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Libyan rebels may have to settle for half country

The phantom of partition looms over Libya as members of the National Transitional Council mull political future

AFP , Sunday 29 May 2011
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Libya's rebels are planning for a post-Gaddafi future, appointing "ambassadors" and drafting a constitution, but risk becoming a provisional short-term government for only half of the country.

More than three months since the start of the insurrection against Muamer Gaddafi's regime, the rebellion led by the National Transitional Council is asking itself: what if the status quo lasts months, or even years?

"It's normal to work towards the future of the country, to imagine a system," one member of the NTC, which is based in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, said on condition of anonymity.

"But it is also true that as time passes, the risk increases that we set up a system that will not fit in the west of the country and that might be hard to sell to the Libyans in Tripoli."

Led by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who won the respect of the opposition for criticising Gaddafi while he was the strongman's justice minister, the NTC is Libya's only interlocuter with the West, led by France, Britain and the US.

However, none of the NTC's 31 members have been elected, and its cabinet is equally undemocratic in its composition.

"Jalil will not name a provisional government until Gaddafi has been killed or has left the country," said a European diplomat in Benghazi.

"A government that does not represent all the regions, notably Tripoli, is a partition of the country, and that's a victory for Gaddafi," the diplomat added.

Meanwhile, the rebels are concocting "a sketched outline of a draft constitution," according to Salwa Fawzi al-Deghili, the NTC member charged with organising political reform.

Deghili is a Sorbonne-educated professor of constitutional law and is part of the team charting the "roadmap" to democracy, on which are marked various pit stops: an assembly of constituencies, a draft constitution and electoral law, and then parliamentary elections.

The whole process could take "one or two years," according to the NTC's vice chairman, Abdul Hafiz Ghoga.

"We hope to enlarge the NTC to represent the whole country," Ghoga said.

Representatives from western Libya have recently been integrated into the council, while other central and southern parts of the country could also soon join the NTC.

For several weeks, new faces have been appearing in NTC offices or in the Benghazi hotels at which Libyan officials and Western diplomats meet.

Businessmen, intellectuals -- some of whom have returned from exile -- rub shoulders with former senior regime officials who switched sides.

And the original revolutionaries -- the "February 17 Council" which has only five of the 31 seats on the NTC -- are beginning to voice their discontent.

Some individuals have taken a step back until the real battle of the first legislative elections, the consensus being that the present team members -- Jalil included -- will not be able to put themselves forward in the future.

But power struggles have been exacerbated with the development of an embryonic administration.

Positions to represent the rebellion abroad, especially in Paris and Washington, are keenly contested.

Some, like Abdel Kader Kadura, a constitutional lawyer with influence on the NTC, denounce the "over-representation" of certain groups, such as those from Libya's second city Misrata, and preach federalism as "the only antidote to partition."

Another problem is that the rebels' power structure is not always clear, as evidenced by the defence portfolio.

Abdel Fatah Yunis, a former interior minister, was once regarded as the rebellion's military leader, despite the presence of a "minister" of defence.

However, the appointment to the position of Jalal al-Degheli, a 76-year-old former soldier and diplomat, has confused the issue.

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