Hopes for peaceful, united Libya up in the air
It could go either way at this point. There have been severe clashes between rival militias as well as reports of continuing murders and detentions by independent warlords. But the National Transitional Council (NTC) has accomplished a few things and while there is still danger that the country will fly apart, there is also some hope that an election scheduled for next year might come off.
Since late October, when Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed and the NTC declared the country "liberated," Libya has veered from peace and optimism to violence and potential chaos. Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib, who left an academic career largely spent in the United States to help rebuild his homeland, succeeded last month in satisfying most of a bewildering array of competing interests to form a cabinet that will run the country until the NTC organizes an election by July.
As the new government begins remaking the country after 42 years of one-man rule, Libyans and their Western backers alike want to know which Libya will emerge -- the country that nearly unraveled along Highway 1, or the one that held together in a tenuous truce.
"This is the real challenge," wartime rebel premier Mahmoud Jibril said in an interview last month. "Those arms on the streets, those armed people all over the place. This is a political vacuum which can be filled by any power . which has weapons in its hands."
BELGIUM? OR SOMALIA?
In Tripoli and in Benghazi, the eastern city where Libya's uprising began last February, the lack of violence can seem surprising. Markets are bustling, streets orderly. Some outsiders go as far as to compare the North African nation to Belgium, another fractious country that lately survived months without a formal national government.
At the same time the risk remains of a future marred by the kind of violence that tore apart post-Saddam Iraq or made Somalia a land of warlords, al Qaeda zealots and misery. As one diplomat cautioned: "We still need to worry about the Somali option."
The key for all the factions is to focus on what unites them rather than the divisions inherent in a mutli-racial, multi-ethnic, multi tribal society. Libya could be a failed state waiting to emerge. Or it could turn out to be an example of how these made up countries in the Middle East can flourish.