x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Worrying signs that Libya's 'transitional' rebels plan to stay

So far, the Transitional National Council has served Libyans well, especially on the international front. But once Col Qaddafi is removed, an elected government must take control of the country.

Amid Nato's escalation of its military campaign, increasing regime defections and recent gains by Libyan rebels in the west, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's end game seems to be fast approaching. Given the expanding list of countries that are recognising the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people, the dictatorship grows weaker and more isolated each day.

It's worth asking, though, what happens after Col Qaddafi?

The formation of the TNC is rightly credited with preventing Libya's February 17 revolution from spiralling into chaos and anarchy - the "Somalia" scenario that many western political analysts predicted. With the support of Libyans, at home and abroad, the council has been able to organise, maintain order and win the backing of international partners, France, Britain, Qatar and the UAE most recently.

Yet the question of what the council will do the day after Col Qaddafi is removed remains largely unanswered.

From the beginning, Libyans rallied around the TNC as a symbol of national unity because it was a rejection of Col Qaddafi. However, this has been based on one fundamental premise: after Col Qaddafi's fall, the function of the council will cease and give way to a broader, more inclusive, elected body to lead Libya's transformation into a free, democratic society. In the words of Jeffrey Feltman, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, the council's "job is to go out of business as soon as possible".

But recent statements and actions by some TNC members and its executive committee seem to suggest otherwise. Initially, the Benghazi-based government declared that a referendum would be held on a new constitution within four months of the overthrow of Col Qaddafi, with presidential elections following two months later. But at a press conference last month, Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, the council's vice chairman, announced that elections in Libya could be as far as two years away.

This startling departure from the original promise of a swift transition took even some of its own members in Benghazi by surprise, revealing a lack of cohesion within the ranks.

Equally, if not more, disturbing are indications that a committee has been formed within the TNC that is drafting a new constitution for Libya, which far exceeds the mandate of the interim body. A new Libyan constitution that will serve as the foundation of a future government must be conceived by an elected congress representing all of Libya with the oversight of the United Nations or some other international civil institution, as was the case following Libya's independence declaration in 1951.

The current council is neither authorised nor qualified to undertake this responsibility. It has no right to make decisions or plans that would have a binding effect on the future of Libya.

Further fuelling discontent, the TNC's regular meetings are being held privately with no published agenda or minutes, and there seems to be a general lack of transparency about its inner workings and decision-making process.

The council's membership has also mushroomed from the original 31 individuals by the addition of new members through personal affiliations, many of whom have been kept secret.

On the other hand, some of the major players in the TNC are former high-profile Qaddafi regime officials, which for many casts a shadow on their eligibility to lead a newly democratic Libya. This is not to say that no one from the old regime should be allowed to participate in the new government, but it is an issue for the Libyan people to debate and decide when the time is right.

Despite all of these developments, most Libyans seem to have deferred their concerns about the TNC for the sake of solidarity during this vulnerable period of crisis. Although the council is gaining legitimacy as it is recognised by foreign governments, the good faith it enjoyed among Libyans in its early stages is starting to wear thin with speculation about the motives and possible hidden agendas of some of its members.

There is a pervasive fear that some within the TNC may be positioning themselves to secure power and influence in the next phase. These concerns are starting to be publicly aired in Benghazi and other liberated parts of the country.

While the Transitional National Council has been a critical part of the Libyan struggle for freedom, its role must continue to be just that - transitional. After all, it came into being under extraordinary circumstances without a democratic selection process or any mechanism that would ensure its accountability to the Libyan people.

So far, the council has served the Libyan cause well, especially on the diplomatic front. But once Col Qaddafi's threat is gone and the war ends, so should the council's role. It will be high time for the Libyan people to reclaim their mandate and determine their future as a nation for themselves. After 42 years under a ruthless dictatorship, they have certainly earned that right.


Hanan D Ghosheh is a Libyan-American freelance writer