April 7 (Reuters) - The council ruling rebel-held eastern Libya has won recognition from France, Italy and Qatar as the country’s true representative body, but faces pressure to meet the aspirations of a frustrated population.
It is formed mostly of liberal-minded lawyers, doctors, academics and business executives from eastern Libya and led by Muammar Gaddafi’s former justice minister.
Ordinary Libyans interviewed by Reuters have given tacit support, praising the council’s efforts to keep “liberated” areas supplied with food, basic services and state salaries.
But it has sown some confusion over the naming of officials and there have been hints of tensions within the council between those who want to move fast to form a strong government and others who are against such a move while the country is split.
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 Provisional Transitional National Council (PTNC), as it is formally known.
So far one third of the national council’s 31 members have been named, each of them responsible for representing a geographical area or a social segment such as youth, women or political prisoners. Other members would come from regions still under Tripoli’s control. The council says naming them would put them in danger.
The council says its remit is to ensure territorial security, lead efforts to “liberate” all the country, support town councils in restoring normal life, oversee the creation of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution to be put to a referendum and guide conduct of foreign policy. It has spawned several sub-committees dealing with areas such as energy and financial policy, justice, military affairs and health.
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 servics.
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 has 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.
Abdel 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 Abdel Jalil, who often wears a traditional east Libyan red Tagia hat, has sometimes leaned towards negotiating with Tripoli, an idea quickly rejected by other officials.
* Mahmoud Jebril, head of the council’s crisis committee. A strategy consultant who spent most of his career abroad, Jebril was head of Libya’s state economic think-tank but resigned after Gaddafi overruled his suggestions for liberalising the economy.
Jebril has come from relative obscurity to lead rebel diplomatic efforts, securing recognition of the council as Libya’s true representative from France, Italy and Qatar. [ID:nLDE72M257]
* The crisis committee, whose members are not strictly part of the council, seems to be the blueprint for a Libyan interim government, making Jebril a potential top minister. Ali Essawi, head of foreign affairs on the crisis committee, was previously Libya’s youngest minister of economy and trade.
* Confusion over who heads the rebels’ military wing echoes 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 crisis committee.
Khalifa Hefta was previously named head of the armed forces, then the leadership rowed back on that and his role is unclear. For now, the rebel army seems to be under the command of Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi, who was Gaddafi’s interior minister and an experienced military man before defecting to the rebels. Some rebels seem uneasy at a man until recently so close to Gaddafi being handed command of their army.
* 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 for the rebels. Hafiz Ghoga, the council’s official spokesman, is a human rights lawyer who represented families of victims of a 1996 prison massacre.
Reporting by Tom Pfeiffer; Additional reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Edmund Blair