03.13.11

Rebel Leader: Give Us a Chance

With the Libyan resistance in retreat, opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil tells The Daily Beast’s Fadel Lamen that his side needs a no-fly zone and a naval blockade to create a fair fight.

Muammar Gaddafi gave an official face to his diffused opposition on Thursday by placing a $400,000 bounty on the head of Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Gaddafi’s former justice minister who has now emerged as leader of Libyan National Transitional Council. And ever since, the dictator’s forces have seemingly been trying to collect, overtaking city after city in the past few days, putting the rebels in full retreat.

The resistance’s only hope seems to be some kind of intervention—most critically a no-fly zone, which the Arab League endorsed Saturday. That issue is expected to be taken up at the United Nations imminently, and Hillary Clinton is also flying east this week to meet with Jalil and other rebel leaders.

With that as a backdrop, The Daily Beast secured an exclusive interview with Jalil this weekend. He thanked the Arab League for their vote, terming it “a first and important step and a basis for an international decision.” Regarding Gaddafi’s issuance of the $400,000 bounty against him (in doing so, the dictator labeled him an agent of the Italians, the British, and Libya’s deposed royal family), Jalil refused to return the favor, saying only that “he has no place in Libya anymore, if he leaves now we will not pursue him… the council and the Libyan people have no choice but to fight Gaddafi till the end.”

Jalil also touched base on the battlefield map, the makeup of the opposition, and the role al Qaeda:

We have heard conflicting messages about international intervention, and whether the Libyan rebels want outside help or not. What is it that you want from the rest of the world?

We want a no-fly zone, and a naval blockade. Gaddafi has been using his air force and navy to destroy the country and all the cities. All we want is to have the international community level the playing field. We don’t want boots on the ground. We can fight to liberate our own country with our own blood and that will be our honor.

“The sheer will of the Libyan people to rid the country of Gaddafi’s regime, which like a cancer, requires sacrifice and blood like any other major surgery.”

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We need the international community to recognize our council as the sole representative of the Libyan people. No Libyan so far disputed the legitimacy of the council except Gaddafi and whatever is left of this regime.

We need humanitarian help, like food and medicine. The lack of international decisiveness is sending Gaddafi and his gang the wrong message, it emboldened him and makes him feel free to commit more war crimes against the Libyan people.

We expect tough and hard days as the world saw what Gaddafi did in Zawiya and how he bombed the oil installations in Ras Lanouf. Gaddafi will use anything to stay in power and the Libyan people made the decision that he must go and genocide will be committed if the world community doesn’t get its act together and help us.

Gaddafi’s forces are clearly on the offensive, with the rebels in retreat. How do you evaluate the military situation right now?

What we see is not a war between two armies, but revolutionaries trying to free their country. They started peacefully but were attacked with violence and bullets, antiaircraft machine-guns, and rockets and of course mercenaries. They are defending themselves and trying to free the rest of the country that is held hostage under Gaddafi.

The balance of power in the battlefield is not equal, but the sheer will of the Libyan people to rid the country of Gaddafi’s regime, which like a cancer, requires sacrifice and blood like any other major surgery. We will prevail.

What about al Qaeda in Libya? Gaddafi blames the uprising on al Qaeda and there were several reports mentioning some kind of al Qaeda presence in Libya.

There is no al Qaeda in Libya. Gaddafi is using this as a scare tactic to create fear and distrust between us the international community, but the world learned a long time ago not to trust or believe Gaddafi. There is no place for al Qaeda in Libya, now or in the future. The Libyan people are moderate Muslims and do not subscribe to these extremist ideologies. Libya is and will be a moderate Muslim country where democracy and rule of law will be supreme

The Libyan people suffered so much for over 41 years from Gaddafi’s extremist ideology and will not replace it with anything but democracy and the rule of law. Libyan is part of the Mediterranean basin and has a rich history and will always be a source of moderation and stability. We will respect all international laws and cooperate with the world community and bring the respect and trust that Libya enjoyed with the rest of the world before Gaddafi’s 41 years of darkness.

There have been many reports in the Western press about the lack of a central opposition. How did you come up with the council and does it represent the Libyan people?

The council derives it legitimacy from the local councils that were organized by the local revolutionaries in every village and city, political councils organized to administer the local people’s affairs like providing services, food, law and order.

Each locality nominated representatives to be members in the National Transitional Council, according to their population ratio of the total Libyan population. The main role of the council is to represent the interest of the Libyan people locally and internationally. Members of the council were chosen with no regard to the political views or leaning.

How long will this council last?

The role will end with the end of Gaddafi ‘s regime. A transitional government will be formed around the members of the crisis team, of whom we named only two of its members: Ambassdor Ali Issawi and Omar al-Hariri, head of the military affairs. The council withheld names of members in other cities like Zawiya, Nalot, Musrata, Zentan, Zawara, Tripoli, Jado.

Given the unwieldly nature of such an organization, what’s your decision-making mechanism?

We use wide consultations within and outside the council, we debate and discuss and try to reach consciences as we keep our goals. We don’t suffer from any real disagreements or conflict within the council. We have developed several committees and teams to deal with, legal, political, social, humanitarian, defense, oil, economy that we hope to become the seeds for the transitional government

Should you prevail, what’s your vision of the new Libya?

We are striving for a new democratic, civil Libya, led by democratic and civil government that focuses on economic development, building civil society and civil institutions and a multi-party system. A Libya that respects all international agreements, is good to its neighbors, stands against terrorism, with respect for all religions and ethnicities.

How would you the transition to a democratic Libya?

We will be seeking a smooth peaceful transition, with a drafting of a new constitution that will lead the country to a free and fair legislative and parliamentarian elections as well as presidential election. No member of the transitional council will have the right to run for any of these elections. There will be peaceful conference of governance according to elections, under the observation of the international organizations.

Fadel Lamen is a journalist, writer, and Middle East/North Africa expert and cultural adviser based in Washington, D.C. He is a frequent traveler to the Middle East and has been published in Arabic and English newspapers and magazines. He also has been interviewed by major media outlets in English and Arabic on issues related to the Middle East, Islam, and American foreign policy.