Who is the Interim Transitional National Council and what’s next for Libya?
Qaddafi’s regime is on the verge of falling and living its last hours after the takeover of the capital Tripoli by Libyans opposition forces with the help of NATOs forces and presumably MI6 officers on the ground advising the rebels on the strategy behind the operation, in a plan drawn up weeks ago. The fall of Qaddafi is a victory for the Libyan people and a first path to build a new Libya.
The Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC), established in February by a rebel coalition forged in Benghazi, has vowed recently to hand over power to an elected body within eight months of the downfall of the country’s ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The head of TNC Mustafa Abdel Jalil said the transitional body is necessary “to establish stability” in the country, but Libyans will choose a national congress after the Libyan long-time ruler is forced out of power. He also added that a referendum on a new constitution will be held 20 months after Gaddafi is overthrown.
In the same time, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a special Libya summit with the heads of the European Union, Arab League and African Union this week in New York, while Turkey’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu in a press conference in Benghazi with Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the leader of the ITNC, declared that NATO will continue its military campaign in Libya until full security is established in the nation.
The following question is therefore on everyone minds, especially Libyans: what future for Libya and for whom? To answer this question we first look at the current composition of the ITNC and people close to it, while looking at recent declarations of western powers in regards to Libya.
The ITNC, only an interim?
The ITNC has now been recognized by numbers of countries as the legitimate governing authority. The Arab League released a statement officially recognizing the ITNC, while many western countries have done so such as the US, UK and France.
The ITNC derives its legitimacy from the decisions of local councils set up by the revolutionary people of Libya on the 17th of February, according to its website. The aim of the ITNC is to steer Libya during the interim period that will come after its complete liberation and the destruction of Gaddafi’s oppressive regime. It will guide the country to free elections and the establishment of a constitution for Libya.
The ITNC is composed of a council which consists of thirty one members representing the various cities of Libya from the east to the west and from the north to the south and of an executive board of 15 members. The executive board was dismissed on 8 August 2011 following the assassination of the rebel military commander, Major General Abdul Fatah Younis. The board’s chairman Mahmoud Jibril is expected to name members of the new board in due course.
The previous ITNC executive board nevertheless gives us a good picture of the Libyan opposition inside the council divided mainly in two separate groups. The first one is linked to the Qaddafi’s regime and has defected only recently from it to join the opposition. It has strong link with Western countries and were the first one to call for a foreign military intervention.
We find the leader of the ITNC Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who resigned from his position as Gaddafi’s justice minister on February 26 in response to the regime’s violent crackdown on peaceful protests. He is known for having been supportive of some reform initiatives advanced by Sayf al Islam al Qadhafi and for challenging Muammar al Qadhafi and his supporters regarding due process and incarceration of prisoners in some prominent legal cases during 2009 and 2010. Mahmoud Jibril, Chairman of the INTC’s executive board, headed the National Council and the National Economic Development Board in Gaddafi’s regime. Mahmoud Jibril is a neoliberal economist who presided over the Gaddafi regime’s neoliberal reforms from 2007 until the uprising. He was involved in asset management for Sheikha Mozah, the politically active wife of the Emir of Qatar. He serves since the uprising as a foreign affairs representative for the Council and some reports suggest he has taken a leadership role in a new executive body attached to the Council. He has worked to secure recognition of the ITNC in meetings with European and U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Clinton. Ali Al Issawi is a foreign affairs representative for the ITNC. He served as Minister of Economy, Trade, and Investment from 2007 to 2009.
This first group led by Jibril and Abdel Jalil, bring a number of supporters with international backing to the executive body council, such as Ministers Tarhouni, Boughaighis, Shareef, El Osta, Shamman and El Alagi.
The second group is composed of long time opponent to the Qaddafi’s regime and has strong links on the ground among the population. They don’t have the international contacts as the first group. Many of them were Human Rights activists.
Abdel Hafez Ghoga, who is the former head of the Benghazi Lawyers Syndicate, is the symbol of this second trend; he is the Vice-Chairman and spokesman for the ITNC. He is described in the Libyan press and among the opposition as a “human rights lawyer and community organizer.” He was initially working to organize a national transitional council at the same time as Mustafa Abdel Jalil and others were working to form the ITNC. The two figures finally agreed to cooperate. Fathi Terbil is the youth representative to the ITNC. He is a legal advocate from Benghazi who represented some families of victims of the 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre in which Libyan security forces are alleged to have murdered over 1,000 prisoners to put down an uprising. His arrest and release on February 15, 2011 sparked an initial series of protests and confrontations that eventually fueled the broader uprising. Dr. Salwa Fawzi al Deghali is the Council representative for women. She is a lawyer and a native of Benghazi.
This second group was initially not really in favor of a foreign intervention. Abdel Hafez Ghoga actually said in February in the beginning of the uprising that the newly formed council was not contacting foreign governments and did not want them to intervene. His comments came after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was “reaching out” to opposition groups in the east and was prepared to offer “any kind of assistance” to Libyans seeking to overthrow the regime.
The first group led by Jibril and Abdel Jalil, characterized by its international links and who left Qaddafi during the uprising, have been dominant in the ITNC. We can observe this domination by the different declarations of the council in relation to counterterrorism and the IMF. In an statement of the 30 March, the ITNC pledged to work for the enhancement of the important role played by the United Nations, its committees and its task forces on Counter-Terrorism with a full cooperation, to join and commit to all international conventions and protocols relating to Counter-Terrorism, and to work on the legislative and executive levels for the application of provisions and measures contained in it. ITNC announced its readiness in May to work with IMF and declared it would adhere to and support the principles of good governance, accountability and transparency as promoted by the International Monetary Fund. They look forward to when a free and united Libya is able to work with such international institutions to increase fiscal transparency, accountability and best practice, particularly in the management of oil revenues and government expenditures. These policies are influenced by the group who had these international contacts and were implemented by these same personalities when they were with Qaddafi. As a reminder, the ex head of the IMF Stauss Khan few weeks before the uprising was congratulating the Qaddafi’s regime for its successful implementation of neo liberal policies, while the Libyan regime was collaborating these past few years with the US and other western countries in the fight against terrorism. Abdel Jalil also said that the ITNC will respect the treaties signed in the past. This first group is also in favor to incorporate members of Qaddafi’s regime.
The recent reshuffling of the executive board might represent an attempt by the second group and people on the ground within the rebel movement, including homegrown leaders who helped start the uprising, to assert their power by sidelining leaders who had returned from exile and held key posts.
The military leadership of the ITNC is also divided between different sections. The late Major General Abdul Fatah Younis defected from the Qaddafi regime few months ago. He was recently assassinated in unclear circumstances. Omar al Hariri has been a long time rival to Qaddafi, he participated in 1969 anti-monarchy coup alongside Qadhafi, but later was imprisoned and sentenced to death on suspicion of plotting an uprising in 1975. He was finally put under house arrest in 1990 and is now serving as the military affairs representative on the ITNC. Finally, the most controversial personality is the Colonel Khalifah Belqasim Haftar who is presented as CIA asset in the country and turned against Qaddafi in the 1980s. He returned in Libya after living in exile for more than 20 years in the USA and on the CIA payroll. He was given a high ranking military position by the ITNC under Washington’s pressure. The man was loathed by many in the Libyan opposition. Haftar has also been mentioned as a leader of the Libyan Movement for Change and Reform and the Libyan National Army, an armed opposition group reported to have received support from foreign intelligence agencies and alleged to have been involved in past attempts to overthrow Qadhafi.
Tensions among the military leadership were present, especially between Major Gen. Abdul-Fattah Younis and Colonel Khalifah Belqasim Haftar. The hostility between Younis and Haftar led some to believe that the assassination of the former was designed by the CIA in order to clear the way for the latter. However, Younis was not replaced by Haftar but by another early defector from Gaddafi’s regime, Gen. Suleiman Mahmoud, commander of the Eastern province based in Tobruk prior to his defection. In fact, conditions do not seem to be favorable to the men with the strongest foreign links.
The key issue is that ITNC must remember its role is just as – transitional – and avoid all tactics that prolong its unchecked authority, but that seems not the case, despite the fact that its legitimacy remains contested. It is a widely diverse, self-selected group already facing significant and sometimes lethal division within its ranks.
Western interests and NATO
The Libyan leadership and NATO have actually both declared that this latter would continue its operations until needed. Colonel Roland Lavoie, a spokesman of the NATO declared their military mission has not changed despite the close fall of Qaddafi’s regime. It remains to protect the civilian population, enforce the no-fly zone and the arms embargo. NATO might play a role in Libya in the post-Qaddafi period, another NATO spokesman said.
A 70-page plan actually details Western designs for the occupation of post-Qaddafi Libya, and apparently signed off on by the political leadership of the ITNC has been leaked. The plan includes keeping large portions of the Gadhafian security apparatus intact, with a number of the leaders of the brutal regime’s crackdown left in position on condition of loyalty to the new, pro-West regime. Even more controversial will be the “Tripoli task force,” a 15,000-man force operated by the United Arab Emirates which will, after Gadhafi is out of power, occupy the capital city of Tripoli and conduct mass arrests of Gadhafi’s top supporters. The ITNC confirmed the authenticity of the report, and while the rebel ambassador to the UAE expressed “regret” that the truth had come out he said it was “important that the general public knows there is an advance plan.
In the same time, Davutoglu said he had spoken with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and 10 foreign ministers from the contact group on Libya, to discuss political, economic and military support for Libya during a transition period.
The British Prime Minister declared as well that hundreds of British soldiers could be sent to Libya to serve as peacekeepers if the country descends into chaos.
The future of the Libyan uprising will be played in the following months; the fall of Qaddafi is definitely a victory for the Libyan people, but now there is another struggle to fight: to regain the full control of the revolutionary process which is now in the hands of ex members of Qaddafi regimes who defected only few months ago, and who are ruling with the assistance of their old Western imperialists allies. The Libyans who started the popular uprising must be at the center of the revolutionary process to protect the interests of the Libyan people. They must make clear to the leadership of the ITNC that neither the NATO has a role in the future of Libya, or Western imperialism. Our Libyans brothers and sisters will have to continue their revolution to achieve their initial objectives: a true new Democratic, Social and Anti Imperialist Libya. This is just the beginning for Libyans.