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New Libya Off to a Shaky Start


Libyan rebels

It’s been almost a year since Benghazi launched its uprising against former Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi and three months since he was killed, but there is a growing sense of frustration in eastern Libya with the National Transitional Council. Two weeks ago, a group of protesters attacked the Council’s Benghazi headquarters as chairman Mustafa Abdeljalil was inside, forcing him to flee through the back door.

The Libyan economy has not recovered from the revolution. Government workers are not receiving their salaries. Liquidity is in such a dire situation that banks can only give out 2,000 dinars (about 1,500 dollars) per month per account.

The economic pressure has created an atmosphere of mistrust for the once-loved National Transitional Council (NTC), and rumours circulate about corruption and the infiltration of former regime members. Many activists want the NTC and any future government completely free of Gaddafi’s men, but others feel that such a break is impossible considering that many Libyans worked for the regime because there was no alternative.

The real culprits, however, are a lack of transparency and communication by the NTC.

“The NTC has lost its credibility with the people,” said Abdel Salam El Sherif, 33, a lawyer and political activist. “The council earned its legitimacy from the revolution, but it needs to serve the people.

“Many people joined the NTC in secret because there were still pro-Gaddafi elements around, and the people accepted the secrecy for security reasons. But after the liberation of Tripoli, you still see the NTC not revealing information about its members. So we are asking, ‘Who are these people and why hide their names?’ This is basic transparency. We don’t even know how many there are. Every time we ask we are given different answers.”

According to Fathi Baja, a founding member of the NTC who heads the political committee that draws up national and international policies for the council, there are 72 members. But El Sherif’s point is valid. The NTC website lists 66 members with their names, positions, hometowns and biographies.

Not only is it incomplete, but this was uploaded only on Jan. 29. On the NTC’s Facebook page, it says on Dec. 24 that there were 42 members, and on Dec. 8 there were 61 members.

“We are not opposed to the NTC’s existence,” El Sherif said, “we just want to know who they are.”

Baja, a former political science professor at Benghazi University, admitted the council’s communication mistakes, but said measures have been made to improve them. He stressed that the NTC will cease to exist after elections are held in June. In addition, the NTC members all pledged to not run as candidates.

“The attack on the NTC building showed us just how bad things had become,” Baja said. “We are now reorganising the state media to use it to communicate better with the people. Maybe if we had done this a month ago we wouldn’t have these problems.”

He added, however, that the NTC has accomplished a lot considering that Libya lacked any institutions and had to start building a state from scratch. Security, he said, is still a problem. The army and police are absent, and filling the vacuum are local militias – a phenomenon that the NTC is trying to reverse, he said.

Concerning the economy, Baja said that the transitional government the NTC appointed is now preparing a budget that will allot money to different sectors.

“There are a lot of rumours flying about regarding money and the NTC,” he said. “The NTC do not receive salaries, but people say we get 5,000 dinars per month. They hear that foreign governments unfreeze Libyan money and they think boxes of money are being sent to the NTC. It’s not like this.

“We have money at our disposal, but we have to create a budget first. Not only are the Libyan people watching us, but so is the international community. But we have to change the nature of the economy. Gaddafi spent 17 billion dollars per year on government salaries, and this cannot continue. You cannot run a state with this system. We have to promote the private sector to grow.”

The most pressing issue for the NTC is laying the groundwork for the June elections when the country will elect a national congress. This assembly will in turn elect a committee to draft a new constitution. The current plan envisions 200 seats, of which 120 will be reserved for individual candidates and 80 for political parties.

“This is a disaster,” El Sherif said. “A national congress needs to include representatives from all parts of society. Using parties may marginalise sections of the country. Political parties can come later on, once the foundations of the new country are written.”

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