Q&A: Who’s who in Libya’s opposition

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Who are the opposition?

Libya, one of the region’s most closed societies, is very different from its north African neighbours, with no established opposition groups, civil society groups or strong state institutions after 41 years of Muammer Gaddafi’s rule.

When the regime’s hold on the east was broken, there was no clear leadership in the so-called liberated areas. In an effort to fill the vacuum, lawyers, academics, businessmen and youths who participated in the “February 17 revolution” formed committees to organise themselves and run cities and towns.

Who is in charge?

Opposition officials in Benghazi, the rebel stronghold, have set up a national council to co-ordinate between opposition-controlled areas and reach out to the international community. The council has 31 members, with representatives from across the country, including Tripoli, the capital.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a judge who resigned as justice minister after the uprising began, was named as its leader. The regular critic of the government sought to resign in March 2010. He was also seen as “clean” and “transparent”, opposition officials said, and had a national profile.

Two other men were given the job of communicating the council’s message to the outside world – Mahmoud Jebril, who had been involved in a project to bring reforms to Libya before the uprising, and Ali Aziz al-Eisawi, who had been ambassador to India but resigned during the crisis. They have travelled extensively, arguing the case for international recognition for the council, as well as a UN-backed no-fly zone.

The council describes itself as a transitional body that will lead until Col Gaddafi is ousted, then help to prepare a new constitution for the move to multi-party democratic elections. Many members have not been named for security reasons.

Who are the rebel fighters?

Army, air force, and naval personnel defected to the opposition, but their strength and capacity, as well as who led them, has often been unclear. Most of the rebel fighters in the east have been young volunteers with almost no training, who have careered into battle in pick-up trucks.

A military council under the national council, was set up to co-ordinate security. It is headed by Omar Hariri, who was involved in the 1969 coup that brought Col Gaddafi to power, but was later jailed.

Another figure on the military front is General Abdul Fatah Younis, who was involved in the 1969 coup and seen as a close ally of Col Gaddafi. He resigned as interior minister around February 20 and used his post as head of Libya’s special forces to support the civilian fighters. However, some Libyans are wary of his true loyalties.

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