The rebels have been plagued by infighting almost from the moment they first rose to challenge Moammar Gaddafi, and the friction has not subsided despite celebrations on Tuesday as rebel fighters stormed the leader’s compound in Tripoli.
The top rebel commander was assassinated last month in a case that remains unsolved but that has spurred furious accusations among various rebel factions. When an investigation of the killing bogged down, rebel council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil dismissed his cabinet.
Concerns about the rebel leadership deepened on Tuesday after Gaddafi’s most influential son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, appeared in public despite rebel claims that he had been captured.
“The Transitional National Council is not without its problems,” said Geoff Porter, an analyst with North Africa Risk Consulting. “Its decision-making process is unpredictable and far from transparent. . . . This suggests that future dealings with the council are going to be prickly, challenging and uneven.”
The opposition in Libya is a patchwork of militias, defected soldiers and tribal fighters. Cities across the country have formed their own councils, rebel forces and leadership structures to fill the void as Gaddafi’s forces have crumbled. Communication has been difficult and commanders from other cities, such as Misurata, have been frustrated by decisions made by officials in Benghazi.
But the rebel council is the only body organized enough to take control in a post-Gaddafi era.
The council has gained international recognition from many countries, including the United States. Its members were instrumental in helping to persuade the U.N. Security Council to implement a no-fly zone and to authorize the NATO bombing campaign that has devastated Gaddafi’s defenses. The rebel council also has been drumming up financial support. On Tuesday, the Turkish foreign minister announced that his government will provide the rebels with $300 million, including a $100 million loan, to help build a political system.
The 45 council members are a mix of defected ministers from the Gaddafi government, academics, dissidents and returning exiles. They plan to expand the council to up to 100 members to include defected experts from the Gaddafi government who can help run the country during the transition, according to a Western diplomat in Benghazi.
“Among the most important priorities is to restart the economy. Oil production has stopped, and security is about to be reduced to nil,” said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation.