It did not take long for Egypt’s second revolution on 30 June to send shockwaves westward into Libya. Many of the political, economic and strategic threads of the political situations in both countries are closely interwoven, which is why Libya is directly affected by events in Egypt — “for better or for worse,” as some political analysts observe — in spite of the considerable differences between the two countries.
However, prospects for a peaceful movement of any sort in Libya seem farfetched at the moment. Weapons of every sort are ubiquitous, and militias are everywhere. Yet, the success of Egypt’s Tamarod (Rebel) movement, which has succeeded in achieving its preliminary aim by initiating a petition drive that helped lead to the 30 June Revolution, has inspired a group of young Libyans to try to emulate this experience in the form of a Rafd (Rejection) Movement in Libya.
Nasser Al-Hawari, director of the Libyan Human Rights Observatory and founder of the Rafd Movement, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “we founded Rafd in late May. We are trying to organise ourselves and promote our aims as effectively as possible in order to rally popular support. In spite of the differences between our aims and demands [and those of Tamarod], dictated by the differences between the situations in Libya and Egypt, Rafd hopes to press its demands in a similar way. This is by mobilising the people to assemble in large numbers in the city squares in peaceful protest demonstrations to demand their rights.”
Al-Hawari said that the main purpose of the Rafd drive was to voice the Libyan people’s rejection of violence intended to impose views by force that was inimical to all democratic values and conventions. “We also seek to attain other aims, foremost among which are the annulment of the political isolation law and its replacement by the judicial process, the dismantling of all military entities other than the police and army, and the ending of the hegemony of any single political faction over political life in Libya,” he said.
“In addition, we oppose the perpetuation of the General National Congress [GNC] and demand that it abide by the dates stipulated in the Constitutional Declaration of August 2011.”
The security crisis in Libya, with frequent gun battles erupting between the various militias spread throughout the country, has created a climate favourable to the movement. On 4 July, Rafd leaders announced the beginning of their mass mobilisation drive to pressure the government and the GNC to meet its demands.
According to an official statement, Rafd will give the GNC until 30 December to end the interim phase. If the GNC does not meet that deadline, the people will take action to “restore power to the people”, the statement said. Rafd will hold a press conference to explain the aims of the movement soon, it added, after which it will distribute application forms for people to join the movement.
The repercussions of events in Egypt have also triggered a similar reaction in Libya among political forces opposed to the situation there. On Thursday, the liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA), headed by Mahmoud Jebril who once headed the executive bureau of the now-defunct Interim Council, announced that it had frozen its membership of the GNC except for matters pertaining to the Constituent Assembly charged with drafting the country’s new constitution.
The NFA explained that it had been forced to take this action because of the increasing prevalence of the rule of the gun in politics and because the GNC had deviated from its primary aims. Abdel-Majid Malyaqta of the NFA stressed that the NFA’s decision had not been influenced by events in Egypt, but added that the alliance “could not remain detached from what is happening at the national and regional levels” without clarifying further.
The NFA’s decision to freeze its membership in the GNC marks a qualitative shift in the political contest within the GNC and with its natural adversary the Islamist factions.
Remarkably, the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), the political wing of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, has opted for a course totally different to its Egyptian counterpart, the Freedom and Justice Party, and it has followed the cue of the liberal NFA and also proclaimed the “independence” of its members from the GNC and the provisional government.
JCP Chairman Mohamed Sowan announced that members of his party would continue with their work in the GNC as independents, working separately from the party and its platform. As for the JCP members in the government, he said, it would be up to Prime Minister Ali Zeidan to employ them as technocrats in the service of public welfare. Sowan added that the Party’s central committee would soon call for an extraordinary meeting in order to ratify this decision.
When asked whether the JCP’s action had been influenced by events in Egypt, Sowan replied that “what happened in Egypt is a major development in the revolutions of the Arab Spring. However, it would be premature to start speaking of repercussions, whether positive or negative, of what is happening in Egypt.”
He observed that recent developments might stir alarm among some over the prospects for the nascent democratic process in Libya, adding that some voices had begun to speak of the need to rectify the course of the GNC and the government and that there were increasing criticisms of political party organisations and “all these need to be listened to”.
The steps taken by the largest political organisations in Libya are indicative of their appreciation of how critical the political situation there has now become three years down the line from the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Time is growing short for the GNC, which is due to expire soon, while the fate of the work of the Constituent Assembly remains up in the air due to confusion and tensions in the political climate and mounting acrimony between the various parties, which have been accusing one another of obstructing progress.
The Zeidan government has so far remained silent on developments in Egypt, probably due more to domestic considerations than external ones. Zeidan’s sole remark on the events, issued during a press conference in Rome, was that these were an Egyptian domestic matter.
Other Libyan parliamentary leaders have been more outspoken. Mohamed Al-Tomi, a GNP member and leader of the National Front Party, said that he was glad that the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt had fallen in spite of the respect he felt for his Libyan colleagues from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Tomi said that the fall of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt would have a positive impact on Libya, and he appealed to the Libyan Muslim Brothers to revise their outlook and shift to social, religious and philanthropic work.
He said that the Muslim Brotherhood had been responsible for the current situation in Libya, even if their intentions had been good, adding that the Brotherhood backed legislation that served its own interests and that it had been instrumental in eliminating an individual who could have helped build a strong national army, a reference to General Abdel-Fattah Younes who was assassinated on 28 July 2011.
Al-Sherif Al-Wafi, who represents the Independent Opinion bloc in the GNP, warned that Libya should not become a safe passage for Muslim Brotherhood leaders fleeing Egypt. In more moderate tones, Mohamed Betro of the National Forces Alliance said that Libya respected the will of the Egyptian people, adding that he hoped that Libya would form an army similar to that of Egypt and that Libya’s relationship was with the Egyptian people, rather than with the Egyptian political parties.
Such statements issued by the various Libyan party and government spokesmen, as reserved as some of them might be, suggest that the impact of Egypt’s 30 June Revolution may be greater than some have thought. One telling sign has been indications of imminent agreement on a proposal submitted by the NFA earlier calling for the adoption of the Libyan independence constitution of 1951, inclusive of amendments made in 1963, as a means to overcome the country’s current impasse.
Under this plan, the task of the GNC would be to formulate amendments appropriate to the current phase in Libya. If approved, this step, which its proponents argue will prevent any further waste of time, could lead to new ironies in the Libyan situation in the coming days.