Who are the Libyan rebels in London?


Oliver Wright
Thursday 31 March 2011 12:20 BST

Twenty seven years ago Guma El-Gamaty was among a group of protesters standing outside St James's Square protesting at the rule of Colonel Gaddafi.

He was just a few yards away when a gunman opened fire on them from the window of the Libyan embassy – hitting and killing PC Yvonne Fletcher.

This week he was present as a rather different type of history was made – as the UK representative of the Libyan Interim National Council – the body which the West hopes will steer the country to democracy if and when Colonel Gaddafi is removed.

Mr El-Gamaty met David Cameron, Hillary Clinton as well as the French and German foreign ministers.

It is people like him who, Coalition members hope, will provide a future for a new Libya.

But who are they and what do they stand for?

Mr El-Gamaty, who along with his colleagues Mahmoud Shammam and Mahmoud Jabril were all present in London for the Libya conference are perhaps unlikely political leaders.

Mr El-Gamaty – is a researcher at Westminster University and has not stepped foot in Libya since he left the country at the age of 18 nearly 30 years ago.

Mr Shammam is a journalist. He was on the board of the Arabic television station Al Jazeera and is a former editor of Arabic Foreign Policy Magazine. He lives in Washington, and again, has not been to his homeland for decades.

Mr Jibral was certainly the most high profile member of Libyan delegation in London. He is currently head of what is rather grandly called the “executive team” of the INC and has at least got the distinction of having served as a Planning minister in Libya before splitting with the Gaddafi regime around a year ago.

Since then he has been based in Cairo working - perhaps fortuitously - in crisis management. He is the author of several books including one on US policy towards Libya. During his time in Government he was, in part, responsible for improving relations with the West.

All three men are a mile away from the young fighters currently battling in out for control of Libya’s cities.

But El-Gamaty insists that their secular vision for Libya is shared by the 33 other members of the Interim Council which was set up in Benghazi. This, he said, includes at least four or five women, writers, lawyers and a human rights activist amongst others.

“We are all nationalists who believe in democracy, freedom and equality,” he said.

“I have always opposed the Gaddafi regime. I was there, a few yards away when Yvonne Fletcher was shot. I witnessed Tony Blair do his deal with Gaddafi. We have always been consistent in calling for democracy and for Gaddafi to go.”

Senior Government sources say they are increasingly confident about integrity of people like Mr Jabril and Mr El-Gamaty – thus the reason they were invited to the conference and given such high profile meetings.

But what they are less certain about is extent to which the Council truly represents the rebels. Britain hopes by giving them such recognition they will strengthen their hand. But, like most things in Libya, that is far from certain.

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