Will Libyan Rebels Stay United After Gadhafi Is Gone?

The Libyan rebel government calls itself the Transitional National Council. Political scientist Ali Ahmida talks to Renee Montagne about whether the rebel's leadership will remain united once Moammar Gadhafi's regime is defeated. Ahmida is author of The Making of Modern Libya.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Let's turn to Libya now, where the rebel leadership is known as the Transitional National Council. Early on, many of its members chose to stay anonymous for their own protection. But as Moammar Gadhafi's regime crumbles, these political leaders are becoming more visible.

Just last month one of the military leaders, the top commander of rebel forces, was assassinated under murky circumstances. General Abdul Fatah Younis had defected to the rebels and many of them didn't trust him. To learn more about all of this we reached Ali Ahmida. He's author of "The Making of Modern Libya."

Good morning.

Mr. ALI AHMIDA (Author): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let us begin with who is now in a position to lead Libya forward as a government.

Mr. AHMIDA: Well, so far we have a council that's made of 33 members. It's a coalition of middle class activists, mostly moderate, encompasses various groups from moderate Islamist to some royalists to liberals and also some traditional tribal figures from the countryside.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about the man who's become the face and voice of the council - Mustafa Abdul Jalil. He was once a justice minister in Gadhafi's regime. How does it happen that he ended up at the top of what is the rebel government?

Mr. AHMIDA: Mustafa Abdul Jalil is a very respected judge from the Green Mountain region of eastern Libya. He has a reputation for being pious, moderate, uncorruptable(ph) minister of justice who really battled the cronies of the regime for many years.

MONTAGNE: Well, I guess it would be a surprise to outsiders to know that there would be people like Judge Jalil in the Gadhafi regime who weren't themselves thrown in jail for challenging it.

Mr. AHMIDA: We have to keep in mind, 10 years ago, things began to move a little bit. Reform began to take place, maybe for the sake of reconciling the regime with the international community, resolving the Lockerbie crisis. And that allowed certain figures to emerge and take place within the Cabinet.

Gadhafi was a pragmatist up until his delusional phase in the last couple of years. And therefore, he needed people who have the credibility and eyes of the Libyan public opinion, and Judge Abdul Jalil was handpicked by Gadhafi's son Saif because he was respected.

MONTAGNE: How unified would you say is the council right now?

Mr. AHMIDA: The council is unified in opposing Gadhafi's regime, and also calling for a new Libya that has a constitution, has pluralism, has rule of law. At the same time, I can imagine that after the regime is completely defeated, differences about how to manage the transition period might be - also brings the difference regarding, for example, the role of Islam in the new republic, the role of relationship with the international community and Arab countries and also African countries, the issue of should we keep the gays, of women rights in Libya under the regime or not. I think these issues are going to be debated and contested, but that's not surprising. This should be the normal debate that happen in any society.

MONTAGNE: Well, just looking ahead, finally, does the Transitional Council expect to govern Libya in the longer term, or do people on that council really see themselves as strictly a transitional body?

Mr. AHMIDA: That's what was, I think, refreshing about this leadership. They said that they're going to be a roadmap for a constitution, for election, and the Libyan people will decide what was going to happen later on. Let's hope that the Western NATO forces will not have the temptation to impose agenda after aiding the Libyan revolution.

This is the problem that happened in 1951, which radicalized a whole generation of Libyans in the 1960s, including Gadhafi. Libya could be the model for the region in the future, but if we are not aware of all these pitfalls and dangers and threats, Libya could descend into civil war, and also become a failed state. I'm praying that's not going to happen.

MONTAGNE: Ali Ahmida is the author of "The Making of Modern Libya." He teaches political science at the University New England, and we reached him in Portland, Maine.

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MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. AHMIDA: Thank you. It was my pleasure, Renee.

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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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