While Libya’s rebels continue their military advance, questions remain about whether the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) is fit to take the reins of power if — or when — the regime falls.
The NTC has been recognized as the sole representative of Libya by 32 countries, including Britain, and it will have the task of bringing order to the expected postwar chaos.
Yet it remains without a Cabinet after the last one was sacked by chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil on Aug. 8. He made the decision after blaming it for failing to investigate the murder last month of army commander Abdul Fatah Younis.
This investigation has made no more progress without a Cabinet than with one and reports from Benghazi say the NTC is too divided and faction-riven to agree on who should form a new executive. Jalil has still to answer questions about what role his government played in the death after admitting that the general was murdered on the day he was summoned for questioning by Benghazi judges.
Tensions are inevitable in a revolutionary administration starting from the ground up, but the confusion and bickering in the aftermath of the killing bode ill for the NTC’s claim to be a government of all Libyans.
This claim has already been all but rejected by Misrata, Libya’s third city, whose inhabitants are scathing of Jalil’s rule and of the poor performance of NTC army units. Commanders in Misrata recently underlined to journalists that they do not accept instructions from the NTC.
Jalil’s task of imposing order will suffer further because his forces in the east of the country played no part in the twin rebel offensives now closing on Tripoli.
It is rebels in the west — from the Nafusa mountains and Misrata — that have captured Zawiya, 50km west of Triploi, Garyan, 65km south of the capital, and Zlitan, 130km to the west. Their commanders and politicians will, if they storm the Libyan capital, demand a greater say in what is currently a Benghazi-centered administration.
For the moment, rebel energy is focused on tightening the noose around Tripoli. For weeks, rebel commanders have insisted that NATO bombing has bled Libuyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces dry, and the current advances appear to confirm it.
Rather than give ground, it seems clear that Qaddafi was content to continue pushing his reserves into shoring up his front lines. Now, after six months of NATO pounding, he appears to have run out of units. While Zawiya and Zlitan have seen fierce resistance from government troops, there is no sign Qaddafi has reinforcements capable of mounting a counterattack.
Opposition forces remain confident that the pincers at Zawiya and Zlitan will continue advancing and cut off the capital.
Qaddafi’s days in power will then be numbered. Without his oil depots and with his forces elsewhere expected to die on the vine, he is likely to fall through revolt, either from within or without.
It will then fall to Jalil to unite not just the various rebel factions, but bind them to what remains of the Tripoli power structure. It is a tall order for a leader who has been unable to unite his own administration.