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Amb. Marc Ginsberg

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A Field Guide to Libya's New Interim Government

Posted: 08/25/11 08:21 PM ET

As Gaddafi's fantasyland Jamahiriya (state of the masses) crumbles under the rebel assault, who are likely to emerge as the legitimate faces of the new nascent provisional government of Libya?

Tonight, the executive members of the provisional revolutionary authority aka The Transitional National Council, or, a tad more accurately, the National Transitional Council (NTC) arrived from their redoubt in Benghazi to Tripoli to assume command of the capital and the war-ravaged nation. Their momentous arrival in Tripoli occurs against the backdrop of blackouts, food and medicine shortages, lawlessness, and continued combat raging in pockets throughout the capital, all the meanwhile a defiant Gaddafi continues to broadcast messages decrying the rebels. It is an understatement that the NTC has its work cut out for it. Libya's future will greatly depend on this group of Libyans united in their opposition to the regime, but incipiently divided by tribal, geographic, ethnic and religious divisions which surely will emerge in the days ahead.

Since early March, the eastern-oriented initial 33-member NTC has been serving as Libya's version of America's revolutionary Confederation Congress which helped shepherd the thirteen colonies through the second half of our revolution, and which provided crucial civilian oversight and funding to Gen. Washington's Continental Army.

To its credit, and because of the hard work of its interim foreign minister, Mahmoud Jibril, the NTC has secured international recognition from a growing number of countries as the new government of Libya.

Since its formation, the NTC has acted more like an interim legislative body navigating competing agendas and rivalries since no one member on the NTC commands the national stature as a leader among equals and potential rivals. To its credit, the NTC has been expanding its membership to symbolically evidence its national mandate by including more and more members from cities and regions conquered by the NTC's rebel army on the march to Tripoli. But there is no one on the NTC that is Libya's equivalent of a Nelson Mandela or a Lech Walesea.

The provisional Chairman of the NTC and its governing structure is MAHMOUD JIBRIL, a U.S.-educated economist, and former head of Libya's National Economic Development Council. Jibril has served as the NTC's "foreign minister," shuttling around the world persuading governments to grant formal recognition to the NTC and soliciting economic support for the rebellion. Given Jibril's international stature, he may evolve as the consensus face of the Libyan provisional government.

NTC's executive committee is chaired by 52-year-old MUSTAFA ABDEL-JALIL, a highly-respected jurist and former Libyan Justice Minister under the Gaddafi regime. Abdel-Jalil is man of widely-admired principles and deemed one of the consensus builders within the unwieldy NTC. He has volunteered to go on trial for his service as a justice minister under Gaddafi -- not an unexpected offer given his reputation as a man of great integrity. Whether this selfless gesture helps or hurts his future as a national leader remains to be seen.

Vice Chairman of the NTC Executive Committee is DR. ALI AL-ISAWWI -- Libya's former Minister of Economy, Trade and Investment and envoy to India. Al-Isawwi is likely to take greater control over restoring basic services and overseeing Libya's oil exports.

The NTC's principal spokesman and its Vice Chairman is ABDEL HAFIDH GHOGA, a Benghazi attorney who is one of Libya's leading civil rights lawyer having earned a national reputation for bravely challenging the Gaddafi kangaroo court and despotic prison system. Ghoga likely will assume responsibility for overseeing interior and public security in the new provisional government.

The NTC created a variety of committees -- also chaired by old and relatively new recruits to the rebellion, such as Health, Internal Affairs, Media, Justice and Human Rights, Finance and Oil, etc.

By many accounts, there has been relative understanding and agreement among NTC members regarding the urgent priorities before it. After all, under Gaddafi's 42-year rule, Libya was devoid of any civil society institution that, when the day came, could support the NTC's goal of establishing some semblance of law and order throughout the country. With neither a legislative assembly, a political party, a labor union or anything that resembled even a Rotary Club, the NTC inherits the national equivalent of a blank canvas that, by any credible definition, is theoretically ungovernable.

While the NTC's civilian leadership is composed of fair-minded statesmen and idealists, it has struggled to maintain control over the rebel rag-tag army, whose parochial and conspiracy-laden commanders have repeatedly challenged the NTC's authority over them.

To be fair, the NTC needed every able-bodied man to fight and it is understandable that friction between rebel commanders and the NTC was going to emerge. Clearly, adding to the NTC's burden will be its ability to compel the victorious rebel army to convert itself into a force for fair law and order, subservient to the NTC's collective civilian leadership. Otherwise, the civilian leadership will confront a military determined to exacerbate the tribal and geographic divisions within Libya in order to maximize its role in the nation's future -- a recipe for yet another military dictator to emerge on the backs of a weakened civilian leadership. Have we not seen this movie before?

Following the mysterious murder of rebel commander Abdul Fattah Younes last month, the NTC appointed Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi -- a Libyan divisional commander hailing from the vitally important Obeidi tribe (Younes' tribe, as well).

Younes' death revealed the deep fault lines dividing the NTC's governing structure, which have been temporarily camouflaged by the unexpected march into Tripoli. As if the NTC did not have enough on its plate, the allegiance of rebel commanders to the NTC is not guaranteed. They have control over a country awash in guns, and whether al-Obeidi emerges as the permanent commander of rebel forces who can be trusted to abide by the NTC's directives will greatly depend on how the NTC navigates the treacherous next few weeks.

At least for the coming few weeks, the two principal faces of the revolution will be Messrs. Abdel-Jalil and Jibril. Under their leadership, the NTC has game-planned out as best as possible the inheritance that Gaddafi would violently bequeath the NTC.

Given the geographic axis of the rebellion it was understandable that the initial membership of the NTC was drawn largely from respected elements of Benghazi -- Libya's second city and perennial seat of opposition to Gaddafi's Tripoli-based dictatorship. But on the eve of victory, the NTC now confronts the urgent need to consolidate its reputation among Libyans as a truly representative and respected governing structure able to steer Libya through this perilous period pending the drafting of a new Libyan constitution and organizing free and fair elections. The NTC has not earned any broad mandate to claim it represents all Libyans. Rebels who rose up in Misrata and Tripoli, as well as tribes that took on Gaddafi's forces along the Tunisian border are suspicious of the NTC and angry that it failed to provide sufficient resources to support its western fellow rebels. Consequently, the current makeup of the NTC lacks broad representation from Tripoli or western Libya and there is serious concern that the NTC may not be able to enlist enough of these Libyans into the NTC to truly reflect a national revolutionary consensus.

This is where the United Nations, European NATO members, the U.S., and Arab states can best lend their considerable influence to compel a broad cross section of western Libyan elite and tribal elders to participate actively in a newly-reformulated NTC whose interim agenda is fair, practical and transparent, and whose principal goal will be to draft a consensus-driven constitution and establish reasonable and credible dates for elections for a new Libyan leadership.

Leaderless democratic revolutions are historically unsuccessful. Hopefully, a post-Gaddafi Libya will emerge as an exception to this rule. It is inconceivable that the NTC has the capacity to accomplish the almost insurmountable tasks before it without major international advisory assistance that demonstrates a unique dexterity to tip-toe its way around the demographic minefield of post-revolutionary Libya.