As the curtain falls on the final act of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's 42-year dictatorship, all eyes are now focused on the Libyan Transitional National Council, the opposition's interim government, to answer the long awaited question of what happens next.
For over six months, the TNC has played a pivotal role in steering the Libyan revolution towards its final destination - the liberation of the nation's capital and largest city, Tripoli. And it now appears poised to achieve that goal. But while the TNC deserves the credit for bringing the Libyan struggle against the Qaddafi regime to this point, it has not been a smooth ride by any means and the situation promises to only become more difficult from here.
Because Col Qaddafi destroyed any institutions that might have had the potential to challenge his power, the Libyan state is literally going to need to be built from scratch. Whoever manages the upcoming transition will have a great responsibility to bear and it is unclear if the Council in its present form is up to the task. To meet the monumental challenges of the next phase, it will have to evolve quickly and make some very significant adjustments.
First and foremost, after security, stability and basic services have been restored, the first priority of the TNC should be to reorganise and broaden its leadership and the membership of its Cabinet so that it accurately reflects the whole make-up of Libyan society, including all of its regions, tribes, ethnic minorities and women. The current members of the TNC and its Executive Committee are seen as being largely self-selected and exclusive. They have also continued to add to their ranks through appointments made on the basis of personal relationships and connections without including other well established groups and individuals that have had a long history of opposing and challenging Col Qaddafi in and outside of Libya long before the protests of February 17 began.
Moreover, some of them are former members of the Qaddafi government and associates of Sailf Al Islam that defected at various points of the revolution, which in the eyes of some Libyans, lessens their appeal to lead the transition to democracy. A recycled Qaddafi regime minus Col Qaddafi and his son is probably not the kind of change that Libyans had envisioned in their struggle and sacrifice for freedom.
Also, the establishment of the rule of law and institutions to govern this period, in addition to the drafting of a new constitution, are profound tasks that will most certainly require a wider, more inclusive, democratic process than the Council has practised thus far.
The TNC cannot take it upon itself to draft a constitution behind closed doors and present it to the Libyan people for approval. This needs to be the result of a public debate and is a responsibility for a specifically elected body to carry out with the assistance and oversight of international partners such as the United Nations. Even if they plan to submit it to the people for a referendum, representatives of the general public should also have a voice in its content.
It is true that the TNC was thrust into its role by sheer circumstance and its leaders performed as well as anyone could have, given their limitations and lack of resources. In fact, the revolution would not have succeeded without the international support they were able to secure early on. For that reason, Libyans have generally given them a free pass on their shortcomings in other areas and have exercised a patient "wait and see" strategy.
But this period is now drawing to a close. Just because they happened to be there first, does not mean they are the best suited for the job ahead and should be the only ones to dictate what happens going forward.
Once the threat of Col Qaddafi is completely removed - and that appears to be imminent, the Council will no longer be in the "state of emergency" that gave it unchallenged support, legitimacy and power to rule, by the Libyan people.
The goodwill and support it has enjoyed thus far will dissipate very quickly if the TNC does not adapt to the realities of a post-Qaddafi Libya and the fact that there is a large group of qualified, educated Libyan youth, intellectuals and professionals inside and abroad that will also want to be involved and contribute to the rebirth of their country. There should be a process established to bring them into the fold even during this transitional phase before elections.
Furthermore, the absence of established protocol, transparency, and accountability that the TNC might have got by with up till now will not be acceptable in the future. They will need to clearly demonstrate their commitment to the principles of freedom, openness and fair representation with concrete steps that may even include taking a back seat and bringing in more qualified leaders for the greater good of the country if need be.
Time will tell how the Council manages the challenging period ahead. But some of these sentiments have also been echoed by concerned western governments and institutions including the US, Great Britain and France who have cautiously supported and recognised the Libyan interim government, but are also urging inclusivity and watching carefully to make sure they follow through on their promises.
An excerpt from Nato's official statement on the events in Tripoli reads "Now is the time to create a new Libya - a state based on freedom, not fear; democracy, not dictatorship; the will of the many, not the whims of a few" - let us hope the TNC realises that the latter applies to them as well.
Hanan Ghosheh is a Libyan American freelance writer