Rebels With a Cause

The History of Rebel Governance, From the U.S. Civil War to Libya

Courtesy Reuters

In late February, rebel leaders in the Libyan opposition formed the Transitional National Council, a quasi-government based in the rebel-controlled town of Benghazi. From there, the council attempts to manage daily affairs for nearly a million local residents. A variety of civilian committees struggle to ensure that the health system can deal with those injured in the violence, and that the courts and police continue to provide a semblance of order -- not to mention dealing with other basic issues of governance to keep the area from descending into chaos. Meeting these challenges is central to the rebellion's viability: a lack of basic political and social order could lead many Libyans to focus more on ensuring their own survival instead of continuing their efforts to overthrow the Qaddafi regime. 

Some early reports of the government were not encouraging: members of the rebel police force had targeted black Libyans and other sub-Saharan Africans as potential sympathizers of Muammar al-Qaddafi with little direct evidence. But as the war dragged on, rebel leaders have made improvements in governance. They have appointed academics and lawyers to ministries charged with handling foreign affairs, economics (including oil), infrastructure, media, and justice. In March, France became the first country to recognize the council; Qatar, Italy, and the Maldives soon followed.

The development of a governance system by a rebel force is not a particularly new turn of events. In February 1861, shortly before the U.S. Civil War began, the newly created Confederate States of America established a government to further the Southern cause. The Confederate government adopted a constitution and structure modeled on the rival government of the United States of America; it even went as far as producing postage with the image of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Although the Confederate government never gained international recognition, it coexisted with the U.S. government for the entirety of the Civil War, claiming sovereignty over vast portions of the South.  

In more recent years, nonstate militant groups as diverse as

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