The Libyan conflict is now being treated as a civil war, but while the Transitional National Council (TNC) is now recognised as the legitimate representative of the people of Libya by various international states including the U.K., France and most recently, the U.S., not much is known about who the Libyan people really support.
The conflict between the Gaddafi and anti-Gaddafi forces has now been going on for more than five months and while Nato is continuing its bombing campaign on Tripoli, the countries that support the rebel movement have been quite vague when it comes to providing details about the men behind the TNC and its government.
Another area which the rebel's supporters tend to keep under wraps is that while the TNC is now accepted to be the main opposition party to Gaddafi, three other opposition groups, which existed long before the beginning of the uprising, also tried to gain political momentum and international support from the messy situation on the ground.
As they rapidly saw that the TNC had won over the West and gained the support of many countries, most of those groups then turned to the Council, hoping to be able to manoeuvre for more political power once the Gaddafi regime is out.
Among these groups are, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition (NCLO) and the Al-Jama'a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) (LIFG).
In 1969, when Colonel Gaddafi led a bloodless coup, which successfully overthrew King Idris, many factions both inside and outside of Libya, saw his new government as a positive change.
Things however soon turned sour, as by the early 1970s, Gaddafi began a systematic crackdown on the opposition leading many dissidents to flee the country and live in exile abroad.
In 1973, he created Law 75, which officially outlawed dissidents, and sparked his international campaign to order no less than 25 assassination attempts, many of which were successful, on opposition members who had fled the country and lived in exile abroad.
By 1972, Gaddafi was looking towards the Soviets, for military and economic assistance, to combat what he saw as threats against his regime and by 1974, Libya was one of the closest allies of the Soviet Union in Africa and became increasingly suspicious of the West. Throughout the years, Gaddafi has often been accused of forging strong ties with terrorist organisations, such as the IRA. The Libyan leader has also been accused of directly financing terrorist attacks against the West.
National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL)
In 1981, Muhammad Yusuf al-Magariaf, who was the former Libyan Ambassador to India, organized the NFSL in the Sudan. Magariaf, along with other ex-Libyan military and political officials began to organize operations against Gaddafi, using Chad and the Sudan, as a base of operations. By 1982-84, the Regan administration saw the NFSL as an important ally against Gaddafi, and began funding, arming and training NFSL soldiers in clandestine bases in Chad. In May 1984, the NFSL, supported by French, US and British intelligence, attempted a raid on Gaddafi's residence at the Tripoli Bab Al Azizya barracks, which failed and ended up in a disaster and led to a two decade long conflict between Chad and Libya.
In 2005, the NFSL joined the NCLO for a brief period in an attempt to form a united front. But in 2007, the NFSL withdrew from the NCLO, reporting ideological differences. Today the NFSL is led by Ibrahim Abdulaziz Sahad, and still has significant sway over several small bands of rebels, especially those fighting in the southern region of the country.
National Conference for the Libyan Opposition (NCLO)
In June 2005, the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition (NCLO) was formed in London, from the coalition of 7 different anti-Gaddafi organizations. Unlike the NFSL, many of the leading members of the NCLO are considered pro-western, and have indicated they wanted to implement liberal democratic reforms within Libya. On February 17, 2006, in Benghazi, a protest against the Danish publication Jyllands-Posten printing Muhammad cartoons began, as it had in many other Islamic countries, but many said some members of the NCLO were instrumental in turning the protest into demonstrations against Gaddafi.
During the protests, several protesters were killed by Libyan police forces and the February 17th, 2011 "Day of Rage", was originally supposed to be a gathering to remember the 2006 protests. Analysts however say the NCLO played a pivotal role in turning this protest into an anti-government gathering, being inspired by the uprising in Tunisia and Egypt.
Al-Jama'a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, (LIFG)
The LIFG is a radical Islamic group which has been fighting small scale guerrilla warfare against Gaddafi for almost a decade. Much of the LIFG leadership came from soldiers who fought against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, as part of the Mujahedeen. Since the beginning of the uprising reports said that some of the LIFG has joined the TNC rebel movement on the ground, and many accused the fighters of having links to Al-Qaeda, which the LIFG has since denied.
Previously however, the LIFG had stated that its ultimate goal is to install an Islamic state inside Libya, which given the fact that many of its fighters are now on the side of the TNC is quite worrying. However as the LIFG is reported to have a fighting force of no more than a few thousand men, it is believed it will not be able to cause much trouble within the opposition.
With so many different opposition groups, many of which were forced into exile under the Gaddafi regime, it seems interesting that men working with Gaddafi just before the uprising have been given preference from the West. The Council was created on February 20th when several ex-Gaddafi military and political figures decided to form an opposition movement.
Questionable as well is the fact that on March 5th, the TNC proclaimed itself the sole authority of the new Libyan opposition, and while it rapidly gained the support of many Libyan ambassadors living abroad, nothing yet proves that it has the full support of the population.
Libya is comprised on an amalgamation of various tribes and regional factions, and the TNC will find a coalition government difficult to form without the backing of key leaders within these groups.
Unfortunately what comes out of the uprising is that it appears that just like in Egypt, many former members of the Gaddafi regime will end up playing key roles in the new government. Those same ex-Gaddafi men however worked for him and supported its government for years, but only chose to form an opposition movement after the uprising, and once the West came out after the leader and indicated it will be willing to support any attempts to oust him.
To rule a stable Libya, the TNC will also inevitably have to compromise with the NCLO and the NFSL.
Also, despite proclaiming its will to enhance democracy, the Transitional Council does not seen to tolerate any opposition towards it in the Libyan territory it administers.
Moreover, recently, Human Rights Watch accused the rebels of killing Gaddafi supporters who were just civilians and looting, burning and ransacking pro-Gaddafi supporters' houses and areas. Considering what is really taking place on the ground, it the arming of TNC rebels by France and Qatar might be considered questionable to say the least. Also, fully supporting the TNC and recognising it as the sole representative of the Libyan people might just result in the establishment of a regime not that different from Gaddafi's certainly in terms of personnel but perhaps even in character.