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Libyan leaders face new tests of authority

Libya's new leadership has international support but faces serious domestic difficulties, at least one of them of its own making.

The big problem after a revolution is authority. Taking to the streets or to the hills to get rid of a dictator takes courage, certainly. But once he's gone, even rarer qualities are demanded to build a new government that can command loyalty and respect, instil order and solve problems.

Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) is discovering this the hard way. It will need some fresh political inspiration if it is to keep alive the hope of a united and peaceful country.

The ejection from office of Muammar Qaddafi and the ensuing civil war have led to a sheaf of problems the NTC has so far not managed well. Big-picture advantages such as international goodwill and the speedy resumption of oil exports have not saved the NTC from a discouraging range of domestic problems.

Some of the tribal militias which fought as allies against Qaddafi now baulk at submitting to the NTC's authority. That is bad, but a more severe problem is the widespread resentment of Qaddafi-era officials who still hold regional or administrative offices. Recent protests, some of them violent, reveal the public's revulsion against the old regime.

In almost any postrevolutionary country, administrators who are both capable and "clean" are a rare breed, and Libya is no exception. That is the NTC's first problem on this issue. The bigger difficulty is that without broad national reconciliation, Libya could descend into a damaging tumult of recrimination and vigilante "justice".

On top of these problems, the NTC has now created a new hurdle for itself, by promulgating an election law which excludes anyone with dual citizenship from elective office, possibly even from voting.

It is no surprise that those who stayed in Libya, before and during the civil war, feel morally superior to those who fled to safety and prosperity elsewhere. But the draft election law risks alienating a important, well-connected international element of the NTC's support. Surely the voters can be trusted to decide if they trust returning expatriates.

On all these issues, and others, NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil faces a challenging agenda, and his deputy Abdel Hafiz Ghoga resigned this week after being roughed up by demonstrators.

For all its problems, the NTC has much more legitimacy, and governance ability, than anyone else. But it still has to convince the country of that.

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