Can the rebels rule?

There are lots of privately-organized militias or “kitaeb”, 40-plus at last count. They are mostly unpaid volunteers, usually from one particular town or region. The nucleus of one of the largest — Benghazi’s 17 February Martyrs brigade, is a computer company. Several hours of tracer fire over Benghazi’s skies last night bore witness to how many weapons are in private hands, and how much people like to fire them. They are bound together by group solidarity engendered by the fighting of some pretty hard battles, and while right now they say they just want to get rid of Qaddafi, rebel forces also frequently develop a strong sense of entitlement…

One danger here is that as soon as the revolutionary euphoria wears off, inevitably people will start imagining that the remnants of the old regime have just gone underground and are plotting a comeback, cutting nefarious deals with the NTC to remain in power. One or two mysterious bombs or assassinations can easily spark a panic, and the next thing you know you’ll have katibas demanding that they retain their arms to “safeguard the revolution.” There’s no way that the NTC can stop this, but they should be careful to be as inclusive and as transparent as possible…

There seem to be few divisive differences over the identity of the country — Libya is tribally and ethnically diverse, but pretty homogenously Sunni and conservative. In order to whip up radical Islamist populism, it really helps to have some kind of Other — be they crony capitalists, nefarious secularists who want to sneakily impose atheism through supraconstitutional principles, Baathists, Shia or others who practice scandalous rituals, or other “heretics”, Tartar military dictators, etc. There aren’t any of these in Libya, yet. There also aren’t any liquor stores to smash. Maybe this will change if a militant Berber movement emerges, or if luxury hotels start going up in which an ex-NTC member has a silent partner.