The Libyan dissident and chair of the political science department at the University of Texas at San Antonio discusses Qaddafi’s fall, as well as the road ahead for the North African nation’s transition of power.
Professor Mansour El-Kikhia
Tavis: The fall of Muammar Gaddafi represents both great opportunities and great challenges for Libya and the Middle East. For more tonight, pleased to be joined by Mansour El-Kikhia, a chairman of the political science department at the University of Texas-San Antonio.
He has been in touch with members of the transitional council during this crisis in Libya, joins us tonight, again, from San Antonio. Professor, good to have you back on this program.
Professor Mansour El-Kikhia: Thank you for having me, Tavis.
Tavis: Let me start with the obvious, given the conversation we had months ago when we didn’t know how this thing was going to work out. So what do you make of what’s happening in Libya?
El-Kikhia: The final conclusion of an end to injustice. Elation, numbness, combine it all into one. That’s what’s happening in Libya.
Tavis: As we speak at this moment, we don’t know where Muammar Qaddafi is at this moment. That could change at any second now. But what’s your sense of ultimately when he is found, if and when he surfaces, what ought to happen to him, specifically?
El-Kikhia: Honestly, I think he needs to be tried. He needs to be tried for the atrocities he committed against Libyans. I understand in the last six months 13,000 Libyans have died, 30,000 are wounded, 28,000 missing. Besides how much money was spent on this awful adventure that he has done, the mercenaries, from where he brought them.
So he needs to be made aware of this and brought down to reality and put before the Libyans, and Libyans have to face him with what he has done.
Tavis: I mentioned earlier, throughout this crisis you’ve been in touch with this transitional council, this transitional authority. It occurs to me, and not just me, but many others, that whatever we thought of Qaddafi, we do not we do not know who these new persons are.
What are we to make of whoever is going to be in charge, whoever’s going to be in control, and again, the fact that we really don’t know much about them?
El-Kikhia: Well, they are really a group of people who decided to take on the responsibility of leading. They did it individually and they are quietly achieving some legitimacy. But they understand that they, they haven’t got legitimacy and so they have committed themselves to only being temporary. They signed affidavits to that effect.
They’re not going to run for office anymore. They have a plan in action which will allow for the elections of a new, legitimate government which will do the elections and write a constitution and bring the constitution before the people, and then ultimately create these permanent institutional structures.
The council itself is made up of individuals representing a cross-section of Libyan society. You have people who have actually worked with Qaddafi in the previous life, they have people who actually were born and actually worked outside that state, some professors from the U.S., some from England, some from there.
And you have the Islamists, you have communists, you have progressive, you have – it’s a mixture of Libyan society.
Tavis: But to your point, Professor, they do not have the kind of infrastructure in place that they can simply walk into – you will admit, you will concede that given all the trouble that we see the Egyptians having trying to write their society, as it were, trying to let democracy get a hold in Egypt, we look at all the difficulties, the obstacles that they’re up against, and there was some structure in Egypt.
Why, then should I believe that this road is going to be an easy road in Libya, where they don’t, to your point, have any kind of infrastructure in place, politically or otherwise?
El-Kikhia: It is not, Tavis. It’s not an easy road at all. In fact, it’s one obstacle after another. Because let me tell you, the three revolutions that you’ve seen in North Africa between Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Libya perhaps is the most profound, and I’ll tell you why it is the most profound.
Because in Egypt and in Tunisia, the revolution was really against the (unintelligible), it was against the (unintelligible) of the regimes that they were there, either Mubarak or Ben Ali.
The heads of these states had been removed, but the bureaucratic structure is still there. The parties that were there are still there. The mess and the problems within Egyptian society and Tunisian society are still there. It’s not going to go away, even with a new head, because the new head in Egypt or in Tunisia are going to face even more difficulty in dealing with these issues than somebody from Libya. Libya is something new.
Qaddafi destroyed all vestiges, any structures. He had nothing. The regime itself was a destructive regime. It did not allow institutions to emerge, it didn’t allow parties, it allowed nothing.
So the new people who are coming in, yes, they’re going to see a huge, huge, huge problem and one mountain to climb after another, but the issue over here is that the sky is the limit. They can write a really new system and they can put a new system in place with the approval, of course, of the Libyans.
It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be very, very tough, and it has to be incremental.
Tavis: We were just reading, though, days ago, during this crisis, as they were making their way toward Tripoli and trying to topple the Qaddafi regime, we read a number of stories about the in-fighting amongst this transitional group itself. What say you about that sort of in-fighting?
El-Kikhia: Well, there’s some in-fighting, but it actually is more than – it’s a difference of opinion than actually in-fighting, because – and it’s healthy. In a way, I’m glad there is some difference of opinion and people holding onto their points of view. I think it’s important.
But when you say in-fighting, none of them has an army. None of them has a force that they can bring to bearer. So you see some problems, yes. You have to understand, the transitional council started in Benghazi, in the east of the country. The east of the country is relatively unified when compared to the rest of Libya.
It has tribes, but it’s less tribal than the west. So the west sees itself as being more progressive, it sees itself as more dominant. It has more people over there, of course, too. They want things done their own way. I understand this, and the new system that we’re going to see, you’re going to see a give-and-take. I’m happy that so many of these issues are emerging now, before problems occur.
Tavis: When President Obama says that we’re going to be a friend with Libya, I’m paraphrasing here, so long as they stay on the path to democracy and not revenge, that we will be there to support them and to help them, to your mind, what ought that mean? What should we be suggesting when we say that we’re willing to be an ally, to be a friend, to be a supporter in the coming months and years?
El-Kikhia: I think America can serve as a wonderful blueprint for a new system in Libya. You must understand, as I said, the sky’s the limit, and I would very much like to see a federal system that allows for balance of power, that allows for checks and balances, that allows for the most important, perhaps, in all of this, is a bill of rights, an important bill of rights for Libyans that guarantees freedoms of expression, equality among all.
Libya needs this. I think Mr. Obama is very, very smart, he really is. Sometimes we don’t give the man the credit that he is due. I think what he is asking, really, for Libya in Libya, he’s asking for a democratic system which would, in fact, when you think about it, will be the nucleus for a new democratic system in all of Africa.
I look forward to seeing more regimes in Africa topple like Qaddafi and people coming to power and establishing democratic systems on the continent.
Tavis: I guess what I’m asking is – I hear your response. What I’m asking is what role now specifically should the U.S. play in the coming months and years to help bring about what you’ve just suggested you’d like to see?
El-Kikhia: Well, first of all, what I really want to see America do is provide the guidance as far as administration, provide the guidance of writing a constitution, a constitutional framework, and perhaps what we can do here, and this is something which we can, we can avoid some of the pitfalls that America is facing right now, okay? This is the perfect time to do it, that we can learn from America’s experience.
We would like to see some good American constitutional lawyers and thinkers to help Libya in developing that, developing a decent police force, a police force that respects the rights of the people, respects people. This is very – we need to start, again, developing a strong military that is well-trained and professional and agrees to a separation between civilians and military, and protect the state. All of these, America can do.
Tavis: That, Professor, sounds to some, I suspect, watching right now, that sounds a little bit like nation-building.
El-Kikhia: It is. There is part of that, but at least the issue over here, there’s a very big difference between having 170,000 troops trying to do that and having 1,000 bureaucrats, civilians, doing that. In that, I approve nation-building, because if America will not help us do it then we’ll have to turn to Britain and France and Germany and then Italy.
Tavis: Finally, I got just about 45 seconds to go here, since you mentioned President Obama’s name earlier, with all due respect to the president, he’s been catching it from both sides lately on Libya.
On the one hand, he’s gotten some credit; I think perhaps not enough, but he’s gotten some credit for shepherding to this moment, at least, in Libya what we’ve seen happen that most people, I think, are celebrating.
On the other hand, there are those who are trying to give him a hard time, saying that he didn’t really engage. This is not really because of his decisive act inside the White House.
Your sense of the credit or not so much credit that the president ought to get for what’s happened in Libya?
El-Kikhia: Let me tell you, if Mr. Obama was waiting to get permission from those guys, right now you would have 100,000 people dead in my city, including maybe my family. I thank Mr. Obama for doing this. Mr. Obama can meet the challenges and meet the criticism that those guys are throwing against him by saying, “We have won.”
There’s nothing sweeter than victory, and victory has been achieved. Democracy will be established in Libya, transparency will be established in Libya, and that is a benefit for the United States. Mr. Obama will be given credit for that, no matter what they say.
Tavis: Professor Mansour El-Kikhia, good to have you on the program. Thanks for sharing your insights.
El-Kikhia: Thank you very much, Tavis, pleasure to be there, all the time.
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