I am pretty much as ignorant about Libya as the next person, so let me just suggest a few generic lessons learned from other conflicts:

  • Don’t hold elections immediately.  Everyone likes to do so to give the new folks legitimacy, but then it usually means empowering those who might not be the best folks to be empowered (see Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan).
  • Think carefully about the guys with guns on both sides. Biggest mistake in early Iraq was firing the Iraqi military.  Helped to create the insurgency.  There has been a cottage industry in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and Security Sector Reform (SSR), so perhaps this time folks who know what they are doing in these areas might not be deliberately excluded?
  • Don’t expect tribal affiliations to go away.  Folks have been trying to ignore or do away with tribal identification and tribal loyalties in favor of national identities for generations in a bunch of places.  Don’t expect it to happen quickly or at all.  Relying on extended kin is way too convenient for politicians, particularly if they cannot easily deliver progress.
  • Promises are not reality.  The proposed constitution looks great, but it promises everything, including much stuff that cannot be readily delivered–everyone has a good job, for instance.  Don’t expect the timelines to stick.
  • The international community will not coordinate well.  I have no clue as to which elements of the international community will show up–UN, NATO, EU, UNHCR, World Bank, IMF, African Union (um, never mind), and so on.  But who ever does show up will be plural–heaps of governmental and non-governmental organizations with different mandates, missions, cultures, etc.  Even when they play well together, there are big problems in getting everyone moving in the same direction.  Easy to see multiple countries getting involved, picking favorites and trying to manipulate the situation (China?).  So, don’t expect the international community to be as coherent as the word community suggests.
  • Don’t rely so much on the ex-pats.  They may speak English well, but if they have not been involved in the fighting over the past few months, they probably have limited credibility on the ground with those did risk and lose.
  • Don’t overestimate the power of the outsiders.  Yes, the outsiders will have money and influence, but between the competition among the outsiders and the need for the folks in the country to pursue their own interests, politics will remain more local than outsiders would like.  The people on the ground will have to live with whatever decisions are made. The outsiders always can go home.

There will be heaps of stuff on what will happen next.  I have no clue.  I just know that we will probably fall into the usual traps and have overblown expectations.  How democratic is Egypt today?

Anyhow, if you have additional lists of do’s and don’t’s, let me know.

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