In late February, as the Libyan opposition gained strength, the regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi predicted there would be “rivers of blood” and “hundreds of thousands of dead” because of the uprising. At the time, little stood between him and this chilling threat. But thanks to decisive action from the United States and the international community, the pulse of freedom still beats strong in opposition-controlled areas of Libya.
Even while fighting for our lives, we have begun to put the building blocks in place for a free society. The interim government, the Transitional National Council, has managed to fight a war, keep the lights on and reopen the schools. The people of Benghazi, the base of our struggle, are participating in traffic control and trash collection, and creating newspapers and radio stations that reflect the new spirit of tolerance and freedom. Policies are debated passionately in open forums. All of this would have been unthinkable three months ago.
The council’s 31 members — lawyers, human rights advocates, former military officers and business owners — come from all regions of Libya. Many, like me, were educated in the United States. In our march to freedom, we are strengthened by a belief in peace, justice and equality. The dark days of Colonel Qaddafi’s rule have taught us that a free and democratic society based on a fair and transparent justice system is the only way forward. We will work to ensure that the peaceful transfer of power occurs through ballot boxes and legal institutions. The bedrock of our state will be a constitution written by the Libyan people and endorsed in a public referendum.
The lives of too many innocent Libyans have already been lost. The council unequivocally condemns the killing of noncombatant Qaddafi loyalists. When the fighting stops, we will be faced with the difficult task of healing a nation traumatized by decades of violence. The council will not only create institutions based on the rule of law, but also begin a reconciliation process to unify Libyans on both sides of this conflict.
We could not have gotten this far without the support of the United States and the international community. For this we are grateful. But Colonel Qaddafi must still be defeated and the key institutions of a new government must be created. For this we will need more help. During my visit to Washington this week, we are asking the Obama administration and Congress to do the following:
INTENSIFY NATO OPERATIONS NATO saved our lives, but many Libyans remain in danger. With United States help, NATO needs to maintain the tempo of its actions and provide more support to protect civilians. Even though the opposition just succeeded in taking back the airport in Misurata, for example, Colonel Qaddafi’s forces continue to attack civilians and try to prevent the flow of aid into the city.
OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZE THE COUNCIL We ask the United States to join France, Gambia, Italy and Qatar in recognizing the council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people until free elections can be held. This signal would further isolate the Qaddafi regime in Tripoli, heighten opposition morale and improve access to diplomatic and humanitarian assistance.
ACCELERATE ACCESS TO FROZEN LIBYAN ASSETS In February, the United States froze $33 billion in assets that the Qaddafi regime had moved outside Libya. In Rome last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton committed to releasing frozen funds or devising an alternative financing plan; this needs to happen expeditiously. Whether through loans, trust funds or other mechanisms, we desperately need this money to provide basic services and humanitarian assistance and to begin rebuilding Libya.
SUSTAIN HUMANITARIAN AID The impressive American and international response helped avert an even greater humanitarian crisis. With thousands of displaced persons and widespread destruction, the need for assistance grows.
We know it is our fight to win or lose, but there is also much at stake for the international community. If the Libyan revolution stalls or is defeated, a vindictive or resurgent Colonel Qaddafi and his regime will present the world with a greater danger than even Osama bin Laden. The faster the regime comes to an end, the better it will be for Libya and the safer it will be for the world.
By Mahmoud Gebril ElWarfally, interim prime minister of the Transitional National Council of the Libyan Republic and the author of Imagery and Ideology in U.S. Policy Toward Libya, 1969-1982.