Democracy Lab

Libya's Unarmed Revolutionaries

Civil society groups face an uphill battle in a society dominated by militias.

TRIPOLI — Earlier this month, as the walls of Tripoli's Martyr's Square echoed with calls to dawn prayer, signaling the start to another day of Ramadan fasting, hundreds of sleepless young men continued overnight demonstrations against Libya's political parties. Others marched to various party headquarters, ransacking them. These men, like others in cities across Libya, took to the streets in the wake of the July 26, 2013 assassination of Abdelsalam al-Mismari in Benghazi. 

Mismari, a human rights lawyer and activist, was an early organizer in Libya's revolution against Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime. He was also a vocal critic of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Libya's new power brokers, the militias. As author Hisham Matar argues, whoever is behind the assassination, "their aim was not only to silence Mismari but also to frighten civil society." 

During the more than four decades of his rule, Qaddafi succeeded in fusing his family with the state and the government. The basic building block of civil society -- associative life -- could not exist outside the regime's control. The revolution ruptured this model. Citizens, long silent, collectively asserted their right to a share in Libya. In the fight against Qaddafi, armed groups secured victory with the help of peaceful citizens' associations, a nascent civil society that provided medical assistance, food and water, and psychological treatment for those traumatized by war. Now in its second year, civil society groups are taking their first tentative steps toward an institutional role in the state. While government is at the mercy of warring militias and the private sector primarily revolves around natural resources, it is the third sector, civil society, that is laying the groundwork for an educated citizenry engaged in the rebuilding of Libya. A strong civil society is key to guaranteeing and protecting the gains of the revolution, and, in many ways, represents Libya's best hope for a genuine democracy. 

The term "civil society" covers a wide range of groups and associations. Libyan civil society, even at this early stage, is no less diverse, and out of over 3,000 groups registered since the revolution, hundreds remain active. Some give young adults something to do instead of joining a militia, like sports leagues, photography clubs, and performance art venues. Others fight for still elusory rights, like the rights of martyrs, property rights lost under Qaddafi, and the rights of women and minorities. There are even those who work to connect citizens to government institutions through media, education, and advocacy training. 

This last group is at the forefront of civil society's interaction with government. So far, they have not been able to channel public frustration at the government's failings into a force capable of change. Rather, militias are calling the shots, with no room for the Libyan public. This is true even in the General National Congress (GNC), Libya's interim legislature that was established through free, popular elections in July of last year. 

Monem Alyaser, a representative in the GNC, says that while he communicates with his constituents through various means, such as Facebook, people in return have limited capacity to influence the body. 

"Unfortunately armed groups influence the GNC the most, and civil societies [sic] in Libya are very, very underdeveloped and don't have an effective outreach," Alyaser says. 

The imbalance in favor of small, vocal, armed groups has warped the GNC's representation of Libya's citizenry. Alyaser points to a recent study published by the University of Benghazi, which found that on major public issues, GNC decisions reflected the interests of a minority of Libyans rather than the majority. Alyaser calls these minorities influencing the political agenda "extremist" and "on the fringes." 

In recent months, there have been numerous demonstrations across Libya against the dominance of the militias. Demonstrators instead call for a unified army and police force that operate under genuine civilian control. But these mostly peaceful gatherings have been ineffective. 

"People feel disempowered, and they feel like if this is democracy, then it's just another form of dictatorship," says Rihab Elhaj, a leading advocate for Libya's emerging civil society groups. 

Elhaj, the president and cofounder of The New Libya Foundation, is working on an initiative that gets to the heart of the problem. As the country prepares to write a new constitution, she says, the most important task is to make sure that civil society pushes for transparency, participation, and inclusiveness in the drafting process. Elhaj, along with several other dedicated members of society, has been working for nearly a year on a draft law that would guarantee an open and informed public debate on the upcoming revised constitution. The draft law began as a manifesto signed by over 400 citizens and almost as many organizations from around the country, calling on the GNC to codify its commitment to public participation. 

Now, she and other representatives of the signatories are fighting to make sure that they get a critical stipulation of the law passed: the establishment of a National Civic Education Center. The center would have branch offices around the country offering a space for learning, debate, workshops, town hall meetings, and interaction between citizens and candidates for the constitutional commission.

"This is the litmus test for Libya," says Elhaj. "If the constitution will be written in a dictatorial way, then the foundations for dictatorship will have been laid. And the revolution will have failed me."   

But getting the Education Center onto the GNC's agenda is half the battle. 

"It's never been done before," says Elhaj. "There's never been a law born from and drafted by citizens. As a matter of fact, citizens have yet to succeed in placing an item for discussion on Congress's agenda." 

So far, "the only ways citizens are able to influence decision-makers are through violence and through armed pressure," she says, noting that congressmen don't have the tools, like local offices or staff members, that could link them to voters in a more peaceful way. 

According to a recently published study by the Foundation for the Future, only 15 percent of interviewed civil society organizations reported having a relationship with the government. The same study found that "only a third of the interviewees believed that their institutions played an efficient role in development and achieving the goals of national citizenship, equality, and social justice." 

An even more basic issue of transparency exists, as independent media and civil society organizations are often prevented from entering GNC sessions. An NGO called H2O regularly publishes reports on the agenda and decisions of the assembly. Yet they compile their "Eye on the GNC" reports without the luxury of on-the-ground reporting. Instead, H2O has had to rely on contacts within the assembly, social media postings, and other politically connected figures to gather information. Suhib Mabruk, who works on the project, says that while there was an initial plan to reserve 15 observer seats in the assembly for civil society organizations, this was scrapped. 

Lawmaker Alyaser contends that these seats remain available and are always empty. He suggests that H20's claim might constitute a misunderstanding between the NGO and those in charge of the assembly's security. He says that if the NGO spoke with the right people, they could sort things out. But a tendency amongst authority figures to exclude non-officials by default doesn't bode well. 

Operating in the uncomfortable space between government and civil society are local councils. Sadat el-Badri, chairman of the Tripoli Local Council, says that while the central government has not yet organized local elections, he classifies his organization as "government" more than "civil society." 

"Local government is the solution to many of our problems," argues Alyaser. Though he qualifies, "true local government, not the many who think they are the local government." 

How Libya's central government deals with the local councils will be a crucial test for the future of the state and its contract with citizens. Recently, the government appointed a minister of local affairs to oversee all local councils. Badri, however, still sees the government's relationship with local councils as mismanaged. 

Limited funding from the central government and legal restrictions preventing the council from collecting revenue have impeded the local council's ability to accomplish much. Badri concedes that the funding issue might be due to the fact that the central government doesn't trust local councils, thinking they might pocket the money. But he believes that the main cause of this mistrust is that ministers aren't aware of the local councils' functions. As a result, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have begun playing an active role in the council. 

"You could say 70 to 80 percent of our activities here are done by the NGOs," Badri says. "They're very active." 

It may be from the local level that civil society has the greatest potential for influence. Isam Saidi, director of the recently opened Civil Society Incubator Center, says that local groups have been instrumental in keeping local government officials honest in his hometown of Zuwara. He cites one example where demonstrating citizens successfully pressured the town's council to fire a corrupt health official. 

"Generally speaking, successful initiatives take place in communities," says Elhaj. "The trust is greater in a community where you know your neighbors." 

In addition to the big picture challenges to civil society like influential armed groups, an institutional desert and a weak state, the sector faces more basic challenges. Turf wars and infighting between groups is one of those challenges. Saidi says that internal divisions, sometimes resulting from personal grievances, plague NGOs in Zuwara. 

"In some cities there was sort of a battle between NGOs for dominance of the scene," Saidi says, noting that this lack of cooperation has "rendered them really helpless and ineffective." 

Then there are the problems of finding work space, inadequate leadership, and inexperience in management. These issues, along with unsustainable funding models, have led to the disappearance of many groups. The arrival of international NGOs, as well as the reemergence of private sector industry, has also sapped potential talent from local groups. 

"Surviving on volunteerism, putting in your own money, that's a formula that's gonna crash at some point," says Hussam Zagaar, head of Free Media Center. His staff went from a size of 15 to three after oil companies resumed operations in Libya and offered his employees triple the salary Zagaar was paying. The center, which trains journalists to work in a previously nonexistent sector, now has limited capacity on which to continue its projects. 

"To find qualified people who have the skill set that you're looking for ... and the professionalism -- the pool is small," says Hiba Khalil, program manager of 1Libya, which develops capacity in media and education. She adds that international NGOs have gotten first picks from this talent pool, "and if you're a small, local Libyan NGO that has limited resources and capacity, then you're not able to compete with these larger organizations that are here." 

Another challenge civil society organizations face is finding their place among the competing visions of civil society. Given the weakness of Libya's central government, powerful local players act as municipal governments, policy think tanks, and regional governments. Complicating the scene further, some political groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, are registered as civil society organizations. 

Even Islamists of the extremist variety run associations that play a powerful role in some communities, running charities, educational foundations, and extra-judicial justice systems. According to a recent study published by George Washington University, "prominent jihadist militias in eastern Libya have developed influential charities and relationships with mosques, and actively target youth for recruitment." 

These organizations may represent what some call "uncivil society." One scholar, who ultimately rejects the term, notes that the concept arises "if associations reinforce rather than cut across [racial, ethnic, and class] divides." He adds that if this phenomenon occurs, "the results may be opposite to those expected by civil society enthusiasts." 

In the Libyan context, the term may cover groups that not only operate outside the bounds of the state, but that actively work to keep the state weak. It may also cover associational groups that turn to arms if they cannot achieve their aims peacefully. When people took to the streets of Benghazi in June to protest a local militia, the militia fired on protesters. Some protesters got their own guns, though, and fired back

But if civil society can succeed in establishing a vibrant and influential public space, then words may still triumph over bullets. This is an outcome that the majority of Libyans would like to see, but it may take some time. 

"I'm not that worried about civil society organizations or civil society in general," says Zagaar. "Not now, but in 5 years, we won't have a problem, because Libyans, by nature, we like to work with people, we like to help people." 

Whether Libya can achieve stability, genuinely representative government, and real participation hinges on this spirit of peaceful association and an influential civil society based on the principles of consensus, dialogue and inclusiveness.

MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images

Democracy Lab

Libya Goes for Broke

The economic paradox of Libya: It’s rich, but it’s bankrupt.

Libya has been an especially difficult place to live over the past few weeks. With a string of high profile assassinations, a jailbreak, and a series of sometimes thwarted car bomb attacks, there is plenty for Libyans to be exasperated by. Yet amidst the lawlessness of recent weeks, nothing has frustrated the Libyan streets more than the daily power outages, sometimes running up to an excruciating 16 hours at a time. 

The government has offered explanations, from overconsumption in the summer months to lack of maintenance, a legacy underinvestment in the network, and even sabotage by Qaddafi loyalists. This may be post-Revolution Libya, but given the country's vast riches, a lack of electricity is a problem that seems especially hard to explain away. 

The country boasts some of the world's largest proven oil reserves, substantial capabilities for natural gas production, $168 billion in foreign assets and an enviable 2000 km-plus stretch of coast on the Mediterranean. For all these assets, Libya (pop. 6.4 million) also has a relatively small number of mouths to feed. In other parts of the world, the combination of small population and ample natural resources has generally proven a surefire formula for success. Why does Libya fail to follow suit? 

During Qaddafi's reign, at the very least it was clear why infrastructure and public services were lacking: the Colonel and his cronies were visibly enriching themselves on the back of oil exports, leaving little of the country's bounty for the average Mohammed to enjoy. Now that the Qaddafi family and their business associates are gone, however, the lack of public investment is more puzzling. In a nascent democracy, it is also far less tolerable. 

Truth be told, conditions for ordinary Libyans have not improved in the two years since the Revolution. The hospitals are "unfit for human beings," in the Health Minister's own words. The schools are decrepit. Sewage spills pungently into the once-pristine Mediterranean shoreline. Even an internet connection is a serendipitous occurrence. For Libyans and observers alike, it is not immediately obvious why Libya should be in such dire straits. 

Incompetence and widespread corruption top the list of popular explanations for the country's current condition. Both are, to some extent, true. Emerging from dictatorship, public servants are equal parts unskilled and corruptible. But the reality is that even a competent and fully transparent government would find governing today's Libya an impossible task. The reason is simple: despite its apparent wealth, Libya is broke. 

All you have to do is run the numbers. The country's projected national budget for 2013 amounts to some 67 billion Libyan dinars (or $52.5 billion), 90 percent of which will be derived from the export of oil throughout the year. Of this, LYD 20 billion ($16 billion) is earmarked for public sector salaries and a further LYD 10 billion ($8 billion) for subsidies and transfers. After operating expenses, what's left for "development and reconstruction" is LYD 19 billion ($15 billion) -- a meager LYD 3,000 ($2,300) per head -- to basically build a country from scratch. 

The figures are frightening, but the current government can't be blamed for them. Libya's fiscal policy is largely inherited: the hefty salaries and subsidies are the remnants of the country's recent socialist past. Unlike its Arab Spring peers, Libya hasn't only emerged from political autocracy. Perhaps more importantly, it is also emerging from Qaddafi's most indelible of legacies: decades of Soviet-style command economics. 

A young Qaddafi, the son of a camel herder from a rural central Libyan village, was taken, during the 50s and early 60s, by the ideas of the iconic Egyptian president-cum-dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser. Among them, a distaste for monarchies, the dream of a powerful United Arab States, and a fervent anti-capitalist sentiment. Years later, after his successful 1969 coup, Qaddafi published his own synthesis of the Nasserite ideology in his now-infamous "Green Book." 

Part desert-inspired philosophy, part political and economic manifesto, the Green Book with its grandiose "Third Universal Theory" laid the foundations for Qaddafi's brand of socialism. It contains such maxims as "land is the private property of none" and "wage earners are but slaves to the masters who hire them." These and other Qaddafi aphorisms were taught at every level in Libyan public schools, with students learning to recite them by heart. In Qaddafi's visionary society, citizens would want for nothing, for controlling another's need is akin to slavery. The state would necessarily be the sole provider because workers -- now "partners" -- would freely associate for the benefit of the collective. 

Under Qaddafi, the state indeed became the near-sole provider of jobs; even today, between 70 and 85 percent of the Libyan workforce is employed by the state. Large-scale subsidies (applied to everything from petrol and electricity to rice and tomato paste) kept Libya well isolated from the world: the state monopolized imports, buying in bulk from abroad and setting up state-run cooperatives in each city where ordinary Libyans could buy their subsidized basic staples and foodstuffs. These hugely discounted goods equally served a political purpose: they kept Libyan mouths just about full enough not to be inclined to speak out of turn. 

At the same time, Qaddafi engaged in an all-out witch-hunt against the "evil bourgeoisie" with their exploitative profit motive. The wealthy Libyan merchant families that emerged during the toppled Kingdom of Libya (1951 - 1969) saw their assets (lands, businesses and homes) confiscated wholesale by the regime. Many then fled the country -- largely to Egypt and the United Kingdom -- only to be subject to often very public assassination attempts by Qaddafi envoys mandated to nip the cash-rich, foreign educated opposition in the bud. 

Monopolize the labor market, implement far-reaching subsidies, crack down on private enterprise; rinse and repeat over four decades, and what you end up with is a population with a deeply entrenched cultural and economic dependence on the state.  

Of the various interim governments since the Revolution, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan's, so far, has the best grasp of the problem. His predecessors made matters worse by initiating a system of stipends for the fighters and injured of the Revolution. "This predictably spiraled out of control; amongst the 450,000 registered claims, tens of thousands of names were found to be duplicates, fakes or long deceased." 

Zeidan's cabinet, on the other hand, has shown more wisdom, cracking down on the abuses to the stipend system and announcing the phasing out of oil and food subsidies by 2016 (only partially replacing them with a monthly cash transfer). This is a bold policy for a shaky government, one that aims straight at the root of the problem. If implemented successfully, this move would substantially relieve the budget, which could then be meaningfully redeployed towards infrastructure, health care, and education -- the visible improvements so coveted by the Libyan electorate. But at a time when people expect more, not less, from the government, subsidy reform is a hard sell. 

Zeidan himself has gone to great lengths to explain why the money isn't there. A roundtable discussion on the budget was held on national television, featuring the Ministers of Finance, Oil, and Planning. The topic of the budget is a must at the prime minister's Sunday press conferences where Zeidan spends much of his airtime explaining the bureaucratic impediments his Cabinet face. These obstacles boil down to two: Libya's interim legislature, the General National Congress (GNC), has set up and given a powerful mandate to an "Audit Bureau" to review, sign off, or veto every planned government expense. The Audit Bureau has been notoriously slow in approving spending requests and the government has called for its restructuring to resolve the impasse. On top of this, the GNC has also denied the government the ability to shift spending between the line items on the budget: where one item records a surplus, the country's executive body does not have the authority to shift the monies to another more needy area of the budget. 

What's more, oil production fell below 1 million barrels a day in June this year for the first time since the Revolution (from a peak capacity of 1.6 million barrels). The government sounded the alarm that a "crisis" level had been hit. At the lowest point during the Revolution, oil production briefly came to a total standstill. Libya's rapid recovery, within a few months, to 100 percent of pre-Revolution production levels was astonishing and the subject of much international praise. 

These days, "crisis" level has been redefined: oil production has plummeted dangerously to just 30 percent of capacity due to violent unrest and strikes. The government has already warned that it won't be able to meet its commitments for the year: between salaries, subsidies, and discretionary infrastructure spending, the latter will no doubt be the first on the chopping block. 

This leaves Zeidan between the proverbial rock and a hard place. He will remain weak and untrustworthy so long as he can't produce visible results which require spending, but at the same time, he can't spend so long as he's untrusted by the bureaucrats at the GNC and the Audit Bureau and weak in the face of the security situation (therefore not credible enough to enact the all-encompassing fiscal reform that can save his government). The man doesn't stand a chance. 

But the underlying problem -- Libya's severe fiscal imbalance and unsustainability -- has little to do with Zeidan and everything to do with the essence of the modern Libyan state. Culturally and economically, the Libya that emerges post-Revolution is consistent with the Libya pre-Revolution and indeed the Libya pre-1969: the country is and remains the quintessential rentier state. 

The "rentier state," a concept first postulated in the 1970s, describes a country owing the vast majority of its wealth to the "rents" it earns from the sale or lease of an abundant resource to an external party. That has come to describe many of the Middle Eastern nations that depend on the sale of oil to foreign buyers for their livelihoods. The literature  goes further, describing a rentier state as one in which the government earns the rents and therefore controls and administers the nation's wealth. Few locals are meaningfully employed in the rent-generating industry and there is no real need for taxation. 

As a consequence, a dysfunctional social contract between governor and governed arises: the state doesn't need the citizen in order to exist, while the citizen is destitute without the state. Implicitly then, the state is not subordinated to the demands of the citizen -- beyond the bare minimum to avert revolt. Because of this, scholars have to support the idea that prototypical rentier states face disproportionately bigger obstacles to achieving democratization. 

This dysfunctional social contract has existed in Libya ever since it -- well, became Libya. King Idris al-Senussi I, Libya's first and only monarch, was the Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of the 50s and 60s. Like Maktoum, Dubai's present day ruler, Senussi was a benevolent dictator with a vision for his people: he took the rents earned from newly-discovered oil and turned them into streets, hospitals, and schools. Then came Qaddafi, who kept the "dictator," saved on the "benevolent," and used the increasing oil rents to prop up his loyalists and cronies, crushing the rest. With the collapse of the Qaddafi system in 2011 came the National Transitional Council and Libya's post-Revolution transitional governments, who scratched the dictatorship while reviving the benevolence, distributing oil rents to the fighters, injured and more recently, every child under the age of 18. For this is precisely what a rentier government does: it distributes its money as it sees fit -- always with an eye to keeping just enough people happy to preserve its power. 

Yet even in country with Libya's ample natural wealth and small population there are inherent limits to the largess -- and they are now making themselves apparent. The combination of a frighteningly low rate of oil production and the inherited "big government" budget means that there is no longer any money to distribute. People's expectations do not change overnight, however, and frustration is mounting as a consequence. 

For the moment, the lack of visible improvements will be seen as Zeidan's failure and his failure alone. Yet there is something much larger at stake. Subsequent prime ministers are fated to run up against the same systemic constraints, and frustration will build accordingly. There is a risk that people will begin to see the lack of progress not as the shortcoming of a particular government, but as the failure of democracy itself. Eerily, we could see replicated in Libya the street interviews that sometimes crop up from post-Saddam Iraq -- riddled with violence, power outages, and poverty -- where the neighborhood butcher, once enthusiastic about freedom, looking dejected sighs "at least I could put food on the table when Saddam was alive." 

If democracy is to have a chance, Libya's fiscal policy must be reformed in a manner that addresses the underlying social contract wrought by rentierism. Several crucial reforms are needed in order to achieve the paradigm shift that was promised but not delivered by the February 17 Revolution. The government must make itself smaller. Policymakers must make oil less important to the economy and swing the balance towards private sector growth. 

Shrinking the government means staying the course on subsidy reform. It will be painful: prices will rise quickly and families will feel the impact at every gas station and supermarket. But there is no choice. The budget can no longer afford subsidies, and every oil price shock or day of strikes makes the public wallet lighter. It will take a sense of civic duty and all the political will Libya can muster to see subsidy reform through to implementation. 

At the same time, it's important to recognize that subsidy reform isn't enough by itself. Removing subsidies must be paired with instituting a credible social safety net to catch those at the bottom of the economic ladder who can't afford to absorb a price increase. Money no longer tied up in indiscriminate subsidies (disproportionately benefiting the rich) can be redeployed towards more targeted welfare schemes, based on income level, geography, or otherwise-determined need. 

Beyond subsidies, the temptation to keep spending remains, particularly around election time or when the government runs out of better ideas. Every new financial commitment adds to the cost base, reinforces the current dysfunctional social contract, and hammers another nail in the coffin of economic development and intergenerational equity. To prevent this from happening, Libya's Constitutional Assembly must adopt a fiscal discipline rule in the new constitution it is creating. 

Fiscal discipline rules vary, but the basic idea is to impose limits on how much a government can spend or how much debt it can incur in a given year. The key aspect of these rules, and why it is essential they be enshrined in the constitution, is that they impose a discipline that lasts longer than a government or an election cycle. Importantly, they stop a government from doing the politically expedient thing in times of plenty: overspending to secure reelection. With a fiscal discipline rule, the constitution would better serve its stated purpose: to safeguard Libya's prosperity both today and tomorrow from political exploitation. 

The number of countries adopting a fiscal discipline rule has increased dramatically in recent years from just five in 1990 to 81 in 2012 -- notably several Latin American countries have adopted them to curtail runaway inflation and restore investor confidence following a series of currency exchange crises. As a case study, Brazil has adopted fiscal discipline rules enshrined in law, demanding that the government establish a three-year rolling target for a positive primary budget surplus (government revenues minus expenditures, before interest payments, must be positive). 

While they are not a panacea, fiscal discipline rules can at the very least serve as early warning signals. In the last two years, $300 billion Brazilian real ($131 billion) have been spent by the Brazilian government on fiscal stimulus programs (for instance, subsidized home mortgages). Over the same period, however, annual GDP growth has declined from 7.5 percent to just 0.9 percent, meaning essentially that the stimulus hasn't worked. Without a fiscal discipline rule, the government would have the option to continue to ramp up spending -- as far as incurring debt -- throwing good money after bad. 

Bound by fiscal discipline however, Brazil is mindful that in 2012 the primary budget surplus stood at 2.4 percent (officially 3.1 percent) and at the current pace of spending is projected to reach 0.9 percent in 2014 -- an election year. As a consequence of this trend, Standard & Poor's have downgraded  the outlook on Brazil's credit rating from "stable" to "negative" and President Dilma Rousseff's government is now scrambling to restore fiscal credibility accordingly, by instituting budget freezes and spending cuts. This means Rousseff won't be able to spend her way to re-election. Libya, with its immature and fragmented political spectrum and inexperience with democracy, would benefit hugely from curtailing politician's ability to overspend around election time. 

Beyond this, Libya must learn to embrace private enterprise. The government has no capacity to continue hiring, the oil industry is capital-intensive (read: not a big job creator), and youth unemployment stands at a staggering 30 percent. The only practicable way to relieve the pressure on the budget and bring about greater and more inclusive growth over the long term is to lay the foundations for a thriving private sector. The government can start with the low-hanging fruit: privatizing a number of state-owned enterprises like the General Posts and Telecommunications Company (the owner of the country's two mobile operators) and pushing the fifteen commercial banks it majority-owns (who are sitting on LD 40 billion of idle cash) to lend to small and medium enterprises. 

Strengthening the private sector doesn't just generate more money and jobs. It changes how the individual views himself: not as a vulnerable recipient of state largess but as a maker of his own destiny through the sweat of his brow. Combined with taxation and the ballot box, this then lays the foundation for a renewed social contract between governor and governed: the citizen creates the wealth and pays a portion to the elected government, which is then accountable for the provision of the public services the citizen demands. 

It's unquestionably asking a lot for Libya to relinquish its legacy political, economic, and social order all at once. But for February 17's political promise to be fulfilled, for democracy to be seen and believed to be viable in Libya, people need to sense the economic improvement first hand. Development needs investment, and investment urgently needs fiscal reform. Libya must move ahead now, while there is still time.    

ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images