Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Libyan government formed with the lowest criteria and the least harm | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

With regards to governance, the Islamists coming to power is considered a severe risk indicator, whereas the military taking over is a bad omen. As for regional, ethnic or tribal quotas, these are considered a sign of weakness for the central power. These three warnings have been a source of concern for Abdurrahim El-Keib, the Libyan Prime Minister in office during the formation of the country’s newborn government.

In his statement after the announcement of the government, El-Keib mentioned two points which I intend to question. The first was that competence was the sole criteria for the government selection. This is not true, and evidence of this can be found in the Minister of Foreign Affairs position, which was taken from the hands of Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at the last minute. El-Keib’s second point was that the new government would incorporate all regions of Libya, and this is also untrue, as the south of Libya was clearly not as lucky as other regions [in terms of government representation].

El-Keib’s priorities for government selection had nothing to do with competence, and the representation of all Libya’s regions was not a major factor either. Rather, the primary criterion for selection was to satisfy the leading rebels, and then take into account the regionalism issue, as well ethnic divisions such as the Arabs and the Amazigh.

The Prime Minister hopes to use this arrangement to ensure the highest chance of stability over the next eight months; the lifespan of the current government, so that it can conduct the affairs of a country which has stalled for months, and prepare the Libyan people to deal with the rituals of elections and democracy, something they have experienced before.

Such selection criteria could have been catastrophic had they been used in circumstances other than those currently being experienced by Libya, dealing with the remnants of the liberation movement and the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

Although the new government has been formed using the lowest form of criteria, it will guarantee stability and ward off in-fighting, particularly between the armed groups and militias which have settled in the major cities and believe that their role in liberating Libya grants them political entitlements that they refuse to relinquish, at least until the Libyan people say so in the next election.

One of the most notable surprises in the government reshuffle is the absence of prominent Islamist Abdulhakim Belhadj, leader of the Tripoli Military Council, on the list of new ministers. He had been nominated for the Minister of Defense post, but he was replaced by the head of the Zintan Military Council, Osama al-Juwali; commander of the most powerful militia group in Libya in terms of numbers and equipment, which had the greatest influence in bringing the capital Tripoli into the hands of the rebels. The Zintan fighters also captured Saif al-Islam Gaddafi a week ago and refused to hand him over to the Transitional Council, in a display of their power and authority on the ground. Al-Juwali had requested the position of Minister of Defence and was insistent upon it. Likewise the Zintan rebels would not accept anyone less than him. In turn, the Transitional Council was not prepared for a confrontation of this kind, potentially transforming the great victory of overthrowing the Gaddafi regime into a war on the streets between the victorious rebels.

Likewise, the appointment of the Misrata military commander Fawzi Abdel A’al to the position of Interior Minister was no less significant. These two sovereign portfolios have been undertaken by rebel leaders owing to their influence and timing. As for Benghazi, a city which does not possess fighters of the ferocity of Zintan and Mistrata, it emerged without a sovereign portfolio, even though it was the starting point of the revolution, and the first arena for NATO’s battles. Having been marginalized by the new government, all Benghazi did to vent its anger was stage a protest consisting of a few individuals in front of the Libyan Transitional Council; a soft demonstration in front of a council which is only thinking of appeasing the rebels and leading towards a peaceful solution.

In any case the Islamists, in all their guises, are not in a hurry. They do not consider the interim government to be a prize worth fighting for. They will wait until the elections after they have organized themselves. The Islamists believe that public opinion in Libya now is overwhelmingly Islamic, as is the case with most Arab states, and so they are hopeful that they will obtain a substantial share of power in the manner of their neighbors in Tunisia. If this happens, the Islamists will have achieved a deserved victory that was decided by the people, not by individuals.

As for press reports claiming that the West has been reassured by the new Libyan government, because it has excluded the Islamists, such reports have definitely misread the situation. This is because Western states are in continuous contact with the Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco, and have no reservations about Islamists coming to power as long as they rule in accordance with the law, respect human rights and protect minorities, as expressed by the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. This fact was acknowledged by a leading official in the upcoming Libyan Muslim Brotherhood group, Dr. Bashir al-Kabti, who was elected in Benghazi a few days ago as the group’s General Guide in Libya. He revealed that the Libyan Brotherhood had established contact and held meetings with Western states during the liberation war. Al-Kabti has long boasted that the group’s newly elected Shura Council has increased in number according to an expansion plan to incorporate all Libyan cities in the coming period.

In addition to the expansionist ambitions of the Islamists, Libya complains of continual foreign intervention that is selectively supporting certain factions, a situation that may lead to a competitive arms race among Libyan cities. This is apart from the continuous infiltration of al-Qaeda elements from North Africa into the Libyan army, in to create sleeping cells to facilitate arms smuggling.