Dark smoke continues to billow from Col. Muammar Qadhafi's compound in Tripoli, and reports suggest that rebels are close—whether that means hours or days—to claiming the capital city. However, as fighting continues amid celebration, Libyans and the international community are reminded that this apparent victory will only bring with it a host of new challenges as the country transitions to a post-Qadhafi era.
The Transitional National Council, which is expected to take the country's lead, has a tough—some would argue nearly impossible—to do list moving forward. The hardest task of all may be convincing the Libyan people and the international community that they're up for the job.
Here are seven of the biggest challenges ahead for Libya's new leaders:
1. Establish basic security. Fighting reportedly continues in Tripoli as some pro-Qadhafi elements remain dug in. So, in addition to the not-so-small task of finding Qadhafi himself, it's essential, and perhaps a first priority, that the country's new leaders make sure that any resistance from Qadhafi loyalists come to an end. And even though the rebel security forces seemed to have demonstrated their capabilities in Tripoli, according to David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, maintaining the strength of these forces could be even more difficult than it was for the new governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially since NATO forces won't likely be allowed on the ground to help with training. Nevertheless, security could be an area where regional neighbors, like Egypt, could help. [See what Qadhafi's defeat could mean for President Obama.]
2. Unify the opposition. Up to now, the Transitional National Council has been the internationally recognized face of the Libyan rebel movement, and according to experts, it's the best available hope to lead the transition. Still, however, the group has a long way to go before it can call itself truly representative of all the Libyan people. So, as the council transforms from a Benghazi-based regional power within Libya to a nationwide power, it's vital that they remain fully inclusive, bringing in various tribal voices from around the nation, even those which had been represented by the previous regime. "They need some new faces around the table—sufficiently inclusive, to ensure there won't be any excluded or marginalized communities," says Cortright.
It's important to remember that while the outside world largely viewed the rebel movement as a single entity throughout the conflict, the reality is that it comprised a number of different groups with different interests. With Qadhafi out of the picture, there won't be a common enemy to rally around. And without unity and adequate representation, it could mean instability, and potentially a new stage of civil war.
3. Deal with Qadhafi and his supporters. After he's found—and assuming he's still alive—the new leadership will need to decide what to do with Qadhafi. The International Criminal Court already has a warrant out for his arrest, so he, and other major players in his regime, like his sons, could be tried internationally. Although experts say it's unlikely, the Libyans could also decide to try him within the country; but without a legitimate legal system in place, such a trial would likely only compound problems for Libya's transition.
Apart from dealing with Qadhafi himself, the Libyans also need to make sure there's not an all out free-for-all for exacting revenge on Qadhafi loyalists. According to Robert Malley, Middle East and North Africa program director at the International Crisis Group, a Washington-based research organization, avoiding any sort of attempts at vigilantism or "score-settling" will be essential for beginning a peaceful transition, and rather there needs to be some sort of official judicial solution for dealing with his supporters. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Middle East uprisings.]
4. Deal with basic humanitarian issues. Recovering from the country's months of war, it's important that basic utilities, like water, electricity and sanitation, are restored in certain areas of the country and maintained. Not to mention, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, since mid-February when the Arab Spring began, more than 650,000 people have fled the country. There's also hundreds of thousands of internally displaced refugees that are now homeless within their own borders. Making sure these people find a home is key. "Those are the normal challenges of this kind of civil war, or disruption," says Miller.
Corrected on 08/24/11: A previous version of this article misspelled David Cortright’s name.