DUBAI // The Libyan consulate reopens today with a new, rebel-appointed ambassador at the helm to seek support for the effort to remove Col Muammar Qaddafi.
The reopening under rebel leadership is among the first, along with the UK, US and France, and will be followed by the embassy in Abu Dhabi this week. More will reopen soon among other countries that have given the opposition diplomatic recognition.
Hundreds of Libyans from across the Emirates gathered at the consulate in Bur Dubai on Friday night to cheer the hoisting of the opposition flag and share in prayers and a meal. For the new ambassador, Dr Aref Ali Nayed - a theologian, businessman and 14-year resident of Dubai - his latest role means lobbying his local and international contacts for financial and political support for the rebels, as he has done since the revolution began in February.
It also means transforming the consulate into a preview of a free Libya. For decades, expatriates avoided the place, fearing trouble from government officials. But the compound will now serve as a community centre to socialise, jump in the pool, and co-ordinate volunteer aid efforts.
"My day to day is the support of the effort to oust the Qaddafi regime and to solidify and consolidate the institutions of democracy," he said after welcoming Libyans to the consulate.
"We will, inshallah, pray Eid in Tripoli," he said. "It will be the victory of a people that is longing for freedom, that is committed to it, that is willing even to die for it."
The opposition still faces challenges, however, including allaying concerns about leadership. Two weeks ago, the leader of the Transitional National Council disbanded the cabinet over criticism of its handling of the unexplained killing of its military commander, Gen Abdel Fateh Younes. The incident raised questions about its ability to govern and unite Libya's tribes and other factions.
The council is still struggling to finance its movement, despite having international military support and diplomatic recognition. Several nations have yet to fulfil months-old pledges to transfer billions of dollars of frozen Qaddafi assets to it, because of thorny legal issues. The UAE holds the assets of 19 Libyan individuals and institutions.
In the meantime, some nations have offered loans and grants, but more funds are needed to pay for food, medicine, weapons and public salaries. Others have given humanitarian aid for those who fled the fighting. For example, the UAE runs several refugee camps on the borders with Egypt and Tunisia.
Dr Nayed said any disagreements among the opposition were an unsurprising outcome of a nascent democracy being formed after decades of authoritarian rule.
"Some of these phenomena that we are seeing are a natural process of a people who has suffered from tyranny for 42 years and whose institutions have been destroyed," he said. "The divisions and weaknesses are actually a gift."
Lack of funds were a problem, he acknowledged.
"The amounts we received do not in any way meet our needs," he said. But the UAE, like other states, had "to do things properly and legally, and to do all the due diligence that's required".
In the meantime, Dr Nayed said the UAE could help by continuing to give humanitarian aid, helping with reconstruction in a post-Qaddafi Libya, and tapping its global networks to broaden support for the council.
"We've been finding them very helpful from African countries to Asian countries to Europe and America," Dr Nayed said. "The UAE has an amazing network."
He said he was able to access UAE officials as often as needed. "They have an open-door policy for us."
He plans to have the same policy at the consulate, allowing any of the thousands of Libyans living in the UAE to visit him in his office, socialise with one another on the property and organise aid efforts. "It's open to the public," he said.
More than 100 Libyans came to clean the compound, paint, set up a tent and cook heaping trays of food for the crowds over the weekend.
Even Dr Nayed and about 10 others who will manage the consulate are working as volunteers.
"It has shown the amazing generosity of the Libyan people and the solidarity they have with their country," he said. "We will not be hiring any staff until Qaddafi falls."