Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Abdullah Al-Thani, head of the internationally recognized government of Libya, is facing political rivals from within and without. A parallel government, run by Islamists in Tripoli is vying with his Tobruk-based parliament for control of the North African state, while he is also facing criticism from his own ministers and MPs for his perceived lack of cooperation with powerful Libyan Gen. Khalifa Haftar.
Libya’s Tobruk parliament has thrown the cloak of legitimacy over Haftar and his Libyan National Army forces, which has expanded its campaign against Islamists in the eastern city of Benghazi to Tripoli. However Thani, a former defense minister who took over the government from former PM Ali Zeidan, has received criticism from within his own parliament over lack of cooperation and coordination with the military concerning its plans to retake the capital.
Despite the clear political maneuvering within the Tobruk parliament, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat earlier this week that Thani had secured an agreement to remain in power and extend his term. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat by phone from Cairo, Thani confirmed that he is “unlikely” to resign, but questions remain over not just the fate of the country, but the future of its embattled premier.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Do you intend to resign from your position as the interim Prime Minister of Libya?
Abdullah Al-Thani: This is unlikely. In any case, the position of the prime minister of Libya at this time and under these circumstances is a disadvantage, not an advantage. It is a patriotic duty and one has to sacrifice everything in order to put the Libyan state back on the right path with the help of the honorable people in Libya who seek to achieve this noble goal. When I no longer feel capable of meeting the demands of the post of prime minister, I will step down and make way for somebody else. The parliament, which appoints the prime minister, can then relieve him if they have strong reasons to do so.
Q: The Libyan government is working under very difficult circumstances, internally and externally. Could you elaborate on the challenges facing your government?
The circumstances under which my government is working are not just tough; they can be impossible sometimes. Most of the state institutions in Tripoli have been taken over by armed groups, including government infrastructure and archives. We are therefore trying to rebuild these institutions [in Torbuk]. In addition the economy has practically collapsed, particularly as confrontations with militias expand and oil output declines as a result of the drop in global oil prices, reducing state revenues. At the same time, our commitments have expanded on different levels, such as the issue of Libyans displaced by the fighting and refugees at home and abroad. As you know, the state relies completely on oil revenues. The situation is getting tougher and tougher every day.
Q: Who is disrupting the work of the government?
The general conditions that the country is experiencing are disrupting our work, from infighting and displacement to ideological conflicts—every side wants to forcefully impose its view on the other. All these things are weighing heavily on the government and paralyzing it. Nevertheless, the government is still working and trying to change the reality on the ground while at the same time fulfilling its obligations. This government is internationally recognized and for all Libyans. The situation in Libya requires more patience.
Q: After your denial of Sudan’s involvement with extremist groups in Libya, reports have emerged of Sudanese technicians working on aircraft belonging to the Islamist Libyan Dawn militia. Have you changed your mind about Sudan’s involvement?
I have visited the brotherly state of Sudan and discussed the various issues that concern our two brotherly people with the Sudanese side. I sensed their extreme commitment to the security and stability of Libya. They expressed their willingness to contribute to the success of any national dialogue that would rescue Libya from the difficult conditions it is going through. They denied supporting any armed groups in Libya and stressed this on several occasions. If it is proven otherwise, we will cross that bridge when we get to it.
Q: How do you respond to those who accuse the government of failing to support the military in its fight against extremists?
The government, with all its capabilities, stands with the army in the battle against terrorism—whether financially, morally or diplomatically. The government has allocated millions of Libyan dinars to arm the military despite the difficult fiscal circumstances we are facing. This is based on the assumption that the army is one of the significant and key state institutions that operates under the command of the government. One of the priorities of the government is to rebuild the Libyan army.
Q: A rival government and parliament are present in the capital, and large areas of the country remain outside of your control. What do you say to the Libyan citizen who feels that your government has not achieved much?
Libyans need to be more patient, stay away from selfishness and join hands with their legitimate government in order to push the country forward. The government will not be able to achieve anything without the contribution of citizens in making the necessary change for the better.
Q: How do you view calls for military intervention in Libya from France, Chad and Niger?
The Libyan [government] is firm in its position against any intervention by any side on Libyan soil. All we ask from the international community is to help us address the situation in our country and provide us with expertise and equipment and, more importantly, lift the ban on arming the Libyan military to enable the state to take full control over national soil. You will not find any citizen who welcomes any form of foreign interference in Libya’s internal affairs.
Q: When will the government return to its base in Tripoli?
Once Tripoli is liberated from [armed] groups who control government bases and institutions there.
Q: Are you familiar with the military plan to liberate Tripoli?
Of course I am familiar with everything happening and there is full coordination between the government and military. But it still stands that military plans cannot be announced to the media.
Q: How did the recent attack and fire at major Libyan oil terminals affect the country’s economy?
The flames that swept through oil installations inflicted great damage on the national economy whether in terms of the millions of barrels of oil that were destroyed, the resulting environmental pollution, costs of extinguishing the fires or the export losses of revenue. This is unacceptable and those behind this criminal act will be held to account.
Q: What about prosecuting Libyan Dawn militia?
The Ministry of Justice has taken all necessary measures to prosecute anyone who committed war crimes from the members of the so-called Libyan Dawn or any other outlawed armed groups.
This interview was originally published in Arabic.