ROBERT SIEGEL, host: In Libya, the rebels are scrambling to form a temporary government. The self-appointed rebel council recently passed a draft constitution. Many council members are expected to become part of a new interim government. And the international community has pledged its support for the new Libyan leaders. Still, questions are swirling about whether the council is up to the task, as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Benghazi.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Officials on the rebel council say the pressure is on to start operating out of Tripoli as soon as possible.
AHMED JABRIL: It will be like one step in declaring the success of the liberation of the whole country.
NELSON: Reached by phone, council spokesman Ahmed Jabril says that would signal to Libyans that their country had been liberated. The desire to make that declaration prompted a news conference in Tripoli last night where the rebel finance minister, Ali Tarhouni, announced in a speech rife with emotion that the council had moved into the capital.
ALI TARHOUNI: I proclaim the beginning of and the resumption of the work of the executive office in Tripoli as of this moment.
NELSON: Other council members reached in Benghazi were more circumspect. They say the formal move will happen next week at the earliest, given rebel fighters are still trying to secure Tripoli. But analysts say 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 is the president of the American University in Cairo and an expert on Libyan politics. She says the difficulties Libyans have faced in wresting their country from Gadhafi should prepare them for what lies ahead.
LISA ANDERSON: Had the fall of Tripoli had taken place, you know, 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. Now, at least the world and the council themselves realize that this is going to be a long, arduous, difficult project.
NELSON: The first task the council will undertake 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. War-weary 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 Washington-based nonpartisan group is advising the rebel council.
MATYAS EORSI: People want democracy, but when they achieve democracy, then democracy becomes like oxygen. When you have it, you don't control it anymore. So there are lots of things the transitional government must produce.
NELSON: Even top rebel commanders are nervous about whether their council can deliver. Fawzi Bukatif, who heads the civilian fighters, says the council hasn't always been reliable when it comes to money or guidance. 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. The soft-spoken former justice minister under Gadhafi who defected to join the uprising in its first days is very popular, Bukatif says.
FAWZI BUKATIF: The Libyans see him as an honest person. He stand from the beginning, and he take the initiative to start the council. And he has lived with the Libyans through days and nights, and they saw him always the figure that the Western world accept him also. So he got both, acceptance from inside and outside.
NELSON: 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.
JABRIL: It should be as piquant as the last six months because we have many challenges to face.
NELSON: Jabril says key among those will be disarming the vast number of Libyan civilians who've received weapons from the rebels and Gadhafi since February. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Benghazi.
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