TRIPOLI, Libya — When the head of Libya's transitional government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, took the stage on the night of Monday, Sept. 12, for the first time since Tripoli fell to rebel forces, the crowd in the capital's central square went nuts. Women and young girls screamed his name. Clutching the podium, Jalil, the justice minister under Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime, urged the Libyan people to have faith in their new leadership. At times, he had to pause because the rapturous chanting became too intense. Fireworks boomed every five minutes, and armed rebels from the Tripoli brigades guarded the podium from the pressing crowds.
But Jalil's speech wasn't all rock-star theatrics. The contents of his speech, for those who were listening, were relatively milquetoast. Jalil asked for faith in the new leadership, stressed national unity, and offered thanks to the rebel forces who liberated the country. Unsurprisingly, given his own background, he cautioned listeners against ostracizing former regime members and warned them to resist the temptation of seeking vengeance for Qaddafi-era crimes. "If we put in people from the old regime, it means we trust them; don't think we're doing something wrong," he pleaded. Jalil's speech offered a remarkably honest look at the problems his nascent government faces -- problems that have dominated the coverage of Libya's civil war over the past few days, as Qaddafi continues to elude his captors and the leaders of the National Transitional Council (NTC) continue to squabble, often in public.
About a week ago, the NTC promised that this week would bring the announcement of an interim government. This has kicked off an intense burst of political infighting and smear campaigns. While most Libyan factions appear to respect Jalil, theirs is a political system traumatized by decades of submission to the personal whims of a madman. No one wants to go back, but no one is sure about how to go forward.
Behind the scenes and off the record, officials close to the NTC describe the fissures that have opened up between top military commanders and political officials. Tensions between Western-backed liberals and homegrown Islamists are on the rise, bolstered by the international community's fears that Islamist militant groups will hijack the revolution. On Al Jazeera just an hour after Jalil's speech, Ali Sallabi, a popular Islamist cleric, denounced the NTC as composed of "extreme secularists" and warned that they were taking the country into "a new era of tyranny." Sallabi has ties to Tripoli's military commander, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who once led the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a militant group with links to al Qaeda.
Then there are the divisions between the leadership that spent most of the uprising in the relatively safe rebel-controlled city of Benghazi and the people who fought on the ground to liberate Libyan cities, block by block. Regional rivalries are also coming to a head, with fighters from Misrata, the western mountains, and Tripoli clamoring for credit and control of the revolution. But most of all, everyone seems to have it out for Mahmoud Jibril, the de facto prime minister who is effectively Jalil's deputy and foreign minister.
Jibril is another former Qaddafi loyalist whose place at the top of the new government has some NTC insiders and high-ranking military committee members wary. The blunt, U.S.-educated leader has the ear of Western governments, but his aloofness and apparent lack of appreciation for local fighters have rankled some on Libya's streets. Already, he has been accused of appointing too many old-regime elites to top positions, spending too much time outside the country, and not delivering on all his promises of collecting foreign aid.
"Mr. Jibril, I can't say it to the press," Mohamed El Fortia, a political advisor to the powerful and well-armed Misrata rebels, told me. "He has a lot of things that are not good, but he's famous now and he's accepted by the world governments. But he has problems with the members of the government," i.e. factions like the Islamists and the military, as well as leading figures of the NTC itself.