“One Libya, with Tripoli as its capital” is spray-painted on walls around this rebel city and glides off the tongues of opposition leaders.
Muammar Gaddafi will fall in a week, they predict, two at the most, and they’ll build a new country then. But as weeks stretch into months and progress on the battlefield stalls, this rebel-held area of Libya is settling into its status as a de facto separate state.
Since the February uprising that ended Gaddafi’s rule here, schools and many businesses have remained closed. But police are back on streets, hospitals are functioning and shops are reopening. Behind the scenes, opposition leaders are courting international partners as they work to set up a political and economic system for a period of division that some admit may stretch on indefinitely.
For the United States and other Western powers, the rebel efforts to build the rudiments of a nation in eastern Libya reflect the reality of a military stalemate — one in which NATO could be ensnared for months or more.
“When the uprising began, “people didn’t have a slight idea of what they wanted to do, other than that they knew they wanted Gaddafi to go,” said Fathi Baja, the rebels’ head of international affairs.
“Now, as we start to create some political entities, and we try to start some economic life and create an army, we find ourselves in another stage, and we understand that it might take a little time.”
It is no small task. During nearly 42 years of rule by Gaddafi, economic and political power was entrenched in Tripoli and civil society was virtually nonexistent. The east, which had long been resistant to Gaddafi’s rule, was badly neglected.
Mustafa Gheriani, an opposition spokesman, said that when Gaddafi’s forces pulled out amid the uprising, “we thought it would be like Egypt — that we have ministries, we have an institution that was running. And we found that there was nothing.”
Now, the Transitional National Council is responsible for creating a political, economic and military infrastructure from scratch, a task complicated by the fact that a war is going on just a couple of hours’ drive away.
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