By William Maclean
RABAT (Reuters) - An explosion in rebel-held Benghazi may be a harbinger of the kind of unrest Libya could face in the event of Muammar Gaddafi's ousting as diehard loyalists seek to stifle revolutionary rule at birth.
The blast on Wednesday damaged a hotel used by rebels and foreigners in Benghazi, wounding one person, and rebel authorities said they believed the explosion might be linked to Gaddafi agents still operating in the east.
Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council, said the explosion outside Tibesti hotel was believed to have been caused by a hand grenade thrown in a "desperate attempt" by Gaddafi loyalists to sow terror.
More such attacks are likely if Gaddafi is toppled, analysts say, because the abundance of weaponry in a time of war would make them relatively easy for Gaddafi hardliners to stage.
Tunisia's revolution was followed by repeated disturbances blamed on supporters of ousted Tunisia ruler Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. Iraq is another example of the chaos that can follow a dictator's departure -- violence continued for years after Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the 2003 U.S-led invasion.
Analysts say two factors will be important in minimizing the likelihood of unrest: the speed with which security forces seen as legitimate are deployed to keep order, and the degree to which the new rulers are prepared to offer reconciliation to those who held positions of responsibility under Gaddafi.
"HOTHEADS" MAY ATTEMPT SABOTAGE
Rebel official Guma el-Gamaty said similar acts of violence could occur for a few weeks after the removal of Gaddafi, adding these were more likely in the capital Tripoli than in the rebel bastion of Benghazi, but precise predictions were impossible.
"It's possible it could go on for a few weeks, but it's hard to call. There might be hotheads, ideologues, sleeper cells who might to try to sabotage the new situation," he told Reuters. "A lot will depend on how quickly the police and security forces are recalled to service and deployed."
Now in its fourth month, the Libyan conflict is deadlocked, with rebels unable to break out of their strongholds and advance toward Tripoli, where Gaddafi appears firmly entrenched.
But Western governments say they believe they are gradually wearing down Gaddafi's ability to control the country, through a combination of diplomatic pressure and military action.
Gamaty said a post-Gaddafi government would not "make the mistake" of U.S. administrators in post-invasion Baghdad who disbanded the national army, a move widely believed to have swelled the ranks of insurgents who plunged Iraq into chaos.
"We will try to make the changeover as quickly as possible, and be as inclusive as possible. We already have a network in Tripoli of hundreds of activists who will create a local council in the aftermath of Gaddafi's departure," he said.
Gamaty said he expected that "a few hundred" people with blood on their hands would seek to flee, but others would be welcome to stay and build a new government.
Alex Warren, a director of FrontierMEA, a Middle East and North Africa research firm, said that any violence against the new government would not be as organised as the Iraq insurgency.
"You don't have the sectarian element and there are no major opposition groups that have a clearly identified leader and there is no really ideologically driven group," he said.
But unless there was an inclusive set of talks to build a post-Gaddafi government "there could be a problem."
"The people who had a stake in the old system will need to be given an exit strategy. If there is a power void you could see looting and attempts to destabilize the new authorities."
Ashour Shamis, an opposition activist and editor based in London, said he foresaw isolated incidents but added the Gaddafi supporters staging them would not have the morale to go further and stage a highly coordinated campaign.
Nevertheless, the new government would have to try to exercise maximum vigilance and organization, he said.
Many analysts do not expect Libya to stabilize quickly after Gaddafi because 41 years of his highly personalized rule have damaged faith in the notion of public administration.
Writing in the May/June edition of Foreign Affairs, Lisa Anderson, President of the American Univerity in Cairo, said the "capricious cruelty" of Gaddafi's years in power had eroded Libyans' trust in their government, and in each other, and left a generation in their 30s and 40s who were poorly educated.
"Libya under Gaddafi has borne traces of the Italian fascism that ruled the country in its colonial days: extravagance, dogmatism and brutality," she wrote.
"The challenge for Libya is both simpler and more vexing than those facing Tunisia and Egypt: Libya confronts the complexity not of democratization, but of state formation."
"It will need to construct a coherent national identity and public administration out of Gaddafi's shambles."
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)