After UN Resolution 1973 was passed, coalition leaders promised "better days ahead for Libya" and pledged to "continue to act to help protect the Libyan people from the brutality of Gaddafi's regime" as well as to " support and stand by them as they seek to take control of their own destiny."
However, three months later the conflict is still going on and despite Nato now leading the operation Gaddafi is still in power and insists he will not leave the country. Despite the media being allowed in the country, it remains difficult to know how much of the Libyan population supports Gaddafi and how many supports the rebel Interim National Council. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted at the beginning of the conflict, one of the main problem is that we do not "know as much as we would like to" about the rebel leaders.
It is, of course, in part due to the fact that Col. Gaddafi, in power for more than 40 years, has successfully managed to crush any type of opposition year after year. However, after some of the leaders were questioned by the press fears started to surface as to whom Nato really fighting for. As the rebels seem determined to refuse any peace deals that do not include Gaddafi's immediate exit, a close up on Libya's new political landscape seems necessary.
Figuring out the real ideological force behind opposition figures that have emerged in the country since the beginning of the conflict in February is in fact quite complicated. The Interim National Council (INC), established in Benghazi in February seems to have now firmly established itself as the main successor to Muammar Gaddafi. However, other than its slogan and motto "Freedom, Justice, Democracy", it is still hard to identify a clear set of INC beliefs. Explaining the situation and the reason behind the creation of the council, their official statement reads:
"In this important historical juncture which Libya is passing through right now, we find ourselves at a turning point with only two solutions. Either we achieve freedom and race to catch up with humanity and world developments, or we are shackled and enslaved under the feet of the tyrant Mu'ammar Gaddafi where we shall live in the midst of history. From this junction came the announcement of the Transitional National Council, a step on the road to liberate every part of the Libyan lands from Aamsaad in the east to Raas Ajdair in the west, and from Sirte in the north to Gatrun in the south. To liberate Libya from the hands of the tyrant Mu'ammar Gaddafi who made lawful to himself the exploitation of his people and the wealth of this country. The number of martyrs and wounded and the extreme use of excessive force and mercenaries against his own people require us to take the initiative and work on the liberation of Libya from such insanities."
On the 20th of March, the INC also published "A vision of a Democratic Libya", a document outlining its future goals and ideals. While the latter are clearly in line with Western-liberal democracy's typical aspirations the council's promises are nonetheless very ambitious.
The document insists that once in place the new apparatus will create "efficient economic institutions in order to eradicate poverty and unemployment, the development of genuine economic partnerships between a strong and productive public sector, a free private sector and a supportive and effective civil society, support the use of science and technology through investments in education, research and development...."
If the council truly aims at achieving all the above points, then one question comes to mind: How long does it expect to remain in power?
It is certain that for Libya to become a fully-fledged democracy with efficient, non-corrupt institutions, the council will need more time than what is usually expected for a transitional phase. The document thus appears to be more of a political manifesto preparing for the council leaders to be elected than a true declaration of what it realistically expects to achieve as a transitional council.
A second problem derives from the fact that, the INC's purpose is essentially administrative and remains quite separate from the rebels who fight on the ground. Technically the rebels fight for the council to overthrow Gaddafi, however the discourse that emanates from the fighters is somehow less bureaucratic and West-friednly than that of the council.
In March, Abdul Hakim al-Hasidi's, a Libyan rebel leader from Derna, east of Benghazi, was quoted telling an Italian newspaper he had recruited "about 25" Libyans to fight alongside insurgents in Iraq, and claimed some had now returned and were fighting Gaddafi forces in Ajdabiya.
He further described the fighters as "patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists," adding that "members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader".
Interestingly, Al-Hasidi himself was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and handed over to US forces after fighting against US troops in Afghanistan. He was held in Libya and eventually released in 2008.
It is interesting to see how a man that was considered as a potential dangerous enemy of the West during the war on terror becomes an ally when it comes to forcing Gaddafi out of power.
In the three months of conflict Islamist fundamentalists and Al-Qaeda have reiterated their support for the rebel movement, which does not come as a surprise as they always accused the Gaddafi regime of being "too liberal" when it came to religion.
Indeed, it was Gaddafi's Libya who put out the first Interpol warrant for Bin Laden's arrest in 1998 long before he became a household name in 2001.
Richard Spencer, the Middle East correspondent for the Telegraph also claimed that an al-Qaeda leader of Libyan origin, Abu Yahya al-Libi, released a statement backing the insurrection, while Yusuf Qaradawi, the Qatar-based, Muslim Brotherhood-linked theologian issued a fatwa authorising Col Gaddafi's military entourage to assassinate him."
Until now, the core of the rebel movement was said to mainly include the shabab which is the name given to young people whose protests in mid-February sparked the initial uprising and consisted of university students, unemployed people, middle-aged mechanics, merchants, storekeepers, oil and maritime engineers, construction supervisors and translators.
However, one of the downsides rarely highlighted is the more ugly side of the rebel force. Because of Qaddafi's use of mercenaries from neighbouring African countries, many rebels are now turning into hard-core anti-mercenary fighters and target Sub-Saharan migrants or citizens. The Los Angeles Times even reported that "Across eastern Libya, rebel fighters and their supporters are detaining, intimidating and frequently beating African immigrants and black Libyans, accusing them of fighting as mercenaries on behalf of Gaddafi, witnesses and human rights workers say. In a few instances, rebels have executed suspected mercenaries captured in battle, according to Human Rights Watch and local Libyans."
"Thousands of Africans have come under attack and lost their homes and possessions during the recent fighting." In addition the LA Times report also quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying. "A lot of Africans have been caught up in this mercenary hysteria." The official described attacks on blacks as "widespread and systematic."
While the council and its political leaders are expected to take the center stage if Gaddafi is overthrown, what will become of the rebel fighters and will they really be willing to fade into the background? The council, which has always proclaimed the need for communication and dialogue has until now refused all proposal of peace talks. But between an administrative body that makes many very optimistic promises and fighters on the ground that seem to be violating basic human rights, let's hope that the coalition truly knows who it is supporting.