Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

New government in Libya

Differences between MPs of different ideological affiliations may complicate the approval of this week’s revised Libyan national-unity government, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Libyan Presidential Council announced the formation of a revised national-unity government on Sunday, and confirmed that it had submitted the proposed cabinet to the House of Representatives for approval. The proposed 18-member cabinet consists of 13 ministers and five ministers of states, with three members being women.

The announcement came a day ahead of the deadline that the parliament in Tobruk had given to the council to draw up a new government. The deadline was set after the House rejected a proposed cabinet submitted in January. That former cabinet was considerably larger, consisting of 32 ministers.

Sharp differences between MPs of different ideological outlooks and political, regional and tribal affiliations may continue to complicate the creation of a national-unity government, as stipulated by the provisions of the UN-sponsored agreement that rival factions struck in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December.

The decisions of many are contingent on the views of parties outside Libya, which means that all the stakeholders in the Libyan crisis need to work out their differences, rather than continue to fuel the intransigence of Libyan parties with insufficient political experience.

The revised government includes a defence minister, a post lacking in the former Abdullah Al-Thinni government created by the Tobruk parliament out of deference to the strongman in the east, Khalifa Hiftar.

Hiftar, who launched an as yet unsuccessful military campaign to free Benghazi from the control of radical Islamists in May 2014, is one of the most prominent opponents of the internationally brokered accord signed in Skhirat.

His power and the sway he holds over many members of the House, especially those from eastern Libya, have enabled him to evade parliamentary questioning on more than one occasion. This has effectively made him the ruler of the east of the country. Although administratively Hiftar is accountable to the government and parliament, in reality the government and parliament in the east are under his command.

Before the announcement of a new national-accord government, Hiftar’s representative on the Presidential Council, MP Ali Al-Qatrani, withdrew from it and lashed out against his colleagues meeting in Skhirat, accusing them of bias in favour of the Islamist camp. The House would not approve the new government, he said.

Al-Qatrani was joined by the so-called Cyrenaican deputies, who are themselves divided between proponents and opponents of a federal system, and supporters of Hiftar versus supporters of the commander of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, Ibrahim Al-Jadran.

Al-Qatrani has quarrelled before with his former colleagues on the council. One bout flared into a round of fisticuffs with Ahmed Muateg. The two men were in dispute over cabinet nominees and the distribution of key portfolios that Al-Qatrani insists should be handed to easterners, from the region historically known as Cyrenaica.

While the new government is different from the one the parliament rejected on 26 January, one key figure, Al-Mahdi Al-Barghathi, the nominee for the post of defence minister, is the same. Al-Qatrani is said to be vehemently opposed to Al-Barghathi, who commands the Libyan army’s 204th tank brigade, even though they are from the same tribe, the Awaqir.

His opposition could threaten the imminent breakup of the Hiftar-led coalition in the east.

The Awaqir tribe, based in the vicinity of Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the capital of the east, is the largest demographic entity in that part of the country. Because of the quarrel over Al-Barghathi’s nomination, Hiftar risks losing a large portion of his backing, and there have already been concrete signs of this.

Hiftar’s previous spokesman, Mohamed Al-Hijazi, has accused Hiftar of corruption and creating militias of his own. When Hiftar vowed revenge, the Darsa tribe pledged to protect Al-Hijazi, a member of the tribe, before the Darsa managed to sneak Al-Hijazi out of Benghazi to Al-Beida, the stronghold of the Baraasa tribe, to which Faraj Al-Baraasi, Hiftar’s most formidable rival, belongs.

Another Presidential Council member, Omar Al-Aswad, an MP from Al-Zintan in western Libya, has objected to the revised government, just as he did to the first 32-member proposal. Like Al-Qatrani, Al-Aswad has urged the House of Representatives to reject the new lineup.

The Presidential Council “is offering nothing,” he said. Al-Aswad called on the Libyan people to reject the proposal and continue to tolerate the current situation for another two years.

Al-Aswad has objected to what he says is “a lack of transparency in the selection of ministers, a lack of clear criteria on competence, and breaches of the law”. It was these reasons, he said, “which have compelled me not to sign my name to the formation of the national-accord government”.

Whatever their reasons for opposing the new government, the statements by Al-Qatrani and Al-Aswad may not be completely sincere. Both men are carrying out the agendas of certain parties involved in the Libyan crisis, and it appears that they are fighting progress on the Skhirat roadmap.

Their plan may be to obstruct the government of the prime minister-designate, Fayez Al-Sarraj, proof of which may be found in the fact that neither has resigned from the Presidential Council despite repeated and widely publicised disputes with the rest of its members.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives also appears bent on obstructing the government and preventing it from functioning. This could be seen in the conflicting statements made by the speaker of the House, Aqila Saleh, and other MPs concerning a parliamentary vote of confidence on the new government.

While Tareq Saqr Al-Jaroushi, an MP from Benghazi and the son of the air force chief of staff under Hiftar’s command, said that the entire cabinet would be voted on in one go, Saleh said the parliament would vote on each nominee individually. He added that 40 members of the House could submit a request for the change of a single minister, suggesting that the House is not keen to approve the new government.

Although the US, EU, UN and the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) have all urged the House to give the new government the vote of confidence it needs so that it can get down to work, Saleh has not heeded these appeals, meaning that the reconciliation process may be headed for dangerous waters ahead.

It has been suggested that there are machinations afoot to render the government paralysed, even if it is approved in deference to international pressures. The parliament might not amend the constitution to bring it into line with provisions of the Skhirat Accord, which would mean that the forthcoming government would be another version of the Al-Thinni government and would be vulnerable to attempts to render it subordinate to Hiftar.

There are also signs that many Libyans would like the current situation to continue, regardless of the deterioration. Perhaps they see themselves as benefiting from it, unaware of the dangers that are looming against the state, especially in the light of mounting international pressures that could herald an approaching international military intervention that would complicate the crisis further.

As things stand, many Libyans do not appear ready to accept any government, and the intransigence of domestic parties backed from abroad will not allow society to cool down sufficiently to accept a government, regardless of its composition.

This applies especially to the east of the country, which is in a much more fluid state politically, socially and militarily than the west. Clearly, there is a need to eliminate foreign meddling so as to clear the way for Libyans to come together and engage in a national dialogue that, in the absence of outside interference, could succeed in stopping the current deterioration.

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