TRIPOLI, Libya - Sharp splits are already emerging in the ranks of Libya's new rulers between Islamic conservatives and more secular figures competing for power even as the leadership begins to settle in Tripoli and start creating a post-Muammar Qaddafi government.
The rising tensions, which have become increasingly public, could jeopardize efforts to rebuild the country and form a cohesive state after six months of civil war.
Each side accuses the other of trying to monopolize a new government. On one side stand more secular technocrats, some of whom have long lived abroad or once had ties with Qaddafi's regime. On the other are conservatives, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who opposed Qaddafi for years on the ground in Libya and suffered during his rule.
"There are fears that these tensions could hamper reconstruction or just cause it all to unravel," said a Western official in Tripoli who deals with members of the leadership of all stripes. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen echoed those fears, warning that Libya could fall under control of extremists if the rebels don't quickly establish a stable government.
The two sides are wrestling over a fundamental question facing Libya's new leaders since the uprising began in mid-February how to divvy up the powers of the nation after the downfall of Qaddafi's 42-year rule.
Caught in the middle is Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council, the closest thing the former rebels have to a functioning government. Abdul-Jalil is the sole figure in the leadership who enjoys almost universal support, earning the deep respect of many Libyans for criticizing Qaddafi's regime even while serving as its justice minister.
"Abdul-Jalil is trying to keep the peace, and it's a struggle between both sides, between the two powerful camps," said one official close to the NTC on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. "He's trying to maintain a balance between the two camps, and keep the international community happy. It's very difficult."
The disputes for now appear to be primarily over personnel, and not deeply rooted in ideology, although the dividing line is increasingly stark.
The more secular camp is headed by Mahmoud Jibril, the U.S.-educated acting prime minister who has found favor among the revolution's Western backers. But Jibril, like a handful of others falling on this side of the fault line, also served briefly in the Qaddafi regime, and spent much his time during the civil war abroad, trying to drum up international support.
One of the most prominent Islamist figures at the moment is Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, a former fighter in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group a militant organization that long opposed Qaddafi and now the commander of the Tripoli military council.
The Islamists, who control the main military force in the capital, the Tripoli Brigade, have tried to ramp up the pressure on Jibril, calling for his resignation.
"We think that Mahmoud Jibril has lost the confidence of people on the ground in Tripoli, in eastern Libya, in Misrata, and in the majority of the western mountains," said Anes Sharif, a spokesman for the Tripoli military council.
"He has been living for the last six months outside the country," Sharif said. "He is appointing people depending on their loyalty to him, not depending on their worth and their activities in the revolution. We think he's a project for a new dictator."
On Friday, Jibril arrived in Tripoli nearly three weeks after the capital's fall and in his first public comments took a swipe at groups who he said have already started "the political game" before the rules have been set.
He did not elaborate or name names, but Naji Barakat, the health minister in the Cabinet and a former exile, said the comments were directed chiefly at the Muslim Brotherhood.
"They've started doing dirty politics because they want to take the lead," Barakat told The Associated Press. "I think they've been trying for a long time to be seen and heard. I think they're getting support from countries as well. They think this is fertile ground."
The Brotherhood and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group were both heavily oppressed by Qaddafi's regime. They played a key role in the revolution's security apparatus, including as front-line fighting forces. The LIFG once had links to al Qaeda but has renounced its jihadist past, and both it and the Brotherhood have pledged allegiance to democratic principles. The Brotherhood was repeatedly targeted by Qaddafi's security services and was never able to establish a firm organizational structure inside the country.
George Joffe, a Libyan expert at Cambridge University, said the Brotherhood remains a potent force in this conservative Muslim country despite its past struggles.
"Don't underestimate its importance," Joffe said. "It has a long-standing tradition in Libya. ... There is a profound sentiment in favor of the Brotherhood, and it is quickly being re-established with a structure."
Barakat criticized the Islamists for playing politics while the fighting continues. Revolutionary forces are still battling Qaddafi loyalists in the former regime strongholds of Bani Walid, Sirte and Sabha, and Qaddafi himself remains in hiding.
"We're saying now is not the time for this. Now, they (the Brotherhood) are trying to weaken the NTC and to jump in," he said. "With Tripoli liberated, they think now is the time."
Libya's new leaders have only just arrived in Tripoli, and are taking halting steps toward setting up a new government. Workers are busy readying the offices of the Qaddafi-era government for officials arriving in the capital to work in the various ministries.
Jibril said Sunday that efforts are being made to pay government salaries on time, and bonuses added to August salaries. He also said that oil production had resumed at one unspecified oil field in Libya's east.
But the NTC is struggling to bring all the various armed brigades spanning the country under its authority.
Other fault lines have also emerged since revolutionary forces swept into Tripoli on Aug. 21, driving Qaddafi from the capital and effectively bringing an end to the dictator's rule.
The Libyan uprising began in the city of Benghazi in mid-February, and the rebels managed to wrest free much of the eastern half of the country from Qaddafi's forces. The revolutionaries set up the NTC in Benghazi, and the body has been dominated by figures from the east and Benghazi in particular.
Tripoli, which was under the thumb of the regime even after the eastern half of the country was liberated of his rule, is now trying to reclaim its pre-eminent political position, pushing back against a revolutionary leadership dominated by figures from Benghazi.
"The rift between Tripoli and Benghazi is pretty big," the Western official said. "It's worrying."
Tripoli has long been the base of power in Libya, a country of only 6 million people, 2 million of whom live in the capital. The capital's powerful political players are flexing their muscles, telling the NTC that they cannot dictate Libya's future.
"The Tripoli people also know that they actually created their own revolution on Aug. 20, and they want full recognition for that," said Joffe of Cambridge University. "And they're not sure they want to see the council in its present form, coming in and telling them what to do."
Meanwhile, an Amnesty International report found that rebels committed unlawful killings and torture in their fight to topple Qaddafi.
The 100-plus page report, based on three months of investigation in Libya, draws no equivalency between the crimes of Qaddafi loyalists and those of the former rebels, who now hold power in Tripoli: The Qaddafi forces' crimes were greater, the list of them is longer, and they may have amounted to crimes against humanity, the report said.
But it said the crimes of the rebels were not insignificant.
"Members and supporters of the opposition, loosely structured under the leadership of the National Transitional Council (NTC) ... have also committed human rights abuses, in some cases amounting to war crimes, albeit on a smaller scale," the Amnesty report said.
It said opposition supporters "unlawfully killed" more than a dozen Qaddafi loyalists and security officials between April and early July. And just after the rebels took control of eastern Libya, the report said, angry groups of rebel supporters "shot, hanged and otherwise killed through lynching" dozens of captured soldiers and suspected mercenaries, with impunity.
Mohammed al-Alagi, justice minister for Libya's transitional authorities, said that describing the rebels' actions as war crimes is wrong.
"They are not the military, they are only ordinary people," al-Alagi said. While he acknowledged that rebels have made mistakes, he said they cannot be described as "war crimes at all."