Is Libya's revolution being hijacked by the interim NTC?

Libya's interim rulers have chosen to put an unreasonable constraint on future political participation by returned expatriates.

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The fundamental problems in the ever-evolving draft electoral law proposed by Libya's National Transitional Council earlier this month seem to be completely lost on its architects. As an unelected and thereby unrepresentative government body, the NTC does not have the political legitimacy to draft such a law, let alone enact it without a transparent public debate. But still, the law is expected to be announced tomorrow.

The most recent violence, in which "pro-Qaddafi" forces are said to have retaken the town of Bani Walid, shows how urgently the country needs a political framework to bring together different factions and begin to disarm the militias. That transitional process, however, is causing more disputes than it is resolving.

The draft legislation will govern the elections of a 200-member national congress to draft the new Libyan constitution and appoint a new interim government in June. But it is flawed on many levels. First, it was written by unnamed committee members appointed by the NTC whose credentials and qualifications are largely unknown. There have also been allegations that the original version is not the same as the one published on the NTC website, raising further speculation over the document's origins.

Further, there are articles in the legislation that call into serious question the judgement and motives of the NTC. First among them is a stipulation that essentially bans Libyans with dual nationality from running or even voting in elections.

"This move was an insult to Libyans who were forced to leave their homeland," said a longtime leading opposition member, who asked to remain anonymous. "They stood against Qaddafi at great risk and cost while members of the NTC, including chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil and his recently resigned deputy chairman Abdul Hafeez Ghoga, were actively supporting and serving the regime."

The role of former Qaddafi loyalists has also emerged as a point of contention. There is speculation that the exclusion of Libyans in the diaspora and those with dual nationality could be an attempt by the NTC leaders to deflect attention away from their own history with the regime.

In the early days of the uprising, it was Libyan expatriates, many with dual nationality, who urged the opposition in Benghazi to declare a government, resulting in the formation of the NTC. Many Libyans living in Europe, Canada and the United States threw their weight behind the fledgling Council, organising relief efforts, raising awareness in the media and lobbying their governments to secure international support for the revolution and diplomatic recognition of the NTC.

Of course, this was based on the understanding that the NTC would step aside and be replaced by a more representative governing after Qaddafi's fall.

In a strange twist, the portion of the law dealing with dual nationality and defining Libyan citizenship is derived from a statute enacted by the Qaddafi regime in 2010 to punish Libyans abroad who rejected his rule. According to Article 5 of Law 24, which is mentioned in the new draft law, any Libyan who assumes citizenship of a second country without written government consent automatically relinquishes Libyan nationality.

It is fair to ask why any element of Qaddafi's illegitimate rule is being enshrined in Libya's future as a democracy. But this particular provision means Libyans with dual nationality are not only barred from politics, but they are technically not even Libyan anymore and would need a visa to enter the country.

Assuming that this is merely an unintended consequence of the NTC-sponsored legislation, it is certainly indicative of its ambiguous, problematic nature. Because the Council went about drafting the law in such an authoritarian, clandestine and sloppy manner, it has angered many Libyans who have been starved of political participation for more than 42 years.

That festering hostility towards the Council came to a head on Saturday when protesters stormed NTC offices in Benghazi. The protesters' demands were not focused on the electoral law, but were more generally aimed at the removal of former Qaddafi regime officials from the NTC. This resulted in the abrupt resignation on Sunday of Mr Ghoga, the deputy chairman of the Council, who had been mobbed by angry demonstrators at Benghazi University the week before.

Clearly shaken by these events, the NTC then postponed the announcement of the electoral law until tomorrow. Council members claimed that the document would undergo further review based on the feedback they had received.

It remains to be seen what the election legislation will ultimately look like or what concrete steps, if any, the NTC will take to restore the public's faith that it is capable of leading the country through this critical period.

But what both the NTC and the Libyan people need to realise is that the means by which they achieve democracy are just as important as the end result. A weak, flawed election law can only translate into a weak, flawed constitution and government - one that would be as easy to topple as the 1969 government that Qaddafi replaced.

Hanan Ghosheh is a Libyan-American political analyst