Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

Libya: no stability yet

As Libya’s political isolation law comes into effect, spurring a wide-scale reshuffle of the political scene amid failing security, stability remains illusive, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Libya is girding itself for major changes in the General National Council (GNC) and the current government headed by Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. At the same time, it is preparing to receive an EU security mission to help safeguard Libya’s borders and aid in the development of the national police and army.

Next week, the political isolation law, which was passed by the GNC 5 May, is due to come into effect. Under this law, anyone associated with the Gaddafi regime during its rule from September 1969 to October 2011 is to be banned from political or governmental office for 10 years. The law will affect many officials who are currently serving in government, many of whom were also leading figures in the 17 February Revolution.

Mohamed Magariaf is expected to tender his resignation this week. Magariaf had served for nine months as president of the GNC, the highest constitutional authority in Libya, which effectively made him supreme commander of the armed forces and the acting president.

Al-Ahram Weekly has learned that GNC member Alaa Magariaf, nephew of the current GNC president, is leading a last-minute campaign to solicit signatures among GNC members in support of a bill that would provide for exceptions to the political isolation law on the grounds of active opposition to the Gaddafi regime and participation in the revolution. According to informed sources, Alaa Magariaf has already succeeded in obtaining 70 signatures. A minimum of 120 signatures would be needed to pass the bill.

In another effort to contain the sweeping political isolation law, the GNC president met with several Supreme Court members in Tripoli last week in order to discuss the possibility of appealing against the law. The judges assured him that they would accept the appeal in the court’s first session in view of some major flaws in the law.

In spite of such developments, it appears that Mohamed Magariaf still intends to resign. In a statement to the press, Jumaa Al-Saih, chairman of the GNC defence committee, announced that Magariaf had already informed some GNC members of his intent to step down from his post before the political isolation law is due to go into effect. Al-Saih did not reveal any further details with regard to this decision. He also announced that the GNC would issue a call for nominations for Magariaf’s successor immediately after he resigns, but that Magariaf reserves the exclusive right to determine when he will tender his resignation to the GNC.

Juma Atiqa, first vice president of the GNC, is also expected to step down voluntarily in advance of the implementation of the political ban.

In tandem with these developments, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan is engaged in the process of a cabinet reshuffle that is expected to lead to the dismissal of the current heads of the ministries of defence, information, local government and electricity, as well as Abdel-Salam Al-Qadi, one of Zeidan’s appointees. The new cabinet will be announced in its meeting on Sunday or Monday this week.

The 29-member Zeidan cabinet, which was approved by the GNC in November last year, had remained unchanged until last week, when Interior Minister Ashour Shuail resigned and police Colonel Mohamed Al-Sheikh was appointed to succeed him.

 Libya has been gripped by mounting turmoil and instability in recent months. A series of bomb attacks in Benghazi and Tripoli marks the latest escalation of violence since the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime.

The deteriorating state of security in Libya has stirred growing concern in the international community, especially in view of the spectre of the increased flow of Islamist militants and arms across the borders of the North African country. On 22 May, EU governments approved a mission to assist Libya in securing the country’s borders and building the national police force and army. A statement released by the EU announced that the mission would consist of 110 civil advisors who would begin to arrive in Libya next month. The mission, which is to be based in Tripoli and will not be deployed in the south, as had been initially expected, would offer advice and training to Libyan officials in order to help them enhance the security the country’s land, sea and air borders.

The EU approved a budget of over 30 million Euros ($39 million) for the mission’s first year of operations. Of this, eight million Euros are to be allocated to mission tasks, 10 million Euros to operational costs, eight million Euros to the purchase of machinery and equipment, and the remainder to administrative exigencies.

An EU official has stated that the mission as a whole will engage 165 people, of whom 84 will be from EU countries, 27 will be UN employees, and 54 will be Libyans. It will have a highly trained and equipped security team to protect it. As a first stage, 50 members of the mission will arrive to initiate the mission, and the remaining members will arrive in subsequent stages. During its first six months, operations will focus on equipping Libyan officers who will be responsible for administering border security and monitoring arrivals and departures at Tripoli Airport. There will also be training courses for port and customs security, border patrols and coastguard teams.

“Due to practical reasons cited by experts, the training operations will aim towards intermediate rather than advanced levels,” the EU source said. EU experts are currently in the process of reviewing lists of Libyans who will be involved in the security enhancement and training programmes. The EU official, speaking from Brussels, explained that because of the political isolation law that was recently passed in Libya, the heads of concerned administrations in relation to the mission’s security enhancement programme would have to be revised, though “lower ranking officials will undoubtedly remain in their posts”.

While the European mission will primarily conduct its operations in Tripoli, some team members may perform tasks temporarily outside the capital, “if security conditions are met”. In view of the current security circumstances, however, it is unlikely that task teams will be sent to the south of the country, in spite of specific requests that European officials have received recently from some of Libya’s neighbour countries. Sources in the EU Council in Brussels stressed that any change in the nature of the tasks of the European security mission in Libya would require approval from the Council of Permanent Ambassadors in Brussels.

European countries are very concerned by the highly porous nature of Libya’s borders. According to leaks from an internal report to the EU policy and security committee in Brussels, EU experts have described the Libyan frontier as an “open crossing”, and that most of the European embassies in Tripoli have reached the same conclusion. Libya is bounded by a 4,300-kilometre long land border and an additional 1,700 kilometres of coastline.

The news of the EU security mission was greeted by considerable scepticism among European officials. Francesca Brantz, German representative in the European parliament and an expert in security and defence affairs, said that contrary to the claims of EU officials, the EU security mission would have little practical value in the enhancement of Libyan security. She added that her doubts were compounded both by the delay in the deployment of the mission to Libya, and by the fact that its current size, the nature of its tasks, and the areas in which it is slated to operate are not commensurate with the gravity of the current situation in Libya.

In Brantz’s opinion, it would have been more appropriate to deploy the mission under the auspices of the EU common security and defence policy, in which framework the mission would have become an instrument for enhancing Libyan stability, for which purpose experts funded by the EU Commission would have been engaged. The situation in Libya is urgent, she explained. Its most pressing need is to disarm militias that refuse to acknowledge the authority of the central government and that are currently controlling the country’s borders.

Brantz pointed out that the problem in Libya is not just about borders but rather is connected with a much broader political situation. She went on to note that the European assessment teams that had recently been dispatched to Libya did not visit the southern portions of the country. In her opinion, it was clear that the EU was intent on focusing on Libya’s maritime outlets, and this primarily in order to control the flow of African migrants to Europe.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan is scheduled soon to make the first visit by a senior Libyan official to NATO headquarters in Brussels. According to a statement issued by NATO, Zeidan will meet with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, after which Zeidan and Rasmussen will hold a joint press conference.

NATO previously announced that it was ready to assist Libya in restoring security, modernising its military structures, and rehabilitating its armed forces. However, it stressed that it would first have to receive an official request from Libyan authorities for this to happen. Both sides have denied that any such mandate has been yet issued. Zeidan has stated on several occasions that he would not seek the assistance of foreign forces to subdue militias that form the major obstacle to the institutionalisation of the state and the restoration of civil peace and stability.

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