key issue now is, can they come together to pull together a political entity that has legitimacy for all Libyans, that is able to put the interests of all of the country first, and not outside interests or once again reinforcing the interests of the elite. So what we have is a situation where the elite and a very narrow segment of the population benefitted from the enormous wealth of Libya. And the question is, is there an attempt now to transfer from the elites that sided with Qaddafi to elites that are opposed to Qaddafi but still elites dominating the decision-making and the economic benefits and the economic resources of the country?

EW: So the question is, can this be a real revolution, where the interests of all the people are heard, are reflected, where the political infrastructure that is put into place is representative of all — both east and west factions and ethnic groups within the country, whether all Libyans regardless of their racial complexion, regardless of their political affiliations, will have an opportunity to have representation in decision-making for their future? I think that’s the key here. Can there be a legitimate political authority put forward, given how the ouster of Qaddafi has taken place.

Interviewer: Regarding that legitimate political authority, a lot of people have been saying that that includes “democracy.” Of course that is what our President Obama says should be the next step for Libya and what might you say that that means for Libyans?

EW: Democracy is rule of the people, for the people, by the people. In case of Libya now it means not having the oil companies determine what comes next because of tremendous interests in Libya’s oil for the global market. Democracy means having now a transitional government that looks to constitutional reform in a way that is representative of the needs and the interests of all of the country, that unites all of the country, that does a large measure of the national healing needed after this type of political as well as military crisis.

Interviewer: Will you be celebrating if the opposition fighters actually do manage to overthrow the last remaining part of Tripoli?

EW: I think “celebration” is a tough word. I think with the level of deaths and violence and civilians that have been killed now in this military operation, both from NATO and from the rebel forces and from Qaddafi’s forces, I think “celebration” is a tough word. But I think what is needed is a sense that Libya can actually turn a page, turn a page from dictatorship towards democracy, towards an environment where all Libyans are able to have a role in their future, determining their destiny, all Libyans have a role in determining the future of their economy so that it works in the interests of all of the people. I think that there is an incredible potential now for Libyans to be able to link hands in solidarity and look toward a future together in the region. Again, Libya is well situated between Tunisia and Egypt. It is a neighborhood that has dramatically transformed in the past eight months. And I think a key issue is, can that region, can North Africa, can the uprisings that it has encouraged throughout the world, those efforts at people power, can they be strengthened in ways that shape the months, years, and decades to come — not only for that region, but for the entire world.

Emira Woods is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.