x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Libya rebel recognition cautiously welcomed by UAE-based expats

The UAE's decision to officially recognise the Libyan rebel government, the Transitional National Council, receives praise - with caveats. 

DUBAI // Libyan expatriates and political analysts have welcomed the UAE's decision to recognise the rebel government but caution against endorsing the new unelected leaders without reservation.

The Transitional National Council - despite receiving broad de facto support as the main opposition group to Col Muammar Qaddafi - has won various degrees of recognition from Australia, Britain, France, Gambia, Italy, Jordan, Malta, Qatar, Senegal, Spain, the United States and, yesterday, Germany.

The UAE joined the list on Sunday by declaring the TNC the "sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people".

Nato agreed last week to extend its airstrike campaign against Col Qaddafi's forces, and western and Arab nations meeting in Abu Dhabi pledged more than $1 billion in donations to the rebel government, and set up a mechanism for channelling the aid.

Many observers, however, say the TNC must demonstrate its ability to govern and represent all Libyans - and must hold power only until a democratically elected body can replace it.

"Those in power are only caretakers of the nation," said Anwar Yusef, a 35-year-old Libyan-British dual citizen living in Dubai. "They would need to be replaced immediately. Of course I am happy that they are being recognised, but that doesn't mean to say I favour them."

Anwar said his main fear was of a continuation of the corruption and mismanagement of the Qaddafi-era by the new leaders, who had not been elected. "The first thing we need to do is to be a lot more transparent."

Mohamed Kamal Eldarrat, a 30-year-old Libyan-American living in Dubai, said he felt comfortable with the partial recognition of the TNC as the "legitimate interlocutor" of the Libyan people offered by the US and Australia last Thursday.

Though he supported the TNC, he wanted other political parties to have a chance to compete to represent the Libyan people after Col Qaddafi falls.

"This is not the time to set up competing political bodies … but the day we read the headline [that Qaddafi has stepped down] is the day we should all be questioning [the TNC's] internal legitimacy," he said.

"I'm pleased with interlocutor. It creates a loophole for other parties to emerge."

Christian Koch, an international relations expert at the Gulf Resesarch Centre in Dubai, said concerns about the nascent government were understandable.

No serious opposition existed, given the Qaddafi regime's four-decade dominance of politics, he said.

"They basically erased any kind of institutions that could come in."

In that context, the TNC was the best current option. "At the moment they appear to be the most credible institution that seems to be trying to provide a path forward."

Western and Arab backers of the opposition government who gathered in Abu Dhabi last Thursday for the third international Libya contact group raised similar concerns about how the TNC planned to proceed.

They invited the TNC delegates to present a "road map" of how they would govern, and what type of Libya they envisioned. Some at the meeting said at press conferences afterwards that they were satisfied with the proposals - but that the TNC still had much to do.

"We think this council is an entity that has been able to prove that it's working seriously for the benefit of the Libyan people," the UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said.

The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said: "It's a very young institution, and it is trying to represent the entire nation, which is a challenge. It should be clear how much more needs to be done."

Ultimately the council would have to step aside for a democratically elected government, she said. "But we think the TNC is in a position to guide and lead that process."

At the meeting last Thursday, the TNC finance minister Ali Tarhouni said its main need from the international community was financial support but official recognition helped, too. "We appreciate all the political support we get," he said.

The TNC, which is based in the eastern city of Benghazi, has sought to show it has broad support. About two dozen delegates from across Libya gathered in Abu Dhabi last month to endorse the council. They came from western and southern regions as well as from Tripoli, the capital, and Sirte, Col Qaddafi's home town.

chuang@thenational.ae