Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1216, (2 - 8 October 2014)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1216, (2 - 8 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Thinni government sworn in

Having met rejection with his first attempt, and talk of sidestepping him entirely, Abdullah Al-Thinni sees his revised cabinet accepted, though intrigue continues in Libya’s complex political landscape, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Members of the Libyan government headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni were sworn in Sunday in front of the parliament. The ceremony was held, as scheduled, in the Dar Al-Salam Hotel in Tobruk.

Al-Thinni’s new cabinet contains 12 members of who three are deputy prime ministers. The post of minister of defence, which Al-Thinni had occupied under the Ali Zeidan government, remains vacant.

It is something of a mystery still how a consensus was finally reached over the proposed crisis government that Al-Thinni submitted to parliament on the previous Tuesday, especially given the intense squabbling between diverse blocs and factions over government portfolios.

According to sources in Tobruk contacted by Al-Ahram Weekly, just before parliament granted Al-Thinni’s proposed cabinet its sudden vote of confidence, there had been a near consensus to dismiss Al-Thinni and appoint someone else to form a government. Then within a matter of minutes the situation changed. A vote was taken and 110 out of the 112 lawmakers who were present that day voted in favour of his government.

One is struck by the remarkable difference between this outcome and that on a previous vote. When Al-Thinni was appointed to form a new government after he submitted his resignation to parliament, only 64 of the 114 members present during that vote gave their approval to the government he proposed at the time.

There was considerable discord among MPs over the nature of the government that should be formed. Some held that it should be representative of all parts of the country, while others felt it should be a government of technocrats. Some pressed for a crisis cabinet with fewer members so that it could perform its functions more efficiently. Others pushed for a “war cabinet” capable of responding to the challenge of military engagements between rival militia groupings in Tripoli and Benghazi.

According to the sources the Weekly contacted in Tobruk, the liberal-oriented National Forces Alliance (NFA) headed by former Executive Bureau chief Mahmoud Jibril, the mountain city of Zintan — which has been battling the coastal city of Misrata for control over the capital — and the pro-federalist camp, which has 16 members in parliament, were pushing to obtain ministerial posts in Al-Thinni’s new cabinet. Meanwhile, the younger generation of MPs insisted that the cabinet should contain fewer members so that it could be more proactive and quicker in handling the current challenges in the country. A trimmer cabinet would be able to avert the complications that bog down larger cabinets, they argued.

The sources also said that Al-Thinni came under enormous local and regional pressure to include certain individuals in his government.

The Weekly has learned that NFA Vice President Abdel-Majid Mleqta from Zintan, brother of Othman Mleqta, commander of Al-Qaqa Brigade, which is affiliated with Zintan, had been among the candidates who had made it to the final list for the crisis government. However, he was discarded at the last moment after a number of MPs insisted that no one related to the parties engaged in military hostilities in the country should be included in the new government, so as not to add further fuel to the conflict.

As fighting in Libya continued to rage, numerous Arab countries, the EU, the UN and other regional and international organisations welcomed an Algerian initiative due to be held in October. This initiative will take place ahead of the time set by the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Bernardino Leon for gathering the disputants in the Libyan conflict around the negotiating table in order to agree to a ceasefire and work out a peaceful way to resolve their differences.

Sources close to the Spanish diplomat told the Weekly that they were worried that certain parties in Libya and abroad, which they did not identify, were manoeuvring to delay the UNSMIL-sponsored dialogue, as occurred when UNSMIL invited Libyan factions to meet on 18 and 19 June, a week before the parliamentary elections were held on 25 June.

In spite of such concerns, UNSMIL issued a press release stating, “The UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy Bernardino Leon has received positive responses from the parliament and from MPs who are boycotting parliament to his invitation to Libyan parties to take part in a political dialogue over ways to end the crisis in the country.”

UNSMIL in its initial conception has called for a meeting between the boycotting members of parliament and those who are attending its sessions with the purpose of trying to reach and agreement over what appears to be their main bone of contention — namely handover procedures from the former to the new authority. The Libyan judiciary is expected to issue its ruling 8 October on the validity of the parliamentary sessions that have been held in Tobruk. A number of boycotting MPs filed a suit claiming that those sessions should be declared null and void as they were held outside of the parliament’s main headquarters in Benghazi which, they add, violates the Constitutional Declaration issued in August 2011 and conflicts with the recommendations of the February Committee that the former General National Congress (GNC) had asked, in November last year, to draw up a proposal for arrangements for general and presidential elections and amending the Constitutional Declaration.

That the Libyan factions are increasingly relying on their allies abroad regardless of the repercussions at home is a key indicator of the unprecedented polarisation in the country. The trend may pave the way to more open-ended clashes, especially in light of recent developments in Tripoli and Benghazi and the crisis of the blockade of oil exporting ports.

This latter crisis, which has been dragging on for more than a year, has subsided somewhat now that the conflict has been confined to the Magharba tribe, which controls the area known as the “petroleum crescent” and key members of which are rivalling one another over the command of guards at the petroleum facilities in the region where that tribe predominates.

It was those developments that had propelled to the fore Ibrahim Al-Jadran, head of the Political Bureau of Cyrenaica, after former prime minister Ali Zeidan moved to dismiss the previous chief of the petroleum facility guards, Ali Al-Ahrash, and bring back Colonel Idris Boukhamada to replace him. Infuriated by that step, Al-Jadran moved his forces in to occupy the petroleum crescent and close the oil ports.

Only recently did Prime Minister Al-Thinni reappoint Al-Ahrash as head of the petroleum facility guards, effectively abolishing Zeidan’s move in what was part of an agreement with the federalists that was signed under obscure circumstances and about which no details have been made available.

In another effort to restore calm in Libya, the Benghazi Crisis Management Committee called on the warring parties in that city — the Shura Council of the Revolutionaries of Benghazi and the local commanders of Operation Dignity, launched by retired General Khalifa Al-Haftar in May — to agree to a two-week truce. In a press conference, the official spokesman for the committee, Mohamed Al-Saiti, said: “The Crisis Management Committee had launched an initiative through which it calls on the parties to the conflict in Benghazi to conclude a truce for two weeks. When they agree on this, a team appointed by the committee will monitor the truce. The team will register any violations, identify the responsible party and make this information public in the media.”

Meanwhile, Abdel Razek Al-Nazuri, whom parliament had appointed as the Libyan general chief of staffs, announced that he had appointed Colonel Ahmed Abu Zeid Al-Mismari as the official spokesman for the Office of the Chief of General Staffs. In response, Mohamed Al-Hijazi protested that he was still the official spokesman in the name of Operation Dignity which, he claimed, fell under the Office of the Chief of General Staffs of the Libyan army, and that he took his orders directly from Haftar and not from Al-Nazouri, the general chief of staffs appointed by the Libyan parliament in Tobruk. According to leaks from some military officers who support Haftar, Al-Hijazi was furious because had expected Al-Nazuri to appoint him, as opposed to Al-Mismari.

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