Published October 20, 2011
This is the moment of truth for the Transitional National Council and its chairman Mustafa Abdel-Jalil and prime minister Mahmoud Jabril..
So far, the TNC has been unable to establish order or a political consensus among its 35 members from different regions, tribes, and ideologies. Nor has it been able to give control either its Military Council, nor the numerous militias throughout Libya that have been running their own towns and competing for control.
Interim Prime minister Jibril has already said that he will not participate in a new government. And the TNC has stated its intention to hold elections for a Libyan parliament within eight months.
But none of this can happen unless order is restored and stability assured by Libya’s acting government. That is far from certain.
So celebration is premature. Half of the TNC members continue to live in Benghazi; others are now in Tripoli. Various spokesmen contradict one another about basic facts regarding the economy, political maneuverings, and the militia which provides security at some key government ministries. The airport is controlled by another militia. A huge political fault line between Libya’s east and west remains. Of Libya’s 140 tribes, those that remained loyal to Qaddafi’s forces have complained about grave human rights abuses at the hands of government-backed and independent militias.
Only last week as a delegation from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were meeting at the Finance Ministry in Tripoli, unknown armed militia men disrupted the meeting and “arrested” a Libyan member of the Ministry of Finance delegation as the astonished visitors looked on, according to Libyan press reports.
The problem is not money. Libya is one of the world’s largest producers of “sweet,” light crude oil. And the U.S. has contributed $135 million in aid to Libya’s new leaders since February, when popular unrest and armed militias forced Qaddafi from power. The Libyan assets that were frozen after Qaddafi was forced to flee are being unfrozen and money has been flowing, though not quickly enough, the TNC complains, to the rebels.
But the TNC has not yet consolidated control of the country. If it can’t get its act together, the most extreme elements –Islamist “Salafists” and other religious radicals who have been roaming Tripoli desecrating Sufi Muslim tombs, which they consider “unIslamic”-- may assert themselves in greater numbers and with greater fury. The result could be anarchy or ongoing civil war.
So this is potentially a great moment for Libya. Its version of the “Arab Spring” which erupted in February and forced Qaddafi and his rapacious family from power, has now prevailed. But without American or NATO boots on the ground, and without a Libyan army that is loyal to the TNC and able and willing to restore order, Washington will just have to hope that the TNC can achieve the control that has so far seemed beyond its grasp. This is a moment of triumph. It is also a moment of maximum danger.