It would appear – from confusing and conflicting reports I have no confidence in my ability to interpret – that the Eastern Libyan city of Benghazi has just seen the formation of two distinct new bodies:
On the one hand, a former minister from the old government, with support from that old government’s defecting diplomats abroad, has announced an ‘interim government’.
On the other hand, “Libyan anti-government protest leaders say they have formed a national council”, and that this council “is not an interim government” but merely “the face of the revolution”.
The former was announced by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the former justice minister, and includes ‘prominent military and civilian figures’. Although I don’t know what he or it advocates, I do know that several of the defected diplomats abroad who are supporting this organisation have publicly called for foreign intervention to resolve the conflict in Libya.
The latter was announced by Hafiz Ghoga, who as far as I can tell has no ties to the old regime, and who claims to me merely a ‘spokesman’. The ‘national council’ says it is not bothered with speaking to foreign governments, and has publicly rejected the prospect of foreign intervention.
There has also been consistent reporting to the effect that “In places such as Benghazi that have ejected Gaddafi’s loyalists, citizens have set up committees to act as a local authority and run services.” But I have no info on which, if either, of these two new ‘governments-or-non-governments’ these committees are more connected to.
I’m reluctant to add any comment, because information is so patchy, the situation is so rapidly changing, and my hyper-fallible eagerness is likely to make me misjudge things.
But it does seem very significant that these two apparently unrelated organisations have appeared, one emphasising its continuity with standard legal norms of what a government is and how it works, and keen to work with ‘the international community’, and one seemingly emphasising its distinctness from the same.
Tunisia and Egypt have both got rid of a leader while keeping most of the regime in place – indeed, the question of the power held by the ‘old powers’ is still a live one (‘live’ in the sense that people are still being killed over it).
Gaddafi’s decision to fight to ‘the last bullet’ has made Libya completely different: when the regime falls or is driven out of an area, it collapses entirely. This leaves space for alternative power structures to establish themselves. It will be very interesting to see what happens in that space.