Libyan Rebels' Daunting Task: Building A Government

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Libyans celebrate after prayers at a mosque next to the newly named Martyrs Square in Tripoli on Friday.

Libyans celebrate after prayers at a mosque next to the newly named Martyrs Square in Tripoli on Friday. Francois Mori/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Francois Mori/AP

With Moammar Gadhafi's loyalists now putting up only sporadic resistance, Libya's rebels are scrambling to form a temporary government in the capital, Tripoli.

The rebels say they have been making plans for months, and they have already won recognition from Western governments as the new Libyan leadership.

But there are still doubts about how quickly the rebels can establish a government, and how effective they will be in running the battered country.

Officials in the rebel leadership, known as the Transitional National Council, say the pressure is on to start operating out of Tripoli as soon as possible.

"It will be one step in declaring the success of the revolution," says council spokesman Ahmed Jabril.

The rebels have been sending somewhat conflicting signals about when this will happen.

The rebel finance minister, Ali Tarhouni, said Thursday night that the council had already moved to the capital. But other council members reached in Benghazi say the formal move will come next week at the earliest, given that rebel fighters are still trying to secure Tripoli.

Libyans Want To See Rebuilding

No matter where rebel leaders are based, they will have to work hard to convince Libyans to stick together and rebuild their country.

Lisa Anderson, president of the American University in Cairo and an expert on Libyan politics, says the six-month battle to oust Gadhafi offers a sense of what lies ahead.

"If the fall of Tripoli had taken place in March or April, everyone would have been very starry-eyed and naive about how difficult the problems the next government is going to face will be," she said. "Now, at least the world and the council themselves realize this is going to be a long, arduous, difficult project."

The council's first task is to establish an interim government in the next two weeks. Experts and Libyan officials predict that government will likely draw on many of the same players who are on the council.

They will quickly have to prove that they represent all Libyans, not just those in Benghazi, where the rebel council was established earlier this year.

Libyans will also want their new government to quickly establish law and order and resume delivering services, says Matyas Eorsi, who heads the Libya office of the National Democratic Institute. The group, which is based in Washington and is nonpartisan, is advising the rebel council.

"People want democracy, but when they achieve democracy, then democracy becomes like oxygen," Eorsi said. "When you have it, you don't enjoy it anymore. So there are lots of things a transitional government must produce."

Council Needs To Earn Confidence

Even top rebel commanders are nervous about whether their council can deliver. One of them, Fawzi Bukatif, concedes that the council hasn't always been reliable when it comes to money or guidance.

Libyan and international confidence in the rebel council was shaken even further last month following the murder of its commander in chief, Abdul Fatah Younis. His still unexplained death has been linked to rivalries within the rebel leadership.

But Bukatif says whatever reservations Libyans have about the council, he believes its leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, is the only one who can unify the country and oversee its transition to democracy. Jalil was the former justice minister under Gadhafi, but defected to join the uprising in its first days.

"Libyans see him as an honest person," Bukatif said, adding that he is also respected in the West.

Abdel Jalil oversaw the recent creation of a draft constitution that promises a transition to a free and democratic Libya within the next two years.

That document calls for establishing civil and minority rights, fair distribution of national wealth and a justice system based on Islamic law, says council spokesman Jabril.

Another challenge, he says, will be disarming the vast number of Libyan civilians who've received weapons from the rebels and Gadhafi since the uprising started in February.

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