Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

The curious trial of Mustafa Abdel-Jalil

The trial of Libyan revolutionary leader Mustafa Abdel-Jalil has led to concerns over the manipulation of the country’s justice system, writes Hassan Fathi Al-Qishawi

Mustafa Abdel-Jalil
Mustafa Abdel-Jalil
Al-Ahram Weekly

Debate is continuing in Libya about banning individuals previously associated with the regime of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, popularly known as azlam, from participating in the country’s political life.
It is not yet known how far the ban would extend or whether it would include only those who worked with Gaddafi for most of his rule or only for part of it.
The debate is part of a process of taking stock of the legacy of the past, with controversy focussing on who is the more deserving of respect and therefore of political posts under the post-Gaddafi regime, those who fled Libya to engage in opposition activities abroad, or those who stayed at home and kept quiet.
The soul-searching has become more complex in recent days with the controversy over the trial of Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, former chair of the National Transitional Council (NTC) that led the opposition to Gaddafi during the country’s revolution. Abdel-Jalil was justice minister under Gaddafi, but joined the ranks of the revolution in February 2011.
It is well known that rewards are not always handed out equitably in post-revolutionary situations. Some people with little experience may accede to positions of responsibility based on their revolutionary records after the fall of a previous regime, while others may be dismissed as counter-revolutionaries because of their association with the former regime.
The argument in Libya for excluding former members of the old regime from the country’s political life not only claims that their hearts may be in the wrong place, but also that they continue to have friends in high places, including in the army, the bureaucracy, and the security forces, making it tempting for them to try to recreate the past instead of changing it.
 It has been common to blame members of the old regime for instigating labour actions and street disturbances, for example, in order to sabotage the achievements of the revolution.
This has not exactly been the case regarding Abdel-Jalil, whose contribution to the Libyan revolution has been undeniable. During his time as chair of the NTC, Abdel-Jalil established the rule that NTC members must not hold political office after the end of the transitional period.
Yet, Abdel-Jalil is now facing trial before a military court in connection with the killing of former interior minister Abdel-Fattah Younis. It is not clear whether there is solid evidence against Abdel-Jalil, but the Obeidat tribe to which the slain minister belonged has put pressure on the government to get the trial underway.
Younis, who, like Abdel-Jalil, broke away from the Gaddafi regime in the first days of the revolution, was the first commander of the anti-Gaddafi forces. He was killed in mysterious circumstances after being summoned for a meeting with the NTC.
Thus far, Abdel-Jalil has not offered any information on the circumstances of Younis’s death, and his silence is what has turned the Obeidat tribe against him. Members of the clan have been threatening to take the law into their own hands if the killers of Younis are not brought to justice.
The trial of Abdel-Jalil may add to the current tensions rather than defusing them, however. For one thing, Abdel-Jalil is to be tried in front of a military court even though he is a civilian and has the right to a civilian trial.
The presiding judge, Abdallah Soeiti, was also seen making a victory sign during the trial, and the political uproar that followed forced the court to step down.
For the time being, Abdel-Jalil’s trial is on hold, but it hasn’t been considerations of justice, or the protestations of human rights groups, that has so far saved him. Instead, he has been saved by mass protests, with supporters from his home town of Al-Bayda cutting off roads in Tripoli and successfully forcing the hand of the government on the matter.
Abdel-Jalil, a level-headed politician, has voiced his disapproval of the actions of his supporters, saying that he is not above the law. He has also received the support of many other former members of the NTC.
The case of Abdel-Jalil is symbolic of the crisis brewing in many post-revolutionary societies in the Arab world. Justice is too often being manipulated by those who claim the loyalty of the masses, with good governance still appearing as only a distant dream.

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