Mon May 16, 2011

Libyan Rebel Government Works To Boost Legitimacy

NATO kept up its bombing campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi over the weekend, hitting missile launchers and other targets around Tripoli. The rebels say they welcome military support, but they would like something more: formal diplomatic recognition for their transitional government.

Some special guests flew in recently for the rebels' weekly pep rally in Benghazi — delegates from areas of western Libya that are still under Gadhafi's control. The delegates came to take their seats in the 30-seat National Transitional Council — a kind of proto-parliament.

Eastern Libyans like Mansour Makhlouf are glad to see them.

"Gadhafi's people are spreading rumors that we are divided. But we're not divided — we are all brothers," Makhlouf says.

Some of the western delegates took a gamble getting to Benghazi — the council's press liaison, Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, says the delegate appointed by rebels in the western city of Misrata was targeted by Gadhafi's forces and arrested.

"Nobody knows where he is right now. So Misrata had to reappoint somebody else, and did not name him until he made it to Benghazi," Abdulmolah says.

The delegates got to Benghazi via the friendly Gulf state of Qatar, which flew them to the city on a military plane. They have agreed to stay in Benghazi and participate in the council to increase its legitimacy.

The move comes as this rebellion drags into its fourth month and some Libyans are asking more questions about a government that's not so transitional anymore.

Jilal Mobruk Bessiouni grew up in Benghazi but now lives in Dallas. He raised funds at home to bring to the rebels and says the jury is still out on the council's effectiveness.

"I gave the money to the council — to pass it to the needy people that could use it," Bessiouni says. "You know, Libya was Gadhafi and nothing else. So it left a huge gap in the thought and process of governing a state, so I give them a lot of credit. They're crawling, and hopefully they're going to be walking soon."

Bessiouni is troubled by the rebel government's lack of transparency: Meetings are often held in secret, and it's sometimes hard to find out who's in charge of what.

But Zahi Bashir Mogherbi, a political science professor, says day-to-day decision making was traditionally a closed-door process in Libya.

"You're not talking about the New England city council," Mogherbi says. "Only the officials who are responsible for the different sectors of the services [and the] economy meet, and they decide about the issue that are facing them."

He says you can't expect this to change in the middle of an armed conflict. But once there's peace, Mogherbi says he's confident the rebel government will transition toward something that's more transparent and accountable. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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