(Reuters) - Libya’s rebel council has won recognition from more than 30 countries including the United States, Britain, France and Qatar and now looks set to take over the running of the country.
The National Transitional Council (NTC) was set up after the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule began in February by mostly liberal-minded lawyers, doctors, academics and business executives from eastern Libya and led by Gaddafi’s former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel Jalil.
The council has been ruling in “liberated” areas maintaining supplies of food, basic services and state salaries but there have been fears of divisions, especially since the still unexplained late July killing of rebel military commander Abdel Fattah Younes.
Here are some questions and answers on the council:
Leaders of the February 17th Coalition, a Benghazi-based rebel movement formed as the uprising spread, say local councils were created in towns that threw off Gaddafi control and sent representatives to form the NTC.
The council has 40 members, each responsible for representing a geographical area or a social segment such as youth, women or political prisoners. Other members come from regions that have until recent days been under Gaddafi’s control including Tripoli and the council has said naming them would put them in danger.
The council said its remit was to ensure territorial security, lead efforts to “liberate” all the country, support town councils in restoring normal life, and oversee initial efforts to create a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution to be put to a referendum and to guide conduct of foreign policy. It has committees on areas such as economics, political affairs, legal affairs security and defense.
Separately, an executive committee, or cabinet, has been set up, although it was officially dismissed this month over “shortcomings” related to the killing of Younes. NTC chief Jalil said recently that as the council was not elected it would continue for only the first eight months of a 20-month transitional period leading to elections.
Rebel officials say they won tentative popular backing in the first days of the bloody uprising when thousands massed in front of Benghazi’s seafront courthouse — the heart of the revolt — and cheered their support as members of the February 17th Coalition announced by loudhailer their first steps to defend the city, manage hospitals and guarantee basic services.
Senior figures from the rebellion toured eastern towns and villages in the following days to secure support for the national council, which came into being on March 5.
Rebel officials say the council reflects a balance between competence and consensus. But it faced a challenge from the start: reconciling the democratic ambitions of the mostly young citizens who threw off Gaddafi’s rule with the views of town and village elders who fear for Libya’s traditional social order.
* Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the council. A mild-mannered consensus builder in his late 50s who used to be Gaddafi’s justice minister but quit in February over what he saw as the excessive use of violence used against the Benghazi protesters.
Jalil had tendered his resignation several times after resisting high-level pressure to execute detainees he believed were innocent, say people who know him. The soft-spoken Jalil, who often wears a traditional east Libyan red Tagia hat, at times leaned toward negotiating with Tripoli, an idea quickly rejected by other officials.
* Mahmoud Jibril, head of the council’s executive committee or cabinet and as such referred to as the NTC’s prime minister. A strategy consultant who spent most of his career abroad, Jibril was head of Libya’s state economic think-tank but resigned after Gaddafi overruled his suggestions for liberalizing the economy.
He has extensive foreign contacts and came from relative obscurity to become the rebels’ roving envoy. But his travels have frustrated some colleagues and foreign backers.
* Confusion over who heads the rebels’ military wing has at time echoed their chaotic strategy on the ground. Omar Hariri, who was one of the officers along with Gaddafi who overthrew King Idris in 1969 but was then jailed, heads military affairs on the NTC.
The joint chiefs of staff was Abdel Fattah Younes, who was Gaddafi’s interior minister and an experienced military man before defecting to the rebels, until he was killed. His deputy, Suleiman Mahmoud has been asked to take over and is considering taking up the post. The executive committee’s acting defense minister is Galal Degheli.
* Ali Tarhouni is a U.S.-based academic and opposition figure in exile who returned to Libya to take charge of economic, financial and oil matters on the executive committee. Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, the council’s official spokesman and vice chairman, is a human rights lawyer who represented families of victims of a 1996 prison massacre.
Reporting by Tom Pfeiffer; Additional reporting by Angus MacSwan and Robert Birsel