- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Libyans are accusing their new rulers of corruption, secrecy and nepotism, as protests grow across the country only three months after the death of dictator Moammar Gadhafi fueled hopes for democratic change in the North African nation.

Unrest across Libya, including in Tripoli, the capital, and Benghazi, the second-largest city, in the east, now threatens the National Transitional Council (NTC), an interim body that comprises an unknown number of unelected representatives.

The council’s control over the country was dealt a blow Tuesday when hundreds of armed men thought to be still loyal to Gadhafi seized Bani Walid after easily defeating the local pro-NTC revolutionary force in the city, which is 90 miles southeast of Tripoli. Bani Walid was one of the Gadhafi regime’s last strongholds in the revolution that ended in October.

Libyan sources gave conflicting accounts of whether the uprising was led by Gadhafi loyalists or residents angry at the NTC. Some sources said Bani Walid residents raised green flags synonymous with the former regime. At least four revolutionary fighters were killed in the clash this week, they said.

The NTC also has failed to disarm hundreds of armed militias that frequently engage in deadly clashes with one another.

“The Libyan people have identified the NTC as the root of all problems in Libya,” said Mohamed Benrasali, a spokesman for the city council of Misrata, 125 miles east of Tripoli.

“The NTC has become a monster and a corrupt one at that due to the lack of transparency. And, ultimately, these protests may lead to the fall of the government,” he added in an Internet phone interview.

On Saturday, protesters stormed the NTC offices in Benghazi, confronted its chairman, Mustafa Abul Jalil, and vandalized his vehicle.

Many Libyans accuse Mr. Abdul Jalil of running a one-man show. He served as justice minister in the Gadhafi regime but switched sides early in the revolution, which started in February.

“Everyone feels that the NTC is not playing a good democratic game and it doesn’t feel like a good beginning for the new Libyan democracy,” Kamal Farhat, who took part in the protests in Tripoli, said in a phone interview.

Many Libyans also are worried that the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that was banned by Gadhafi, is trying to hijack the country. The transitional government and local councils are packed with Islamists who wield immense power, they say.

“These are people who are trying to hijack the revolution, and anxiety is spreading fast in society,” Hakeem Gadi, a Tripoli-based pro-democracy activist, said in a phone interview.

Mr. Abdul Jalil has done little to address the protesters’ grievances.

Instead, he warned in an interview Sunday with Libya al-Hurra television that the country would descend into a civil war if the NTC resigns.

Some Libyans see shades of Gadhafi, who was killed Oct. 20, in Mr. Abdul Jalil’s rhetoric.

“This is like Gadhafi speaking all over again. We appreciate that [Mr. Abdul Jalil] has united the country in difficult times, but we don’t want him to develop a tyrant syndrome,” Mr. Benrasali said.

A group of university students assaulted Mr. Abdul Jalil’s deputy, Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, in Benghazi on Thursday. Mr. Ghoga resigned two days later complaining that “the atmosphere of deprivation and hatred has prevailed.”

To some Libyans, distrust for the government is only natural.

“We have trust issues with the NTC,” said Rida Ali, who joined in the initial days of the protests in Tripoli’s Algeria Square.

“But, the past 42 years have been a bad experience. I would have a hard time trusting my mother if she was in government right now,” he added in a phone interview.

The NTC’s role is that of a legislative body. It elected interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib, whose government has the role of an executive body. However, the absence of clear lines of responsibility has resulted in the NTC frequently trespassing on the el-Keib Cabinet’s role.

Much of the anger on the streets has to do with a draft electoral law that protests say is undemocratic.

The initial public uproar over the legislation stemmed from a rule barring dual nationals from running for office and for reserving 10 percent of the seats in the 200-member national congress for women. Critics say women would be underrepresented.

However, pro-democracy advocates contend that these two issues were smoke screens to divert attention from much more serious flaws in the legislation.

In its current form, the legislation provides no clarity on the electoral system or how congressional districts will be drawn.

“The draft law is a way of hijacking the whole election. It is a joke,” said Mr. Ali, the Tripoli-based activist.

Pro-democracy activists are also concerned by the presence of Ameen Belhadj, a prominent member of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, as deputy chairman of the committee responsible for drafting the electoral law.

“Having a Muslim Brotherhood leader in the committee responsible for putting together the electoral law makes everybody worried about the outcome,” Mr. Gadi said.

The electoral committee announced Sunday that it would postpone the release of the final law to this Saturday. The national congress is to be elected before June 23 under a timeline laid out by the NTC. It will oversee the drafting of a new constitution.

Some protesters are also angry about the presence of Gadhafi-era officials in top positions in the transitional government and in local councils.

“It is the ultimate sin to employ anybody from the past regime,” Mr. Benrasali said.

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