Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—As Libya’s two rival governments gear up for another round of reconciliation talks in Geneva this week under the auspices of the UN, the country’s Tobruk-based government is continuing its attempts to impose its authority over the strife-torn North African state and build new relationships with its neighbors, particularly Egypt.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Libya’s deputy prime minister, Abdul Salam Al-Badri, during a visit to Cairo about his government’s attempts to strengthen links with its neighbor, its rivalry with its opponents in Tripoli (who he claimed were receiving support from abroad), his government’s relationship with the Libyan National Army led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, the extent of its control over Libya’s vast oil reserves, and whether the new government is willing to cooperate with former members of Gaddafi’s government.
Asharq Al-Awsat: You’ve been visiting the Egyptian capital Cairo. Tell us about Egyptian–Libyan relations at the moment . . .
Abdul Salam Al-Badri: Egypt is a natural extension of Libya, and vice-versa. And throughout 2,500 years of history there has not been a single attack on Egypt from eastern Libya or from other parts of the country. Around 25 percent of all Libyans—that is, more than 500,000 Libyans—have some family relations in Egypt, and I’m one of them, as I have a relative who is Egyptian. Moreover, more than 35 percent of all Libyans work in Egypt or are connected to the country via employment of some kind.
Q: Do the Muslim Brotherhood have a future in Libya?
They have no future in Libya. History tells us that the Brotherhood appeared in Libya in 1954 as the first offshoot of the group coming from Egypt. But they are finished now or are on their way towards this.
Q: Libya has publicly criticized both Turkey and Sudan. What is going on here?
The recent outside interference in Libya is, without a doubt, the result of a well worked out plan. If, God forbid, Libya falls into the hands of the extremists, then they will work to sabotage the Egyptian revolution and any future development of the country . . .
There is evidence to suggest Sudan has been involved with some of these extremists, but in general we want to improve our relationship with the Sudanese. I think Egypt can play a major role here. But the problem is that inside the Sudanese administration there are currently two main strands: one sympathetic to supporting these extremists, another that opposes it . . . Turkey is another matter entirely.
Q: Will the Council of Deputies move to Benghazi?
We do have a headquarters there. Moving depends still on a number of issues we need to sort out first.
Q: You are the internationally recognized government of Libya, and yet there are claims that your government has little influence on the ground in Libya itself. How would you respond to this?
The reality is the complete opposite. Those who say this probably support extremist groups . . . As for the parliament, it is Libya’s parliament and not just Tobruk’s. It has been elected by the whole of Libya, with the exception of Misrata and some . . . other areas.
Q: What is the relationship between your government, the Tobruk parliament, and the army?
The government’s relationship to parliament is determined by the law . . . There are no problems between the government and the parliament at the moment.
As for the government’s relationship with the army, it mainly goes through the army’s chief-of-staff. Regarding the relationship of the Ministry of Defense and the government with the army, we can say that we do not want to go the way of the [previous] interim government. The Libyan army is patriotic, and was set up before the modern country was, in 1940 here in Egypt. It still has its place, and those who founded it had wisdom and vision despite some disagreements.
Q: Why has the decision to promote Gen. Khalifa Haftar to the rank of lieutenant general and commander of the armed forces been delayed?
This is a matter I cannot speak about; it is for parliament to decide on this. We as a government of course wish for the problem to be resolved, and the presence of Gen. Khalifa Haftar as commander of the army will solve many problems, and we are currently in contact with him. The supreme commander of the armed forces is [currently] the speaker of parliament . . .
Q: Let’s talk about the oil problem. You’ve recently changed the head of the Libyan state-owned oil company, the Libyan National Oil Corporation. Has this made any improvement on the ground?
We currently control 80 percent [of the oil in the country], while the other 20 percent is controlled by the opposing side [the militias] . . .
Q: How much oil are you producing at the moment and where do the country’s current oil revenues stand?
Right now we are probably producing around 900,000 barrels of oil per day [bpd] or less. But we are capable of producing 2.5 million bpd, or even 3 million bpd. Our oil reserves are the largest in Africa and the third-largest globally.
Q: Did Libya’s oil system deteriorate after Gaddafi was removed, to the extent that it affected the country’s economy?
No. The oil was always protected. Even when supply lines were shut for eight months [during the war against Gaddafi] the prime minister told me he had reached an agreement with the security forces guarding oil installations. He told me he did not see even one nail stolen from these installations and the oilfields were 100 percent secure.
Q: Have there been any reconciliation meetings between the government and members of the Gaddafi regime?
I am personally committed to sitting down and speaking with all Libyans; the previous regime is over now.
The changes currently taking place actually remind me of when the Italians invaded Libya and many Libyans fled to Egypt and also Tunisia, establishing the Libyan army and then returning to the country afterwards. But the numbers back then were not as large as they are now . . . I am disturbed and worried to find that there are entire families who feel they have no place in Libya and therefore go and live in Egypt, say.
Q: How will you handle this situation?
Well, there are distinct groups among them: some of them left because they were afraid, others because they had no faith in the previous government. We are working to win back their trust and bring them back to their country. I have already met with a number of them.
Are among them those who were members of the Gaddafi regime?
No, I know that Libyans must in the end sit down with one another, and I have no problem with this [former Gaddafi regime figures]. Even if they wanted to go to Misrata, I would go tomorrow in order to end the bloodbath there . . .
Q: Why are things in Misrata now outside your control?
Foreign support. And some of it has come from places like the United States as well.
Q: Who would you say is responsible for things reaching this stage in Misrata?
My personal interpretation of the events in Misrata is that there are some groups that came there carrying out foreign agendas, from places where they found a suitable environment. These include Americans and Libyans living abroad.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add?
I just want to add that we are in control of 66 cities in the country, only eight of which are outside our control. There are some who think we are only in control of half the cities, but this is not true.
This is an abridged version of an interview originally conducted in Arabic.