The way in which the Libyan opposition has organised itself into local councils and the National Transitional Council (NTC) has played a major role in the success of the uprising against Gaddafi’s rule. However, the Libyan experience may not be applicable in its entirety to other Arab states that are witnessing revolutions, such as Syria and Yemen .
The first motivation for forming the local councils was to fill the vacuum created by the defeat of Gaddafi’s security men and the desertion of his supporters. In addition, residents of towns in eastern Libya wanted to protect themselves and create an alternative authority responsible for local affairs, to deal with security issues, food provision, medical treatment for the wounded, defending the towns against Gaddafi’s brigades, and monitoring the missing and the dead. These local councils were set up in haste at the outset of the revolution of February 17th and without elections .
When the opposition began to think about founding a “transitional council” to lead Libya during the transitional period both domestically and abroad, and to work to bring down Gaddafi’s regime and establish a united civilian, constitutional and democratic state, the members of the council were not chosen by election, but through agreement reached by the rebel leaders in the towns. Well-known figures joined the TNC without being elected or nominated by the local councils. The TNC established an executive council, similar to an interim government, headed by Mahmoud Jibril .
After successful military operations to oust Gaddafi’s regime, questions have been increasingly raised about whether the TNC constitutes a model for rebels in other Arab states. Of course, each Arab state has its own special circumstances and it is difficult to replicate the Libyan case. At an early stage of the campaign, the Libyan rebels managed to seize large quantities of arms from military bases, including heavy weaponry. This was followed by the defection of Interior Minister Abdul Fattah Younis (who was killed on July 28th) and the desertion of large numbers of officials, both in Libya and abroad .
The same circumstances are not applicable for the rebels in Syria and Yemen. Moreover, there was no army in Libya, only brigades under the control of Gaddafi’s sons and other relatives. Gaddafi substituted a cohesive, united Libyan army with security brigades loyal to him alone around twenty years ago, because he feared a military coup against him at any moment .
Moreover, it is very premature to declare the experiment of the local councils and the TNC in Libya a success. Members of the town councils and the TNC belong to various religious, tribal, political groups and parties (like Pan-Arabists and Nasserists), and the prospect of an internal conflict breaking out between them exists, and is likely to increase once Gaddafi is out of the game .
In any case, the Libyan experience should be regarded as a discrete case that is unlikely to be repeated in other Arab states, for good and for bad.