Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Libya: political heat from all sides

With the security situation in Libya continuing to deteriorate, many call not only for the dismissal of the Zeidan Cabinet but also the interim parliament, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Justice and Construction Party (JCP), the political wing of the Libyan chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, did not take kindly to Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s surprise official visit to Cairo last week. The party has charged that the visit was a bid to confuse the issues and distract Libyan public opinion from domestic concerns. But, say party spokesmen, the JCP will not allow itself to be distracted because it best appreciates the demands of the very difficult interim phase in Libya. Zeidan counters that the visit to Egypt served Libya’s national interests. Because Egypt is a neighbour that shares a long border with Libya, and as it is linked to Libya by cultural bonds and economic and security interests, it is essential to sustain good relations with Egypt, he said.

Tensions between the prime minister and the Muslim Brotherhood and JCP over this visit are the latest indication of mounting dissatisfaction with the performance of the Zeidan government, which is struggling to contend with extremely challenging circumstances, especially in the wake of the resignation of Mohamed Al-Sheikh as minister of interior only a month into his tenure in the post. The pressures on the Zeidan Cabinet have been building up over recent months in tandem with mounting calls for that cabinet’s resignation on the grounds of its inability to curb the deterioration in security in the country that has been prey to a rise in targeted assassinations of political activists. Recently, the security breakdown extended to the vital petroleum sector, wreaking immediate economic damage.

Zeidan’s visit incurred the JCP’s censure because it signalled recognition of the transition that took place in Egypt. As the party put it in a statement released 6 September, “The JCP and all free and honourable citizens who believe in the democratic process, who reject the military coup and who respect human rights, regardless of ‘ideological’ orientation, express our strong condemnation of this visit that constitutes a blessing and open recognition of that coup and its leaders who committed appalling massacres and human rights violations that stirred worldwide condemnation.”

The JCP, which is the largest political party in Libya, further stated that the visit was inconsistent with the principles of Libya’s 17 February Revolution in which tens of thousands of people died for the causes of freedom, respect for human rights and democracy. The party was deeply disturbed by the fact that such a step could be undertaken by the Libyan prime minister who heads the government of one of the most important countries of the Arab Spring.

Al-Ahram Weekly has learned that there is a strong tide of opinion within the JCP’s political bureau and central board in favour of withdrawing from the coalition government that Zeidan has headed since November 2012. Not that this would be the first time that the Muslim Brotherhood party, headed by Mohamed Sawan, threatened to resign. The minister of interior who has just resigned and the minister of electricity who resigned just before this are both JCP members. The two ministers cited interference in and obstruction of their work as the reasons for their resignations.

Mounting tensions between the JCP and the interim government will inevitably reverberate through and further complicate and intensify the already fraught political situation in Libya. A JCP withdrawal from the government would cause that government’s collapse in view of the large voting bloc that the Muslim Brotherhood controls in the General National Conference (GNC), Libya’s interim legislative assembly.

Commenting on this situation, the Libyan writer and commentator Al-Badri Al-Menai told the Weekly: “What is needed now, as soon as possible, if Libya is to emerge from the present crisis, is for meetings to be held between leaders of the JCP and the National Forces Alliance (NFA), these being the largest political blocs in the country, in order to set into motion a comprehensive national plan between them aimed at producing a roadmap to lead the country out of the current state of chaos and in accordance with which the two would form a strong national unity government, the purpose of which would be to lay the foundations for the Libyan state, restore security and stability, and focus on the priorities the country must address during this transitional period.”

Al-Menai added that if these two political forces could succeed in forming a strong government, they would simultaneously re-establish themselves as the country’s two most effective parties and thereby renew popular confidence that has eroded during the recent period.

In Al-Menai’s opinion, a strong Libyan government with a clear policy for addressing the demands that Libyans voiced on many occasions would enjoy the active support of the people, “not only morally, but also materially against all attempts to obstruct the work of this government or to cause it to fail”. Whether the government consisted only of members of these two parties or also brought aboard some independents, it is essential to ensure that ministerial portfolios are placed in the hands of competent and patriotically dedicated individuals, “who have experienced the problems of the people, know how to speak their language and understand their needs”.

“Ministers should not be selected solely on the basis of partisan allegiance or tribal and regional quotas,” Al-Menai stressed.

In addition to the Zeidan Cabinet, the GNC has also come under harsh public criticism for its performance. Both bodies are increasingly viewed by broad segments of the populace as the chief cause of the deterioration in the country, and in the state of security above all. Public anger recently voiced itself in calls for the dismissal of both the Zeidan government and the GNC, which was elected 7 July 2012; a prospect that observers believe would generate more confusion and chaos.

Hassan Al-Amin, who resigned as a GNC member, agrees that the performance of the Zeidan government and the GNC leave much to be desired. However, “it is impossible under any circumstances to accept a solution in which chaos, mob rule and violence prevail and are exploited to serve party political, regional or tribal agendas.”

“We must accept no other path but democracy, which we agreed upon as the means to steer the country. We must not accept solutions that open the way to violence or deception,” he said, warning Libyans “not to give the opportunity to hidden and fascist forces that are thirsting after power at all costs, even if that means driving the country to the abyss”.

In a tangential development that underscores the fractious and perilous state of the country, Al-Anoud Al-Senousi, the daughter of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s last intelligence chief, was kidnapped last week from a convoy of judicial police that was escorting her to the airport, as it turned out by a unit of the government’s elite gendarmerie, the first support squadron of the Tripoli Revolutionaries Regiment (the Supreme Security Committee, as The Guardian called it). On its Facebook page, the regiment announced that it abducted Al-Anoud Al-Senousi following her release from Tripoli Prison with the purpose of protecting her from a plot by other agencies to abduct her in order to use her as a political bargaining chip. The statement added that the daughter of the former intelligence chief, who is due to go to trial soon, would be kept in temporary detention with some of her relatives in the military police prison in Tripoli, in order to forestall any attempt to use her in political blackmail.

Libyan authorities had released Al-Senousi after she had served a 10-month jail sentence for entering the country on a forged passport a year ago. The Al-Muqarha tribe, to which Al-Senousi belongs, cut off water to Tripoli and the road linking the capital to Sibha in protest at the abduction.

Pushing from another direction, the Ansar Al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) group issued a statement calling for a return to Sharia Law in order to resolve disputes among the Libyan people. The statement noted that turning to “the Book of God” to arbitrate disputes among the Libyan people would let “obedience to the Lord of the Universe” prevail in society and resolve discord. Ansar Al-Sharia succeeded in resolving the dispute between two feuding tribes in Sirt using the principles of arbitration in Islamic law, the statement added.

From the other end of the political spectrum, the chairman of the steering committee of the liberal National Forces Alliance, Abdel-Majid Mleqta, announced Saturday 7 September that the alliance would soon be launching a national dialogue initiative to explore solutions to the Libyan political crisis. “This initiative will bring together many segments of the Libyan people, including politicians, revolutionaries, sectors with specific demands such as those currently blockading the petroleum ports, displaced persons and religious and tribal leaders so that they can speak with one another while expressing themselves directly to all the Libyan people during sessions aired live over Libyan satellite television networks,” he said.

Mleqta cautioned of the dire consequences for the country if the performance of the government and GNC continues at its present level. He also mentioned that some political forces in the GNC, which he did not identify, were currently working to create a shadow government as an alternative to the current cabinet. In addition, he expressed his shock at some of the proposed solutions to the current crisis, such as fatwas that incited further violence and bloodshed. He referred in particular to the recent decree issued by the office of the chief mufti calling for combat against those who close off ports and petroleum fields. The chairman of the NFA steering committee reiterated his emphasis on the need to avoid all forms of violence and to rely on dialogue as the means to solve the country’s problems.

Mleqta’s initiative is the second initiative that the NFA will propose to Libyan society. In March, NFA President Mahmoud Jibril put forward an initiative that sought to reinstate the amended version of Libya’s post-independence constitution, which has been suspended since 1969.

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