Critics have derided the council's lack of transparency and complained about its opaque decision-making. They have also questioned the criteria used to select its members. Libyans say the council's chairman, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, favors dissidents who spent time in Gadhafi's prisons over those with the training and skills needed to rebuild the country. If the council does not address these concerns, it is difficult to see how it will manage the complex challenges ahead.
It is not only the council's policies that could imperil the success of the Libyan uprising. Though admired in parts of eastern Libya under rebel control, Abdel-Jalil is a dour figure who lacks the charisma characteristic of revolutionary leaders. Indeed, he is a provincial player who so far has been unable to communicate a compelling vision of a new Libya.
A shortage of politically savvy leaders plagues the rebel-controlled east. Shortly after assuming the chairmanship of the council in March, Abdel-Jalil announced that its members would not run for office in future elections. But there has since been very little activity on the political front.
Because activists were reluctant to begin campaigning while rebels were still fighting, they held back on forming political parties. As a result, only two parties have been created in a country that has no experience with pluralistic democracy. At this point, there are very few voices consistently advocating the changes needed to secure the transition from an authoritarian to a democratic regime.
Threat of further violence
Other problems loom for the National Transitional Council. In July, its military chief of staff, Abdul Fattah Younis, was killed in murky circumstances after the council issued an arrest warrant for him. His tribe has demanded answers that the council does not have. People close to the case say senior council officials were implicated in Younis's death.
Although the investigation into the murder of Younis has been muted by the rebels' recent military successes, Younis' tribe is demanding justice and is prepared to seek retribution if the council cannot resolve the matter. Such an outcome could split the rebels' ranks, and it risks plunging Libya into renewed violence at the very moment when hostilities should have ended.
There is a more general danger of civil bloodshed in post-Gadhafi Libya. Already, Libyan rebels in the east have exacted revenge on Gadhafi loyalists, many of whom worked for his feared revolutionary committees. In western Libya, human-rights workers have reported that Gadhafi supporters' hands have been shot to mark their treachery. With the transitional council unable to impose discipline on its soldiers, such violence is likely to increase as army soldiers and militias evacuate Gadhafi strongholds.
The council faces a number of economic dilemmas as well. Before the revolution, Libya produced nearly 1.6 million barrels of oil per day, accounting for 96 percent of the country's export earnings. But since February, the taps have run dry owing to disruption and damage to the oil infrastructure. In the interim, the council has survived largely on international aid and Libyan assets that foreign governments have unfrozen.
But these funds have not been able to fuel the economy of the rebel-controlled territories. Libyans there complain that they have not been paid their monthly salaries. Nightly power outages have left many in the dark in cities like Tobruk, and even the rebel capital of Benghazi has experienced sporadic electricity cuts.
The war's costs extend well beyond what it will take to repair oil installations and turn on the electricity. Cities such as Misurata have been ravaged by the fighting and will have to be rebuilt. But Libya lacks the technical capacity to tackle these problems. Short on skilled experts, a post-Gadhafi Libya risks becoming dependent on foreign assistance, much like the Palestinians, who live largely off of international aid rather than their own economic activity.
The fall of Gadhafi and his authoritarian regime holds great promise for a people who have been bereft of freedom for 42 years. But the National Transitional Council has stumbled so far, and it will have to redouble its efforts to ensure that it wins the peace it fought so hard to secure.
Barak Barfi is a research fellow at the New America Foundation. This was distributed by Project Syndicate.