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Western contacts will be crucial to Libya's economic prospects. The NTC is pressing governments worldwide to unfreeze more than $100 billion in Gaddafi's assets to help jump-start an economy paralyzed by six months of fighting. The Obama Administration has said frozen funds will be released, and the U.S. will provide "expertise and diplomatic support" to the NTC. Yet even with the money, any transition is bound to be politically fraught. Whereas Egypt and Tunisia aim to rewrite their constitutions to ensure that power is not concentrated in the hands of their Presidents, Libya will need to scrap Gaddafi's contorted system of "people's" committees and congresses that in practice gave him supreme authority. The NTC will need to "move toward a traditional government," says Rami Khouri, a public-policy expert at the American University of Beirut's Issam Fares Institute.
But such concerns are for the months and years ahead. The more immediate challenge is to capture or make peace with the remaining pockets of Gaddafi loyalists. Late on Aug. 24, at least two neighborhoods remained under the control of loyalists. With world leaders calling for an end to the violence, amnesty deals are inevitable--and inevitably controversial. The NTC's promises of fair treatment will be tested when rebel fighters come face to face with troops who killed their brothers in arms on the dusty roads to Tripoli. There's also the tricky politics of ensuring that different rebel groups--the eastern Libyans from Benghazi and the Berbers from the western mountains--get along.
A Domino Effect?
How this next phase plays out will be watched closely across the Middle East by revolutionaries and despots alike. The Arab Spring didn't just take down Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt; it also forced the monarchs of Morocco and Jordan to reform their laws and fire their governments in an effort to appease their no-longer-pliant peoples. Just the possibility of an uprising compelled the King of Saudi Arabia, perhaps the Arab world's most powerful man, to distribute tens of billions of dollars in largesse. Expect another spasm of conciliatory gestures to follow Gaddafi's fall.
Other rulers have chosen to bully rather than bribe. Bahrain's King imported foreign armies to beat down peaceful protesters. In Syria and Yemen, regimes have used homegrown thugs and troops to the same effect. Revolutionaries in these countries were originally inspired to take to the streets by scenes from Cairo's Tahrir Square; their spirits will be lifted once more by images from Tripoli.
The Arab Spring's first target, Tunisia's Ben Ali, was followed quickly by its second, bigger prize, Egypt's Mubarak. Syrians hope Gaddafi's removal will hasten Bashar Assad's. Even as Tripoli fell, the Syrian President pronounced, in an interview on state TV, "I am not worried." Borrowing a page from the Libyan rebels, Syria's opposition groups announced the following day that they were setting up a national council, the better to give their revolution a recognizable identity.