Urgency grows in divided Libya, says Jibril

Libya named a new cabinet yesterday designed to win broad support and quiet tribal and regional rivalries. But it may not address issues raised by senior Libyan leader Mahmoud Jibril in a recent interview.

Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters
Young revolutionaries need to quickly organize politically in order to shape a positive future for Libya, says Mahmoud Jibril, prime minister of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC).

This should be Mahmoud Jibril's moment of triumph.

As prime minister of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), he spent most of the past year traveling the world and lining up financial and military support for the rebel effort to oust Muammar Qaddafi.

Yet just a month after Mr. Qaddafi was killed and the NTC declared liberation, Mr. Jibril is worried. Very worried. In a press briefing and at Harvard University's Arab Weekend in mid-November he used the word "scary" at least five times to describe the outlook for Libya, and said that the country could slip into the sort of instability that has racked Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

The key problem in Libya is that while the NTC is officially in control, it is essentially a self-appointed body that has yet to establish legitimacy across the diverse, oil-rich nation.

There were signs of the problem today in Tripoli. Yesterday, interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib – appointed after Jibril stepped down last month – announced a cabinet designed to take into account tribal and geographic divisions within Libya. Militia commanders who fought Qaddafi were given posts, as were representatives from large tribes. The oil and finance posts went to two men who have long occupied senior management positions in the country's oil industry.

But apparently there wasn't enough cake to go around. Protesters from two Benghazi-based tribes, in the east of the country, demanded spots for their leaders in Tripoli today. In the Nafusa mountains, members of the Amazigh, or Berber, minority, said they were cutting ties with the transitional council because of insufficient representation. The Berbers were second-class citizens in Qaddafi's Libya – their language outlawed – and they contributed some of the most committed and best-organized militias to the war to drive him from power.

Jibril is well aware of the trust deficit in his home country, and doesn't sugarcoat the risks. His recommendation is to speed up the transition to an elected government, with elections in mid-2012 that will pave the way for a more representative government that can supervise the writing of a new constitution. A drawn-out transition increases the risks of instability and a slide back into despotism, he argues.

A top concern in the short term is that the militias that were formed to oust Qaddafi have largely refused to lay down their weapons. Built on regional and tribal loyalties after four decades of arbitrary one-man rule, they're reluctant to trust the country's interim leaders.

"We've had no institutions whatsoever for 42 years. No laws, no culture of dialogue," says Jibril. "And all of a sudden we've moved from a national battle against Qaddafi to a political battle without any rules. You can imagine in the absence of a democratic culture what kind of interactions are taking place.... It's scary."

In mid-November, rival militias fought outside Tripoli for two days, leaving six dead, before a peace was brokered. Jibril said at the time that the NTC is planning to offer the commanders of the largest militias a seat at the table in exchange for persuading their fighters to stand down. Whether that was enough to satisfy militia leaders will become clear in the coming weeks and months.

He also complained that Qatar, which provided military support to anti-Qaddafi rebels, is now meddling dangerously in Libyan politics.

More generally, Jibril said that young revolutionaries across the region need to step up politically. "They need to develop their own political agendas; they have to organize themselves into some sort of political party, NGOs, whatever," he said. "Then they are going to be the real power that shapes the future. If they fail to do that, then [the Arab uprisings] will lead us to a cycle of instability that might last for some time."

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