After the jubilation and cheers that surrounded David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Libya last week, it is back to business for the nation’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC).
The two European leaders acknowledged there would be big challenges to come – but the NTC must have hoped those challenges would not come quite so soon.
The Libyan leaders had planned to follow up the high-profile international visitswith a high-profile announcement of their own – a new government committee or cabinet that would bring unity to a country divided along tribal and geographical lines.
Despite negotiations over the weekend in Benghazi, council members have been unable to agree on the set-up of the new body or on its members.
The indication from an NTC spokesman so far is that it will be formed of 24 members, rather than the 36 they had originally mooted. NTC interim head Mahmoud Jibril is favourite to continue as prime minister, but is likely to relinquish his second post of foreign minister. We are told the cabinet will “expire as soon as they have declared full liberation of Libyan lands”, paving the way for democratic elections. The spokesman said this could be “in two weeks, two months or two years, depending on how long it takes to liberate the lands”.
But it is precisely this ‘liberation’ that is the main sticking point in the negotiations. Some members of the NTC are apparently reluctant even to consider talking about forming a new cabinet while significant areas of the country remain out of their control.
Battles are still raging in and around the Gaddafi strongholds of Bani Walid, Sirte and Sabha.
NTC forces are struggling to make any inroads into the towns, which are being held by diehard supporters of the former dictator.
Furthermore, the friction between the leaders of the NTC is mirrored by infighting among their forces on the ground.
They are suffering increasing numbers of casualties, and despite reinforcements and a number of assaults on the pro-Gaddafi towns, they have been repeatedly repelled. Some fighters complain they are confused; that they are receiving conflicting orders, suggesting the NTC is struggling to establish central co-ordinated command over the different regions.
Despite extra weapons and men being sent to the frontlines from further afield, many of the fighters are also concerned they are outgunned and outnumbered by an enemy that is dug-in, had time to prepare and has clearly hoarded an arsenal of heavy weapons.
The NTC is going to have to find a way of unifying its own members and fighters if it is to set an example for the rest of the country to pull together and work towards a more stable future.