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Libyan PM: International community “procrastinating” over Libya crisis - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thani (Asharq All-Awsat)

Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thani (Asharq All-Awsat)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Though the situation in Libya has steadily grown more complex and confusing to outsiders since the revolution that toppled Gaddafi with NATO help in 2011, one thing is clear: the country has descended into chaos, with different militias in different parts of the country, with different agendas, battling for control of the country.

The country’s list of woes is impressive indeed: currently, it has two rival governments, based in Tripoli and Tobruk, though only the latter is recognized abroad. In a further twist, the Tobruk government was recently declared unconstitutional by Libya’s Supreme Court, based—unsurprisingly—in Tripoli, while Islamist militias and the forces of renegade Gen. Khalifa Haftar battle for control of Benghazi. Meanwhile, several of the country’s key oilfields are in the hands of gunmen and striking security guards, depriving the state of key revenue when it is most needed.

Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to the leader of the Tobruk government, Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thani, about his government’s efforts to tackle the herculean tasks it faces: restoring security and stability, rebuild the armed forces, and chart a new path for a country emerging from the shadow of one of the world’s longest-lasting dictatorships.

Thani, a former defense minister in Libya’s previous transitional government, took office in March. A former army officer, he spent time in prison in the 1980s after his brother, an air force officer, spoke out against Gaddafi over his disastrous military intervention in neighboring Chad.

Asharq Al-Awsat: You have accused the international community of not providing enough supporting to your government. Why these accusations, and what kind of support do you need, exactly?

Abdullah Al-Thani: A number of countries, when they fully realized the danger which the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) poses to their interests and the region, quickly put together a coalition to fight this terrorist organization and to help the countries of the region confront it. However, when it comes to Libya, everyone is procrastinating and taking their time in helping the country in its just war against extremist groups, even though the terrorism taking place in Libya is heinous and blatant, and threatens the security of the entire region.

As for the support we need, well, the Libyan people have decided to face this battle by themselves, and they do not want anyone to fight on their behalf. But the Libyan army is in need of weapons and equipment in order to confront terrorism. The UN Security Council sanction committee [on Libya] is moving very slowly with respect to our requests to purchase weapons so we can eradicate terrorism and extremism from Libya; it is dealing with these requests in a bureaucratic, routine manner, which slows down the arrival of the weapons for the Libyan army.

The international community has to realize that the Libyan people and their government [in Tobruk] are moving forward with great resolve in this fight against terror. We will do all we can to secure what we need, through our special relationships with friendly countries and all those who will gain from the elimination of terrorism, because this works for the benefit of Libya, its neighbors, and the world as a whole.

Q: Who, in your opinion, is delaying plans to rebuild the country’s military?

Since the ousting of the former regime [of Muammar Gaddafi], Libyans have endeavored through their elected institutions to rebuild the army and the police force in order to protect the nation and the people and ensure its security. However, there were a number of elements who infiltrated the nation’s institutions, especially the General People’s Congress [Libya’s previous, elected, and Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament, dissolved by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, and then reinstated by Islamist militias currently in control of Tripoli], working against the efforts Libyans had made in this regard. These extremist groups showed their true face during the last few years through carrying out a wave of assassinations which targeted members of the Libyan armed forces and security forces in order to spread fear within their ranks and [thereby] prevent them from continuing their work within these institutions.

These terrorists and their criminal allies wanted by the authorities know very well the presence of a strong military and police force are fully capable of protecting the country and its people, and putting an end to their political project to take control of Libya by force of arms and continuing to spread chaos throughout the country. These terrorists realized very quickly that a strong, disciplined army, completely under the control of the [elected] government in the country and safeguarding its democratic transition, would pose a serious obstacle for these groups and organizations which seek to impose their extremist views and ideology on Libyans by force of arms.

Q: From whom does the army take its orders?

The entire army takes its orders from the office of the chief-of-staff, which in turn follows the orders of the Ministry of Defense . . . Recently, we have appointed a chief-of-staff from the parliament [in Tobruk] and at the moment all operations between the political authority [i.e. the Tobruk government] and the army are moving in complete coordination.

Q: Are you receiving daily updates regarding the army’s operations?

Using all the available resources at our disposal, we have begun the process of forming the nucleus of [what will eventually become] a national army. You can now see the results of these efforts in the way the fight [with the extremist groups] is currently progressing on the ground; army units are now more responsible and disciplined than they were in the past.

The government is indeed receiving regular and ongoing reports from the army. For its part, the government is giving all the support it can, politically and in terms of [boosting army] morale, expending great efforts to meet all the army’s needs. However, the overseeing of military operations and their goals is the purview of the chief-of-staff of the army; this is their area and we have full faith in our officers and soldiers.

Q: Are you satisfied with the Arab position toward your fight against terrorism?

There are a number of friendly Arab countries who support the Libyan people in their fight against extremism and terrorism, and they do not tarry in offering support to us. However, there are also those who have exploited the difficult situation in Libya, planting this malignant seed of terrorism in our lands in order to carry out a plan to destabilize the region and spread chaos throughout it. We are in constant contact with all Arab countries, especially those neighboring countries that are directly affected by what is happening in Libya, and we are coordinating with them in order to work together effectively [to resolve the crisis].

As for those other Arab countries that are supporting these armed [terrorist] groups and organizations, we are also in contact with them, to try to convince them to stop supporting these groups, or at the very least to take a neutral position. We do not want any enemies during this sensitive time the country is going through. Those who do not wish to support the legitimate government [of Tobruk are free to do so], but they should at the very least stop supporting these terrorists. This was the position taken by the UN Security Council in its latest resolution, 2174.

Q: You’ve said you want to return the parliament to the capital, Tripoli. How and when will this take place?

The government will return to Tripoli when the army announces that the city has been completely liberated and all state institutions have been secured, and when all government employees are able to restart their work under the supervision of the legitimate government.

Q: Are your military forces strong enough to liberate Tripoli from the Islamist militias?

Everything has been studied thoroughly by the military leadership, and we must not forget the most important factor we possess in this fight: the Libyan people, who regard the fight against these putschists [the terrorist–extremist groups] as a fateful one that will bring about the civil society for which they rose up [against the former regime] in February [2011, the start of the protests that precipitated the Libyan revolution against Gaddafi]. We saw the finest example of this in Benghazi, where the civilian residents armed themselves in order to support the Libyan army in expelling and arresting these terrorist and criminal elements. The will of the people, when it wishes to bring about security and stability in the country, is stronger than any weapon, and is the most important factor in winning any battle.

Q: Did it enter your mind as you were leaving the capital just months ago that you would have to fight a war in order to return to it?

This is a war that has been imposed on us; it is not one we have consciously chosen to fight. Our activities derive from the legitimacy granted to us by the Libyan people, who are the source of all [political] authority; in contrast to others, who derive what they do from the use of force and in exploiting the [current] situation. We will do everything we can to give peaceful dialogue a chance and to achieve peace between all Libyans; but we will not give up national unity and the authority of the state, and we will not allow a bunch of putschists to impose their will upon all the Libyan people or break away from the country. God willing, we will return to Tripoli soon, and we will hand over all those who were involved in this conspiracy [to break up Libya] to the law, for we are doing all we can to create a nation of laws and institutions, and we will never allow chaos or personal vendettas to prevail among Libyans. This is the historic responsibility which this government has taken upon itself—and we will be up to the task.

Q: Why have you still not named a defense minister?

We are currently choosing a defense minister from among a number of candidates, and we will choose the candidate who is the most qualified, professional, and conscientious—as we did when choosing other members of the cabinet.

Q: What about choosing an oil minister?

During this sensitive moment in Libya’s history, the parliament agreed that the cabinet should be made up of 10 ministries, and for the rest [of the ministries not included in the cabinet] to be transferred to a number of state institutions, such as, [in this case], the National Oil Corporation.

Q: Are you really in control of Libya’s oil production?

All Libyan oil production and revenues are currently under the control of the legitimate political authority in the country [i.e. the Tobruk government and parliament], and they are being managed according to the country’s laws and international contracts, conventions and agreements.

Q: In terms of putting an end to this crisis in Libya, where does the solution lie?

We are continually calling for all sides to rely on dialogue; we do not accept the use of weapons as a means of solving the disputes between the Libyan people. Dialogue is the surest route to securing security and stability for the country and in creating a peaceful environment for all the children of this nation, away from this language of takfirism [accusing people of being infidels] and irresponsible fatwas, or accusations of treason, all of which use incitement and inflammatory statements to cause trouble between the children of one country. All this is as far away as possible from the spirit of the religion of Islam, which calls for brotherhood between people and the reformation of personal character.

We ask everyone to come together under the auspices of the legitimacy of the state, and to respect the wishes of the Libyan people who voted for this People’s Assembly in a historic vote. We also call for the upholding of all the gains made during the February 17 revolution and the protection of our nation.

This is an abridged version of an interview originally conducted in Arabic.