Political change in Libya is proving to be anything but easy. With internal division rife among tribal clans and supporters of the National Transtional Council alike, there is simply too much disunity and strife among the rebels. The form that any roadmap to democracy might take in the new country also remains unclear. Alfred Hackensberger reports from Tripoli
It was all meant to be so different. The fall of Gaddafi's last loyalist strongholds was supposed to be no more than "a matter of hours" away. But peace talks broke down and a two-week ultimatum ran out. Fighting has now been going on since last Thursday (September 15) in Sirte, Gaddafi's home town, and in Bani Walid, around 150 kilometres south of Tripoli.
National Transition Council forces have tried several times to fight their way into the city centres of both only to be repelled by heavy fire on each occasion. The Gaddafi supporters have had time enough to prepare themselves for the confrontation with the "traitors and rats", as the ex-dictator liked to refer to the rebels. The elite units dug in in Sirte and Bani Walid appear to be more disciplined and certainly better organised than their rather desperate opponents.
In military terms the NTC is chaotic and the cracks in the ostensibly united rebel front are becoming all too obvious. When Gaddafi was still in power in Tripoli and all their efforts were concentrated on taking the capital, no one in the rebel ranks was interested in anyone else's ethnic origins or geographical background. But with the dictator on the run and his regime overthrown, the cohesive force that was the common enemy has been removed.
At Sirte and Bani Walid there is open conflict between NTC fighters. Militia from the city of Misrata, having held out for months against a siege by the Libyan army, are now less than willing to take their orders from commanders from other cities. Members of the Warfalla tribe in the rebel ranks are suspected of being spies. There are Warfalla in Bani Walid, and they are fighting for Gaddafi.
"Warfalla commanders tell us one thing, the commanders in other towns tell us something else," explained Mohammed Saleh, one of the NTC fighters. Organisation is chaotic: the infantry is too fast, the artillery too slow, or vice versa.
Politically, too, things are no better. The NTC cabinet was disolved a month ago. Last Sunday (September 18) was to be the day for the presentation of the new government complete with interior and defence ministers. As it transpired, NTC leader Mahmoud Jibril was only able to announce at a press conference that "consultations had taken place".
"We had consensus on some departments, but there are a few ministerial posts that still need to be discussed." Something of a conciliatory statement from Jibril, one might say. Reputedly, both he and his politcal position have been the subject of discussion.
The NTC leader had incurred the displeasure of Islamists within the organisation. During a speech in Tripoli's Martyr Square (formerly Green Square), Jibril made a speech in which he warned against the dangers of extremism and called for a moderate Islam. Ninety-five per cent of Libyans, he claimed, were moderate Muslims, a statement that made the Islamists a minority.
He didn't have long to wait for a response. In a television interview, Ismail Sallabi, noted Islamic scholar, fundamentalist and leader of the February 17 Martyrs Battalion in Benghazi, called the legitimacy of the NTC into question. "We do not need it as an executive committee any more," he said, claiming that it was made up of "former veterans of the old regime".
Clearly this was intended as a dig at Prime Minister Jibril who, from 2007 to 2011, worked for the Libyan National Economic Development Board. Also in his sights was NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a man who for decades served as a judge under the "great leader". Fundamentalist Sallabi also criticised "secular groups" that he said were discrediting Islamists.
Among the secular figures at whom the Islamic scholar is pointing the finger is surely Ali Tarhouni. Tarhouni lived in exile in the US from 1973, but, since his recent return to Libya, has progressed – via a post as oil finance and oil minister – to deputy prime minister of the NTC. In 1980, he was one of the founders of the Marxist opposition group the "National Democratic Front". Though he may not be a Marxist any longer, Tarhouni has certainly not joined the Islamists.
When Gaddafi was in power, they were imprisoned, tortured and persecuted. Today, Islamists hold key positions and have a majority on the Tripoli city council. Newly appointed head of the military in the capital is Abdel Hakim Belhaj. He is the former emir of the "Libyan Islamist Fighting Group" (LIFG), set up by Afghanistan veterans in 1995.
The LIFG's aim was the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, and it has been on the UN terror list since 2001. Until 2009, it was a part of "Al Qaida in Maghreb" (AQIM). Following the capture of Gaddafi's Bab al-Azizya compound, Belhaj, who was leading several hundred LIFG fighters, is said to have compared the event to the Prophet Muhammad's conquest of Mecca. Experienced Islamist fighters played a decisive part in the triumph of the revolutionaries over the Gaddafi regime.
Roadmap to democracy
Libya is to be turned into a democratic country based on parliamentary and party pluralism. Islam will be the official religion with the law system based on Islamic Sharia. The NTC has set out a roadmap for the transition to democracy. First of all there needs to be a "declaration of liberation". This would then be followed by the election of a "Public National Conference".
The Conference would act as a transitional government and appoint a committee to draw up a new constitution. A time limit of 20 months has been fixed for the entire transition to take place and culminate in free elections.
It all looks good on paper, but there are still many imponderables. The roadmap for democracy is dependent on the "declaration of liberation". This, in its turn, as NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil has confirmed, depends on the arrest or the death of Gaddafi – while his regime may have been overthrown, the dictator is still influencing the country's fortunes, albeit indirectly.
Understandable, then, that this point has been fiercely debated during NTC discussions on the instituting of a new cabinet. Very little of the detail has emerged. Just as little, in fact, as that available on the preliminary list for ministerial posts. Linking the political rebirth of Libya and the "declaration of liberation" to Gaddafi in this way borders on the absurd.
The ex-dictator may be on the run, but when he is likely to be captured or killed is anybody's guess. If, like his son Saadi and other leading figures of the regime, he has succeeded in escaping to Niger or to some other African country, it could be months, even years, before he can be extradited. It is time that the new Libya could put to constructive use.
The longer the delay, the more likely it is that conflicts will develop within the NTC. These may arise between the Islamists and the secularists, between the tribes, or with ethnic minorities such as the Amazigh, from the mountainous west of the country, who played a decisive role in the capture of Tripoli.
Armed to the teeth
"In Libya there are at least ten times, maybe a hundred times more weapons than there were in Saddam Hussein's Iraq," says Peter Bourckaert of Human Rights Watch (HRW). On his fact-finding trips to Tripoli he has seen "incredible stockpiles of weapons", more than he had ever seen anywhere else. And those were just the tip of the iceberg.
Tons of weapons and boxes of ammunition were removed from the barracks of the Libyan army.These included German Heckler & Koch G-36 rifles, the same weapons used by the German Bundeswehr. A depot containing 100,000 anti-tank weapons and anti-personnel mines was also plundered.The rebels seized only part of this. What became of the rest is anyone's guess.
A mystery, too, the fate of around 20,000 SAM missiles The Russian-made heat-seeking missile can be used to shoot down anything from commercial aircraft to military helicopters, or even fighter jets. These are the kinds of weapons that Islamist groups are keen to get their hands on, says HRW man Bouckaert. It was with one such missile that Al Qaida tried to shoot down an Israeli charter plane in Mombasa in 2002. It missed its target by a whisker.
© Qantara.de 2011
Editor: Arian Fariborz/Qantara.de