|UNITING THE OPPOSITION
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, a former justice minister, enjoys respect among Libyan rebels but is not considered a strong leader.
For Libyan rebels, democratic rule will be huge challenge
CAIRO - Libya’s rebels began as a disparate group of former government insiders, Western-leaning intellectuals, businessmen, and even a smattering of ex-Islamist militants. But they were united by one goal: to unseat Moammar Khadafy.
They won international recognition by forging a leadership council that espoused democracy. With Khadafy’s regime on its last legs, the question now is whether the opposition can take over the plundered country and lead it effectively.
The task of putting Libya back together after six months of civil war and 42 years of Khadafy rule is all the more difficult because the nation has no experience at the ballot box or with democratic institutions. Khadafy ran the country according to his whims and idiosyncratic political philosophy. And he brooked no dissent.
“The rebels want a Libya reconciled with itself, that is democratic, whatever that may mean,’’ said George Joffe, a Libya analyst at Cambridge University. “But the way in which they’re going to do that isn’t clear. . . . There are absolutely no basic structures they can use.’’
Without any practical experience to fall back on, the council has done an imperfect job of managing the territory under rebel control since the uprising began Feb. 15, when youth activists started protesting in Benghazi. As the demonstrations spread and the revolt gained steam, more experienced hands rushed to join the movement and fill the leadership void.
Eventually, the rebellion formed the National Transitional Council. Members are representatives from each rebel-held city, and are selected by similar local councils.
Heading the NTC is Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, a pious former justice minister who joined the rebels in the uprising’s first high-level defection. Despite past links with the Khadafy regime, he enjoys the respect of broad swaths of the rebel public for his criticism while minister of the tight control of security forces. But he is not considered a strong leader or a dominating personality.
Abdul-Jalil is one of several former regime members who make up a powerful bloc on the council. The group includes the head of the rebels’ acting Cabinet, Mahmoud Jibril, as well as the rebels’ chief diplomat, Ali al-Essawi.
Jibril, educated at the University of Pittsburgh, helped draw up ambitious visions for the future. One of them, titled “Libya 2025: A Look Ahead,’’ called for a restricted role for the state, free expression, and the opening of the free market.
Past efforts inside Khadafy’s government have earned former regime members respect in rebel-ruled eastern Libya. They say they strive to create a democratic state, but they are not natural politicians, and the long periods many spent abroad make them distant figures.
The movement also has sought help from Libyans who have returned from exile eager to play a role in the nation’s rebirth. Chief among them is Ali Tarhouni, a straight-talking economics professor who left his teaching job at the University of Washington to become finance minister in the rebel Cabinet.
The rebellion has also found space for Islamists, including former members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a radical Islamist organization that staunchly opposed Khadafy. Some high-ranking officials in the rebel security apparatus and military have backgrounds in the group.
Some divisions have already emerged in the rebel camp, and those could expand if Khadafy falls.
Joffe said the national council’s relationship with Libya’s Berber minority in the western Nafusa Mountains is unclear. The Berbers have spearheaded the offensive on Tripoli, as well as the uprising in the western port city of Misurata that played a central role in the war.
“We don’t know whether they’ll be prepared to accept leadership of the council’’ down the road, he said.
The National Transitional Council was on the brink of collapse as recently as late July, with the killing of military chief Abdel-Fattah Younis.
Younis was a highly divisive figure who served as Khadafy’s interior minister until he defected to the rebellion early in the uprising, bringing his forces into the opposition ranks.
His move raised hopes among rebels and Western allies that the uprising could succeed. But some rebels remained deeply suspicious that he retained some loyalties to the dictator.
His body was found dumped outside Benghazi. The rebel leadership has insisted the assassination was the work of the Khadafy regime, but several witnesses say Younis was killed by fellow rebels.
The slaying has fueled concerns about unity within the rebel movement.