Libya’s rebels face questions as transition looms

Reuters BENGHAZI, Libya, Aug 18 (Reuters) – Opponents of Muammar Gaddafi have managed to cobble together an alliance and, with plenty of NATO help, fight the Libyan leader’s forces to what increasingly looks like the verge of defeat.

Now the hard part might be about to begin: The rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC) might soon have to step up and run the country, if Gaddafi is swept aside.

The council has been unable to shake off fears about its ability to govern, let alone remain united, in this oil-producing country awash with weapons. It may face tribal and regional divides and creeping Islamisation.

The council, recognised as Libya’s legitimate authority by more than 30 countries, says it is ready to lead Libya on a path to stability and democracy.

“Of course we’re ready to take over,” the head of the NTC’s political committee, Fatih Baja, told Reuters. “We’ve been preparing for this since the first month of the revolution.”

The NTC is a disparate group of Gaddafi opponents which emerged in February in the wake of uprisings in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. It includes former Gaddafi officials.

It is based in Benghazi, operating out of hotels and homes in eastern Libya’s biggest city, which feels more like a laid-back seaside town than the hub of a revolution.

The NTC’s suburban headquarters is guarded by fighters in pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted in the back. Reporters have to show rebel-issued press cards before passing through a metal-detecting gate.

Along with fly-blown piles of uncollected trash in the streets, there is a sense of disorganisation. Rebel officials have earned a reputation for poor communications, both among themselves and with their allies and the media.

Faced with the prospect of Gaddafi’s departure after 41 years of harsh rule, they have set up a task force with a plan to take over quickly in the capital, Tripoli, Baja said.

“Security is at the top of the list, to secure Tripoli militarily and socially,” he said.

But analysts fear trouble could begin as soon as the inevitable volleys of celebratory gunfire die down.


“What’s uniting the NTC is Gaddafi. When Gaddafi is gone they’re going to clash,” said a Middle Eastern analyst who declined to be identified.

Rifts already exist in the rebels’ rag-tag military force with poorly defined chains of command and loyalties divided among factions.

Old regional divisions are also likely to surface, exacerbated by a perception that rebels in the Western mountains and central city of Misrata have been doing the hard fighting while the leaders in Benghazi enjoyed peace for months.

A harbinger of what could be in store is the still unexplained July 28 killing of the rebels’ military commander, Abdel Fattah Younes, a former top Gaddafi security official, after he was taken into custody by his own side for questioning.

While rebel leaders have hinted at the involvement of a pro-Gaddafi fifth column in their own ranks, the killing of Younes has fanned fears of a weak NTC unable to halt a slide into bloodshed as rival factions, including Islamists backed by shadowy interests in the Gulf, bid for power.

“This could descend into chaos,” another analyst said.

Baja dismissed fears of rivalry getting out of hand after the NTC takes power, though some conflict was inevitable.

“This is a democratic transition. It’s normal,” he said.

One problem the rebels should not have to contend with is revenue. With a population of only 6 million and Africa’s largest oil reserves, living standards should be on a par with those in Dubai.

While some oil facilities have been damaged in fighting, and it could take several years to get production back to pre-war levels of 1.6 million barrels a day, the new government should be able to begin some exports quickly.

NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, a justice minister under Gaddafi who earned respect for standing up to the leader on human rights, has outlined a 20-month transition period to elections, with the NTC continuing for the first eight months.

A soft-spoken consensus builder and unifier, Jalil told a news conference this week that this option was “the best of the worst” and it was unreasonable for the unelected NTC to hold office longer, despite calls for it remain in power for the whole transitional period.

The prime minister of the rebels’ shadow government, Mahmoud Jibril, a former top development official under Gaddafi, has extensive foreign contacts and has been the rebels’ roving envoy.

But his travels have frustrated some colleagues and foreign backers, and Jibril is now expected to focus on domestic responsibilities, including the nomination of a new cabinet line-up in coming days.

The old cabinet was dismissed for ‘shortcomings’ related to the killing of Younes. The most closely watched portfolio is that of oil minister, with hopes in some quarters that straight-talking Ali Tarhouni will return.

The rebels only stand on the cusp of power because of what they acknowledge has been the invaluable assistance of NATO air power, and outside help will remain vital.

“They could become one of those moderate Arab states we’ve been looking for,” said a Western diplomat. “But time is of the essence. We have to quickly provide life support to stabilise the country.”

Source: Reuters

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10 Responses to Libya’s rebels face questions as transition looms

  1. Richard From France says:

    The council may consider itself as a transition body, not a real government.

    But it is de facto the government, and it should strengthen itself for this purpose.

    Of course, when democratic elections will occur, the heads (ministries) will probably be changed. But a government is not just a cabinet with some ministries, it is a whole administration and hierarchy, which may include tens of thousands of people, simple clerics, or specialists of many domains.

    I think that the Council should not wait for the victory to start building all this. Military victory in Tripoli may be still months ahead, while many affairs need to be taken care of immediately.

    So please don’t wait, hire competent people right now, even if they cannot be paid, they need to be given titles and recognitions of their functions, and authority to exert it. This administration backbone can be built right now, without waiting for elections. Elections will only give it a direction, not change it.

    So the NTC should become the NTG, National Transition Government. of course it must have in its mandate a plan to swap to a real democratic government within a few time, and some caution to avoid to turn into a new dictatorship.

    • Cecilia says:

      We totally agree with the opinion of Richard From France! We think its high time that NTC in Benghazi is starting making provisions for a new Libya after Gaddafi. We wish the new government lots of luck & strength! Dictatorship should never ever take root again!

  2. Richard From France says:

    A concern of many people is about tribes in Libya being a source of conflict and division. I don’t see much things like this, except for some tribes which have the repute of “supporting Kadhafi”. It would be a great mistake however to punish all the members of a given tribe, because of the behaviour of some of their members. If there is any kind of justice done against Kadhafi’s supporter, it must be on a personal behavior basis, never on a tribe belonging basis. This has to be made clear, especially in places victim of Kadhafi propaganda.

    So national reconciliation effort is needed on any tribal issue. Any discrimination against a tribe will become a long lasting cause for dispute or division.

    • You would give people not in leadership of a tribe a pass for being indecisive when others have been deciedly active in pursuing their freedom……….I geuss…………

      I don’t see a 20 month role for the council. The revolutionaries on the ground have their own heroes, the sirte sheiks have their own plan, and you know the clergy are going to come out of the woodwork……..

      • ADESC says:

        Richard’s opinion is the most sensitive one. A civil war always create internal injuries that may last years and helping decrease tendions is key. It is fundamental that those that once were pro kadhafy realize that their oponents were not as portrayed by the criminal dictator.

  3. Fredy says:

    We have to acknowledge that the city of Benghazi it’s been operating much better without the presence of the old regime. Since Tripoli perhaps did not have as a strong opposition to the regime some might expect the future government in Libya to be questionable.However, we should consider the fact that the mass killings of protesters in Tripoli executed by the regime ignited the current uprise.

    There will definitely be an minority opposition group against the NTC because of the many surviving G followers. Their voices will be heard but they will not be the people in command of the nation and they will definetly lack the strength to confront the rebels, If they do now is there chance and they will be defeated and calm down. I can say they are going to be smashed. The rebels are furious , determined and very close to starting to engage the enemy and all of it’s followers.

    The rebels are not rats, they are the people in command of most of Libya right now and will be in the near future. In this aspect the people who follow Gadaffi have got to learn to respect the rights of their fellow Libyan and stop being stupid.

    All the fears of public disarray in Benghazi were mostly speculation.

    It will take decades to build a strong democracy in Libya just like in any other country including the superpowers. So we should keep our feared based judgement in balance.

    Everything is going to be all right.

    Go rebels.

    • Richard From France says:

      It will take decades to build a strong democracy in Libya just like in any other country including the superpowers.

      exact that it took two centuries to lead us where we are. But Libyans and other Arab countries can learn from our mistakes and save some pitfalls.

      The main obstacles to a good democracy however remains ignorance and stupidity.

      Good example is Bhutan, where the kings themselves are leading this country from a feudal regime to a modern democracy, with good success. The only problem they had was with some terrorists, that they had to fight and expel.

      Problems that modern democracies have to face are:

      -lack of independent and objective medias. Most are capitalist and atheist, opposed to environment awareness, religious freedom, non-egocentric economies, etc.

      -prevalence of materialistic, technocratic and atheist ideologies, threatening human rights, environment, and building an ugly noisy gray world

      -competition, which creates a minority of rich and a majority of poor. However the roots of competition are deep into our egocentricity, so that only a strong spirituality can counterbalance it.

  4. a says:

    The key will really be democracy, that is acting respectful and inclusive and honest, and having a vision for a new society that everyone can respect, experience, participate in, and live. Rule of law, having objective and neutral justice for all. Chances for everyone, politically and economically. And not letting some new big or small “Gaddafis” raise, regionally or nationally. Healing the wounds, and building a new future for the children and coming generations. There will be some turmoil, but one can learn from other revolutions and avoid mistakes. The big advantage is, that in a society where everybody can be heard, have a voice, and express ideas, there will be plenty intelligence, creativity, and optimism, provided that everyone has also the means to discuss, present, and realize his visions. That will be the job of the council until the elections. It is a big mess now, with all the war, wounds, hatred, but if you look at it differently, not many people in history had this chance, to invent a new, better society and country from former oppression, chaos and war. In Germany, after the terrible and idiotic second world war, it went quite well. In the US, after their civil war, they became a leading country and shaped the whole world. It is a big chance, but also a big responsibility for everyone. Express your wishes, listen to those of your fellow citizens, respect them even if you disgree, find compromises, and then see what can be done. With this wealth of natural ressources and human talent, I would think it should go well.

    • a says:

      It is a little bit like if you move to a new room, place, house or flat, and everything is dirty, spoiled, there is some old furniture and decoration you have to throw out, you have to clean up the place, paint it new, repair things, lots of work. But you do have a vision of how YOUR place should be, look like, feel like. And once the walls are painted, and you start to move the new furniture inside, decorate the walls, invite some friends, it feels better and better. And if you do it wisely, this feeling will last, even after some years you have to paint the walls again, etc.

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