Libya's leader Jalil a crowd-pleaser in Tripoli

Mustafa Abdul Jalil in Tripoli on 12 September 2011

Libya's new leading face, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, gave a widely praised speech in Tripoli, the capital city which had appeared leaderless since the anti-Gaddafi forces captured it more than three weeks ago.

But in the not-quite-post-revolution Libya, different views on religion and the spoils of war could cause serious rifts in the months ahead.

Mr Jalil, the interim leader of the National Transitional Council (NTC), is treading a difficult line as he tries to maintain unity after decades of Col Muammar Gaddafi's authoritarian rule and a six-month conflict that is yet to end.

Overall, his first speech in the heart of Tripoli's Martyrs' Square went down well with the crowd and those watching it live on television from the comfort of their homes.

Start Quote

There is no need for that [secularism] here. What would be the point when all Libyans are Muslims?”

End Quote Tripoli resident

Besides the thunderous applause that frequently interrupted his address, the barrage of celebratory gunfire from the rooftops of homes at the end of his speech appeared to be a stamp of approval.

The average Libyan was looking for reassurances about his personal and financial security.

Mr Jalil's comments, even if much fluff with little substance, were a crowd-pleaser.

Key references to the youth playing a paramount role in rebuilding Libya and a promise that some government ministries and embassies would be headed by women went down well.

"Women's rights were lost under Gaddafi… Many prominent roles played by women were either through coercion or radical loyalty to the regime," a female student told me.

"God willing that will change. The NTC already has a woman so we are hopeful that women will play a significant role in the future of this country."

'Still at war'

In a country that has long suffered from astonishingly high unemployment, Mr Jalil's "hope" that allowances would be paid to the jobless was another crowd-pleaser.

Libyans celebrate after Mr Jalil's speech in Tripoli Many Libyans will live in a democracy for the first time in their lives

But there were no details on job creation, education and health care.

Nor were Libyans expecting it, as they understand that these issues cannot be tackled while the country is still at war.

After more than four decades of Col Gaddafi's rule, many Libyans do not have any memory or experience of democracy.

Now, they have lots to say, as they debate the future of Libya.

One of the questions is: Will it be a secular or Islamic state or a mixture of the two?

Some prominent Islamists are within the ranks of the anti-Gaddafi fighters and Mr Jalil seems to be well aware that they still have a role to play in capturing Col Gaddafi's remaining strongholds.

Many Libyans do not see the Islamists - who emerged in the 1980s to fight Col Gaddafi's rule - as a serious threat.

"There is no need for that [secularism] here. What would be the point when all Libyans are Muslims?" one man in Tripoli said.

In his address, Mr Jalil tried to occupy the middle-ground, reminding people of the country's moderate stance on Islam and warning that the NTC would "not accept extreme right or left-wing ideologies."

Mr Jalil said Libyan law would be based partly on Islamic law.

This is not new. Libya's first constitution, under the monarchy, was based on Islamic law.

Col Gaddafi's government also recognised aspects of Islamic law.

But Mr Jalil's immediate challenge is to heal rifts among those who overthrew Col Gaddafi.

There are many power-wielding rebel commanders in different parts of Libya - especially the three main cities, Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata.

Each of the rebel brigades are increasingly claiming that they played the most important role in ousting Col Gaddafi and to merge these brigade under a single command would be difficult.

The NTC will have to ensure that its fighters - especially in Misrata, where battles with Col Gaddafi's forces were extremely fierce - do not seek revenge by taking the law into their own hands.

For these reasons, Mr Jalil emphasised unity and reconciliation in his Tripoli address. It will be pivotal to the success of the next government.

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