Libya's new leaders divided, untested

TRIPOLI Thu Sep 1, 2011 7:18pm IST

Libyan boys pose with toy guns as they gather during the first day of Eid al-Fitr near the courthouse in Benghazi August 31, 2011. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

Libyan boys pose with toy guns as they gather during the first day of Eid al-Fitr near the courthouse in Benghazi August 31, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Esam Al-Fetori

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya's new rulers have been united by little more than wanting to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi and so, as they met world leaders on Thursday following his sudden downfall, the spotlight is now falling on their own divisions.

In the confusion of their swift final seizure of power, mutual suspicions are growing within the ramshackle rebel coalition, and scepticism is deepening among the Libyan people whom they must now lead. The victors of the revolution are struggling to pull together the threads of national unity.

The National Transitional Council (NTC), led largely by figures from long disadvantaged eastern Libya as well as by prominent defectors from the old regime, is under pressure from within Libya and from Western backers to form a stable, legitimate government that includes all regions and tribes.

But that is a tall order in a country where, since he seized power in a military coup on Sept. 1, 1969, Gaddafi all but obliterated institutions other than the quirky underpinnings of his highly personalised rule.

Both the NTC and its international friends are conscious of the disaster that befell Iraq after its U.S. occupiers dissolved Saddam Hussein's army and the Baath party, creating a large pool of heavily armed men who were both angry and unemployed. It is a mistake, the Western powers are anxious not to repeat.

Yet there is great suspicion, especially among the young vanguard of the Libyan uprising, about the motives of former allies of Gaddafi who dominate the NTC under his former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil.

"If they wanted to reform, or are capable of it, they would have done so when they occupied their old posts," said Mustafa al-Feitouri, a university professor and writer in Tripoli.

"They came from within the Gaddafi regime and with the same mentality of the old regime. Therefore many people are sceptical about their honesty and capabilities.

"There are rivalries and tensions between the youth who have led the revolution and the leaders in charge of the politics. They feel that their role is being marginalised."

OLD AND NEW GUARD

Other factions, notably from the west of Libya, as well as the NTC's NATO allies, are also wary of placing the estimated $170 billion of Libya's frozen assets abroad in the hands of an organisation that has yet to win clear national confidence.

"The West realises that the NTC is not organised and not harmonious. This is why they are cautious," said Saad Djebbar, a British-based Algerian lawyer who once acted for the Gaddafi government in dealings over the Lockerbie airliner bombing.

Some Libya watchers say the alliance with Western powers should not end with the military victory that toppled Gaddafi.

"The West is wise not to release Libya's frozen assets before laying down the procedures and creating a machinery for transparency, control and good governance," Djebbar added.

Amid shortages of everything from water to electricity to basic foodstuffs, confidence is in just as short supply.

"People are happy with the liberation and that the regime fell but the reality is more complicated. The chaos that we're seeing in providing services, water and electricity is also applicable to the political and military scene," said Feitouri.

NTC officials say the 40-member council, the composition of which reflects a balance between a desire for competence and a need for consensus, has faced a challenge from the start --reconciling the democratic ambitions of the mostly young Libyans who threw off Gaddafi's rule with the views of town and village elders who fear for the country's traditional social order.

"The rebels from all shades, tribes and allegiances rallied together and were united in their goal which is to bring down the regime but their long-time differences have started to emerge now as soon as they achieved their goal," said Feitouri.

"The two sides have a generational gap and a different vision that separates them. There is a clash between the young rebels and the NTC leaders who are from the old generation."

The failure of the top leadership, including Abdel Jalil, to make an appearance in the capital 10 days after Tripoli fell has also prompted questions, notably over this week's Eid al-Fitr holiday. Suffering the hardships of war, many people in the city are bemused to see their new leaders spending their time abroad.

CORRUPTION FEARS

There is concern also that the revolutionaries of today may follow the example of those before them who toppled the post-colonial monarchy of King Idris in 1969 under the banner of instituting social justice and a fair distribution of wealth.

"The revolutionaries of Gaddafi turned into wealth profiteers," Djebbar said. "The West should remain the ears and eyes of Libya, otherwise the institution of corruption which existed for a long time will continue."

The Western allies of the NTC have only just started to drip feed funding to the emerging administration, with the arrival this week of the first hundreds of millions of dollars.

Feitouri said: "The West is worried about the NTC and how they will spend the money. They don't have confidence in the existing mechanisms or in the people who are managing these procedures to allocate the billions of dollars."

Among early signs that Libyans will be looking for to see that the NTC is getting to grips with its challenges will be moves to enlarge the ruling council to include other credible and influential figures, who can win the support and respect of large segments of society, including supporters of Gaddafi.

"It is better to reach out to their opponents, pro-Gaddafi tribes and followers, otherwise they will fight fiercely and continue to cause damage," Djebbar said.

Though Libya does not suffer the sectarian cleavage that fueled the bloodshed in Iraq after Saddam -- most Libyans are Sunni Muslims -- there is no shortage of tensions which may cause problems. The aspirations of Islamists to a more religious society, heavily suppressed by Gaddafi, are likely to surface.

Although the rebel movement attracted Libyans of all sorts, including secularists, nationalists, Islamists and tribal leaders, the Muslim Brotherhood, seems the most organised force.

Like their namesake in Egypt and other Islamist groups which are also benefiting from the Arab Spring's removal of secular autocrats, Libya's Brotherhood has the social foundations and popularity that may help give it a leading role in future.

"Libyans are highly committed to Islam," Feitouri said.

"They (the Muslim Brotherhood) will find wide support among ordinary people in any future election."

(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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