Nearly nine months after NATO troops intervened to protect civilians from the regime of Muammar Al Gaddafi, the National Transitional Council (NTC) has begun to move the country towards democracy. Since the conflict officially ended last month, after the deposed strongman of 42-years was pronounced dead on October 20th, NATO declared days later that it would officially end its Libya mission. According to official estimates, over 35,000 people are believed to have been killed since country's civil war began.
At the backdrop of Libya's transition towards democracy, I caught up with NTC Chairman Mahmoud Jibril on the sidelines of a Harvard University conference on the "Arab Spring."
Despite his soft-spoken and apparent gentle manner, Jibril began by lashing out against what he described as Qatar's "too big of a role in Libya." The NTC chairman qualified that he "appreciated Qatar's role and assistance in bringing down the Gaddafi regime," but subsequently accused Doha of supporting an unnamed political fraction. Echoing remarks made in an earlier Al Arabiya interview, Jibril said: "Qatar gave a lot to the Libyan revolution, but the Qataris are playing a role that is bigger than their actual potential. The Qataris possess soft power means, which is money and the media, but when a country stretches itself more than its capacity allows, it will be break in the middle,"
In our conversation, the NTC leader warned that Doha's "interference" could tip the political balance in Libya as the country has no culture of political dialogue, due to Gaddafi's absolute dictatorship. Jibril also accused Qatar of deviating from its previously stated objective, and instead of playing a moderating role in leading the country towards elections, Doha was overstepping its boundaries.
While the Arab League was quick to support NATO intervention against the Gaddafi regime, an Arab News report quoted Qatari chief of staff Major General Hamad bin Ali al-Atiya confirming that the oil rich emirate had deployed hundreds of troops fighting alongside rebels in their battle to topple the longtime despot and his extended family. Also noteworthy, since the beginning of the Libyan conflict, the Doha-based Al Jazeera network arguably played a prominent role in "cheering" the rebels on, as its coverage often seemed to reflect the official Qatari position on Libya.
Libya versus Syria
Meanwhile, prior to this weekend's decision by the Arab League to suspend Syria over its failure to end its ferocious crackdown on anti-regime protesters, Jibril argued:
"Assad thought Gaddafi took the right decision by deploying his security forces against his population and saw his regime as a model." Jibril remained equally critical of the Arab League's "Syrian peace plan," as he deemed the iniative as "too reconciliatory" towards Assad.
Contrasting the Libyan experience to the Syrian revolution, Jibril argued: "From the very beginning, Assad was able to convince all regime stakeholders that anti-regime protesters were part of a 'foreign conspiracy.'" Underlining his point, the NTC leader stressed that unlike in Libya, the Syrian army is supporting the regime, entirely.
In perhaps his biggest punch, and in what seemed as unwavering support of the emerging Syrian opposition, Jibril stressed that "certain" countries known to have played a prominent role during the NATO-led campaign against Gaddafi, could indeed now shift their focus towards Syria.
Qualifying his remarks, Jibril denied that a NATO-led operation against the Assad-regime was in the making, as the geography of Syria was very different from Libya's "strategic location." Nonetheless, he revealed that certain [unnamed] countries could begin to supply the Syrian "freedom fighters" with arms. Jibril also said he consulted the Syrian Transitional Council (STC), a loose coalition of opposition groups, seeking to draw upon the experiences from Libyan rebels.
Comparing Gaddafi-sponsored violence against Libyan rebels, Jibril contrasted Assad's ferocious crackdown on protesters by arguing that since the beginning of the revolution, Gaddafi responded with massive retaliation. "In Syria, it was a gradual process before the regime slowly began its killing machine."
Steering the NTC towards political inclusion?
Returning to the subject of Libyan political reconciliation, Jibril called on the leaders of the various armed rebel councils to join the NTC umbrella. Additionally, all the existing armed groups should be dissolved, he said.
Moreover, the NTC chairman argued that the estimated 15-20 existing military councils should be brought into the NTC, as part of an effort to bring the "freedom fighters into the political process." Jibril subsequently suggested that the NTC should set up various employment programs and provide "freedom fighters" micro-credits, "after all, Libya has the money." That way, he argued, "rogue" groups would be included in the political process.
In addition to the rogue groups in question, Jibril revealed that during the early stage of the revolution, Gaddafi released 16,500 convicted criminals from jails before arming them. The NTC chairman claimed this group "pretended" to be rebels, but that the criminals are the perpetrators behind a recent surge in crime and armed robberies taking place across the North African nation.
When pressed about the future of the former pro-Gaddafi strongholds of Sirte and Beni Walid, Jibril dismissed that the former pro-Gaddafi tribes would be underrepresented within the NTC.
Establishing a new constitution
Jibril anticipated that an election of a national committee, responsible for drafting a new constitution would take place within the next eight months. The NTC chairman also seemed optimistic that the preliminary work would "not take long," as the Libyan constitution of 1951 was "one of the best in the world."
Concluding our conversation, and in clear reference to Syria and instability elsewhere in the Arab world, Jibril emphasized: "When people take their fate in their own hands, no one can stop them." And in that sense, Libya could become a model for the region, he said.