If Gadhafi Falls, Could The Rebels Run Libya?

Libyans wait in line at a bank in Benghazi in February. The National Transitional Council in the rebel-held city is continuing to pay government salaries and unemployment stipends. i i

Libyans wait in line at a bank in Benghazi in February. The National Transitional Council in the rebel-held city is continuing to pay government salaries and unemployment stipends. Hussein Malla/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Hussein Malla/AP
Libyans wait in line at a bank in Benghazi in February. The National Transitional Council in the rebel-held city is continuing to pay government salaries and unemployment stipends.

Libyans wait in line at a bank in Benghazi in February. The National Transitional Council in the rebel-held city is continuing to pay government salaries and unemployment stipends.

Hussein Malla/AP

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron repeated Wednesday their demand that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi leave power.

That's no simple matter: Gadhafi and his family have run Libya for four decades, and their departure could create a dangerous power vacuum. If Gadhafi goes, there will be many challenges for the rebels to deal with.

The rebels already have some on-the-job training running Libya — or at least running eastern Libya, which they now control. So far, they've been keeping people happy with money.

Continuity Through Cash

At one bank in Benghazi, people line up to collect their government salaries and pensions. Some of the dinars still bear Gadhafi's smiling face, but the money is welcome nonetheless.

"Thank God, we do get paid. I'm receiving my full salary, with some delay, but it's OK," says Nasr Musari, a policeman.

The money is coming from the provisional government, called the National Transitional Council, which tapped into cash reserves of the local branch of the central bank. The council is not just paying salaries, but also providing small monthly stipends to the unemployed — stipends that a lot of people are trying to get, as a kind of revolutionary bonus. Still, not everybody's pleased.

"Screw the revolution!" one man says as he stomps out of the bank in apparent frustration. It's the kind of sentiment the rebels are trying hard to avoid. One staffer in the rebels' finance office says their mantra right now is "don't rock the boat." They want to keep the money flowing and the economy working, much as it did under Gadhafi.

But the moment Gadhafi is gone, they say, they'll activate their plan.

Libya's New Governing Plan

"The council is ready; we are standardizing the plans for all over Libya," says Hassan el-Droe, a member of the National Transitional Council. He says the council is ready for Gadhafi's departure, but when asked about key elements of the plan, like how long before elections are held, he won't say. In fact, it's not entirely clear that he's seen the plan.

"The spokesman will tell you about [the plan]," el-Droe says. When asked if he and other members of the council know the plan, he responds, "The spokesman will tell you if we know or not."

The council spokesman says the plan's details are secret because rebels don't want Gadhafi targeting crucial buildings and people. But broadly speaking, he says, the idea is to form local committees, which in turn will pick delegates to form some kind of new national congress.

Kanakis Mandalios, a Greek businessman who has lived and worked in Libya for most of his life, says one of the most urgent issues for the new congress will be longstanding regional tensions.

"There is a sensitivity between the west and east due to the distribution of budgets," Mandalios explains.

Eastern Libyans have long resented what they see as Gadhafi's favoritism toward the west; they say more oil money goes to Tripoli, and people there are better off. Rebel leaders play down this regional resentment, but Mandalios says the rebellion has contained a strain of factionalism — and it's something the new congress will have to deal with.

An 'Institutional Vacuum'

Zahi Bashir Mogherbi, a political science professor, says whatever form the new government takes, much of it will have to be built from scratch.

"The Gadhafi regime created an institutional vacuum in this country. Nothing was institutionalized," Mogherbi says.

If Gadhafi falls, there may also be some more immediate concerns. Mustafa Ghariani, a businessman from Tripoli who is now in Benghazi, is working on keeping basic supplies flowing to people in eastern Libya. But he says eastern Libya won't be the problem.

"We worry more about Tripoli and about the area that's still under Gadhafi occupation, and they are facing a much harder hardship than we are here," Ghariani says.

Basics like gasoline are in short supply in Tripoli, and things could get ugly there. There's also considerable potential for violence and score-settling in a city where guns are common.

But the rebel council's spokesman says their plan does not call for any kind of security help from foreign peacekeepers. He says Libyans should be able to handle security themselves.

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