By Ranj Alaaldin
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 26/05/2011
Libya's official opposition movement is the Transitional National Council (TNC). It was established a week after the initial uprising began in Benghazi and is headed by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the Libyan regime's former justice minister. Its underlying purpose is to give the armed uprising in Libya an organisational structure that allows it to effectively end more than 40 years of brutal dictatorship.
The formation of the TNC was a necessity. Perhaps unlike others in the region, the Libyan revolution needed leadership and organisation. By that same measure, however, the creation of the TNC provides for a number of uncertainties that must be addressed.
Libyans maintain they have shed too much blood to find themselves confronted with another dictatorship. When I asked what they thought of the TNC and Jalil in Benghazi's shisha cafes, the average Libyan would praise them both before adding: "but we don't want dictatorship". Similarly, when probed about the future, they would express their desire to see elections and political parties.
When I spoke to TNC officials in Benghazi, they were adamant that elections would be held once the country is liberated. Yet, the conundrum for them is what if the current status quo, whereby you have a self-governing autonomous region in the east and a Gaddafi-controlled west, continues for another five or even 10 years.
When I put this question to a TNC delegation that came to London two weeks ago to see David Cameron, their answer was that this scenario was not an ideal one. In other words, it is yet to be prepared for.
The dilemma is two-fold. First, to hold elections in the east without the participation of western Libya essentially equates with partitioning the country. At the same time, however, Libyans will not allow a so-far unaccountable TNC to continue making decisions for the future and managing extensive funds that are coming its way. The Libyan population still worry about corruption.
Other opposition groups, based in both the west and Libya, recognise the TNC and welcome its creation but remind that no one has elected them and that there is still no transparency.
So far, the TNC has released the names of only 13 of its 30-member leadership council, out of security concerns since some members represent areas under regime control. Five seats have been reserved for the young, February 17 revolutionary committee that instigated the protests against Gaddafi.
TNC members have been co-opted on the basis of their expertise and the extent to which they were linked with the regime. Along with Jalil, who in the past gained prominence by outspokenly criticising Gaddafi, other defectors include former interior minister Abdul Fatah Younes (now defence) and Mahmoud Jibril, the current foreign minister who used to head Gaddafi's National Economic Development Board (closed down in recent years because of corruption).
Perhaps as influential as Jalil is Mahmoud Shammam, head of media and a former editor of Foreign Policy magazine's Arabic edition. Shammam, who used to sit on the board of al-Jazeera, is the link between the TNC and the Qatari government, which has invested heavily in the TNC through money and arms.
The existence of influential and prominent figures, such as Shammam and Jalil, means that power struggles are not unlikely in the near future. Prominent officials have already started to appoint their own personal associates and allies on to the council.
The danger is that such potential power struggles, combined with generally unaccountable leadership, provide an environment conducive to violent instability. Rumours of assassinations in Benghazi of regime loyalists or anyone "perceived" to be a loyalist have increased. Further, as a more efficient and organised TNC military emerges, there is nothing to stop military circles from becoming personal militia groups answering only to powerful TNC officials.
This renders it imperative for the TNC to begin addressing its democratic and accountability deficit – sooner rather than later.
While elections are not feasible right now, this does not mean there can be no consultative process with the broader Libyan society. Ambitious and older politicians, for example, have been criticised for sidelining the young revolutionaries of the February 17 committee, who are also disfranchised as a result of the vast influx of former Gaddafi men into the TNC.
Nevertheless, it is important to maintain perspective. No matter how unseemly it may be to outsiders, nepotism and other forms of personalised appointments may be the only real guarantee of loyalty at a point when the uprising is still sensitive to penetration by the regime and individuals still vulnerable to being compromised or, at worst, being killed by regime loyalists.
The road to freedom will be long and rocky. But it does not mean Libyans, and their western backers, cannot start thinking ahead and ensuring another war in the east does not erupt before the current one is ended or, alternatively, ensuring another dictatorship does not emerge before the current one is defeated.