Libya's opposition has done its part - it deserves support
As Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's bloody offensive against Libya's popular uprising enters its third month, one of the most common questions is: "Who is behind the Libyan opposition?" The answer has been subject to rumour, speculation and misinformation, from allegations of ties to al Qa'eda and Hizbollah to suggestions of a tribal civil war.
In fact, the Transitional National Council (TNC), Libya's interim opposition government, has had to expend almost as much energy defending itself against falsehoods in the western media and political circles as against Col Qaddafi's military assaults.
The TNC's creation was really an impromptu response to an unforeseen crisis in Libya. No one could have predicted that the protests of February 17 would escalate into a full-scale revolution, liberating Benghazi and other cities. After 42 years of stifling dictatorship, Libyans were understandably unprepared for the sudden power vacuum. In an effort to preserve their new-found freedom and prevent the country from descending into chaos, the temporary government was formed and officially declared on March 5.
Among the 31 TNC members are Libyan academics and professionals, including women, appointed by local councils representing various regions of the country. Its immediate purpose was to restore order and fulfil day-to-day government responsibilities in liberated parts of the country, while also acting as the legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people in the global community. Its ultimate goal was, and continues to be, the removal of Col Qaddafi from power and the transition to a secular, pluralistic, democratic government.
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the former justice minister of the Qaddafi regime, was tapped to chair the fledgling government body. According to Ali Zeidan, a representative of the council who is based in Europe, Mr Abdul Jalil was the logical choice for the leadership role because of his reputation among Libyans as an honest politician. Prior to the 2011 protests, Mr Abdul Jalil was recognised by various human rights groups for criticising Col Qadaffi's government for unlawful arrests and detentions without trial.
Other notable members of the TNC leadership include Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, a former head of the Benghazi Lawyers Syndicate, who now serves as vice chairman, and Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the executive committee, who has represented the council on the international diplomatic front. Mr Jibril led the Libyan delegation that met the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, which resulted in France's official recognition of the TNC.
The council has not only been transparent and forthcoming about the nature of its leadership, but also its vision for a post-Qaddafi Libya. In its outline for a future democratic government, it stated that Libya "will denounce violence, terrorism, intolerance and cultural isolation; while respecting human rights". On the economic front, the TNC has promised to preserve pre-existing international agreements and to protect western interests in Libya while promoting a free-market economy.
The interim government continues to face hurdles in securing international recognition. It has established diplomatic ties with a number of countries, but has been officially acknowledged by only France, Italy, Qatar and Kuwait. The United States and Britain have been more cautious in their approach. While both nations are participating in the UN-sanctioned military strikes and have increased their engagement with the council by sending diplomatic emissaries to Benghazi and pledging "non-lethal assistance", they have stopped short of formal recognition.
So what are they waiting for? According to Mr Zeidan, the hesitation stems from domestic political constraints. The US president, Barack Obama, has begun his re-election campaign, while Prime Minister David Cameron presides over a delicate coalition. They are already smarting from experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, so a misstep in Libya could prove costly to their parties and careers. But in the long run, "they have no other choice", Mr Zeidan said. "It is just a matter of time."
Time, however, may not be on the side of the Libyan people. With dwindling funds and limited resources, the TNC is struggling to defend its population against an onslaught by Qaddafi forces. At the same time, it is attempting to sustain and expand the breadth of its activities within the country and abroad while trying to meet the basic needs of its citizens.
In an increased show of support in Rome last week, the Libya Contact Group - which includes the US, European and Arab allies, and other international bodies - established a fund for temporary financial aid for the TNC. It is a welcome development, but official international recognition led by the United States and Britain would open much broader economic and diplomatic channels for the TNC to manoeuvre. It would also provide a much-needed morale boost to the Libyan opposition and deal a serious blow to Col Qaddafi's remaining power base.
Instead of being subjected to open-ended scrutiny and judgement, the TNC should be commended for its determination in the face of material disadvantages.
The international community should be doing everything in its power to ensure that the Libyan people realise their freedom. The recognition of the TNC is just the first step. After so much sacrifice and bloodshed, the Libyan people are owed at least this much.
Hanan D Ghosheh is a Libyan American activist who has launched several petitions in favour of US support for the Libyan opposition
Updated: May 8, 2011 04:00 AM