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Rivalries and Mistrust

When the fighters who ousted Col. Qaddafi find caches of weapons from his arsenals, they do not entrust them to Libya’s new provisional government. Instead, they haul them back to their hometowns, like Misurata, Zintan, Yafran or Rujban. And when they capture members of the Qaddafi government, the fighters say, they cart them home as well.

As the former rebels in Libya try to assemble a government to replace the toppled Qaddafi government, the quiet hoarding of weapons and detainees illustrates the fissures of regional rivalry and mutual distrust that continue to impede progress.

The leaders of the Transitional National Council have still not overcome regional disputes over the composition of the cabinet, even though it is expected to hold power for only the first eight months after the official “liberation” of Libya is declared.

This vacuum at the top is, in turn, holding back efforts to unify the country, exert civilian authority over freewheeling militias, and get control of the weapons that now flood the streets.

Negotiations are deadlocked, council members say, over how to divide power among groups from different regions. Leaders from Benghazi, Misurata, Zintan and other cities all argue that their suffering or their contributions during the revolt entitle them to a greater voice.

Some are also challenging the council’s current face to the world,Mahmoud Jibril, a former University of Pittsburgh professor of political science who has been serving as both the prime minister and foreign minister. He faces especially determined opposition from Misurata, a center of manufacturing and trade whose fighters endured a devastating siege by Qaddafi troops, and emerged as the rebels’ most potent force.

A Bitter Period

The battle for Surt was supposed to be a postscript to the Libyan conflict, a moment before revolutionaries unified the country and started the process of electing a government. Instead, it stretched into one of the war’s most bitter periods, threatening the prospects for reconciliation as new tales of violence and revenge drifted through the country.

While the long fight is winding down, it has underscored the problems faced by Libya’s weak transitional government, which seem to multiply by the day. After months of relative calm in the east, former rebel leaders were caught off guard by the depth of the divisions in western Libya, where the colonel’s policy of playing favorites and stoking rivalries resulted in a series of violent confrontations.

The question of loyalty to the old government fueled a series of tribal, racial and ethnic disputes, pitting Arab villages against Berber hamlets, militias from the mountains against those from the coast and lighter-skinned Libyans against their black neighbors.

The new authorities have presided over their own divisive policies, failing to curb harassment and violence against black people in the territory they control or to rein in their militiamen, some of whom have looted or burned loyalist homes and mimicked the techniques of the former government by detaining suspects arbitrarily andtorturing prisoners.

The fighting has given the country a martial character, marked by men in fatigues, religious battle cries and the suspicions nurtured by war.


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