Tripoli, Asharq Al-Awsat – Libyan National Congress Deputy Ali Zidan says that imposing security, investigating the death of the US ambassador, and drawing up a constitution for the country are at the top of the priorities of the Congress and the government.
Currently Zidan chairs the Development and Justice Party, and is a member of the National Security, Foreign Affairs, and Human Rights Committees of the National Congress, which is considered the highest authority in the country now.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the goals of your Development and Justice Party?
[Zidan] After the eruption of the 17 February revolution, its consequences, the arrival of the day of liberation, and the launching of the political process, many groups decided to start to establish parties and consolidate the pillars of democracy through practicing the partisan life. As Libyans from various regions, we have met and established this party to be a centrist one in everything, to be a mixture that expresses Islam, pan-Arabism, Africa, and the Arab east and west, and to be an expression of the Libyan peculiarity and character.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you see the partisan work under the current conditions Libya is going through?
[Zidan] Now we see democracy as the available option that ought to be. Democracy in reality means a ruling mechanism and system that is suitable to be applied to any system of values. It can be summarized in the separation of authorities, the independence of the judiciary, and the alternation of power, to the last of the requirements of the democratic system. The democratic system can be established in a Muslim society or a non-religious one.
Another point is that Libya for some 42 years has been exposed to many erroneous practices, which have cast dark shadows on the Libyan society, and influenced it in an extraordinary way. We need to get out of this situation into a better situation that allows the Libyan society to move toward development, creativity, advancement, and reconstruction of the country. This will not take place unless we rebuild the citizen through good education and rehabilitation. This is one of the primary aims of the party at the current stage.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Many believe that Libyans do not like joining political parties?
[Zidan] At this stage, one of our aims also is to encourage the Libyan citizen to join the parties, and to engage in the democratic political process. Do not forget that the Libyan citizen for years has been frightened by the previous regime because of the terrorism, tyranny, and hegemony, and he was excluded from practicing public affairs. We want to bring the Libyan citizen back into public affairs, to encourage him to practice political work, to engage in partisan work, to engage in the work of civil society, to practice media work, to open up to the outside world, and to spread the meaning of freedom of opinion and expression.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do members of Libya’s National Congress have the title of “Parliament Deputies?”
[Zidan] We are members of a constituent assembly, and we do not have the title of parliamentary deputy, because this constituent assembly (the National Congress) has more characteristics than parliament, characteristics related to sovereignty and other aspects. This institution is considered as the head of state. We are considered as a supervisory authority, a monitoring authority, and an authority that holds the executive authority to account.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Recently, there has been criticism of the performance of the government. For instance, the dealing with the dossier of some battalions, and the dealing with the dossier of the city of Barak al-Shati (near Sabha to the south), the dossier of the city of Bani-Walid (near Sirte to the middle), and others. What do you think of this criticism?
[Zidan] This criticism is objective and real. There are malpractices and violations in these areas, but the government is newly formed, and the state institutions have not yet been constructed enough to enable the government to practice its work and perform its duties. We need more time so that the institutions capable of activating the role of the government are formed. Unfortunately, these issues have not yet been completed. The transitional government, which is chaired by Mr Abdul-Rahim al-Kib, has been formed, but so far it has not succeeded. It has contained the consecutive crises and problems, and hence it policy has become one of putting out fires; it has been putting out a fire here, and another one there, but it has not found itself or the space to cure these issues.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, when can this happen?
[Zidan] It is difficult to find yourself getting out within a few months from a situation like the one Libya has been through during the previous era. The Human Rights Committee has a great deal of work before it, and I do not expect it during the first year to be able to achieve much in this field. This is because the issue requires patience and allowing enough time for the minds to calm down, and the souls to feel reassured. After that we can talk about this issue with some objectivity and rationalism.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regard to the Foreign Relations Committee, of which you also are a member, there is the demand of extraditing individuals affiliated to the Gaddafi’s regime, who are based in Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria?
[Zidan] We are bound to Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria by strategic relations, neighborhood relations, Arab fraternal relations, and Islamic fraternal relations. These are among the constants of our foreign relations that cannot be shaken. With regard to the elements in these countries – now I am expressing my personal viewpoint – I have no fear about them using the territories of these countries to harm Libya. These countries – Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria – will not allow anyone to use their territories to inflict harm on Libya. I am convinced of this.
I was in opposition, I lived in Egypt, I was in Algeria, and I was i n Tunisia. At that time, when we were in opposition, they did not allow us to use their territories to fight Gaddafi.
Of course the Libyan street is annoyed with the continuing presence of elements of the previous regime in these countries that neighbor Libya, and it needs reassurance. The street is taken into consideration, but the policy of the state cannot be based on the viewpoint of the street. This is because a great deal of information and many facts cannot be made available to everybody. The issue requires state policy, departments’ policy, and security and legal arrangements. I assure you that this issue is not annoying, and does not arouse fear. At some time, God willing, there will be solutions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regard to the issue of reconciliation, will it include all Libyans, including the followers of the previous regime and those who fled abroad, or does it only mean groups inside Libya?
[Zidan] When we talk about reconciliation it is a term that encompasses all Libyans, including the followers of Gaddafi. What is between us and the members of Gaddafi’s regime is that those who committed crimes will be put to a fair trial, and the judge will say his word on the issue. However, this does not mean in any way whatsoever abandoning any Libyan citizen. The state is responsible for the Libyan citizens whoever they might be, and they have rights and are bound by duties. Any entitlements for these citizens ought to be fulfilled, whether through the courts or through the government.
Reconciliation ought to encompass all, each in his place and his situation, with transparency and according to the law and justice. No Libyan ought to be left away from his country, or to resort to any action that might harm the country. If a Libyan is accused, he will be subject to justice; and if he is not accused, he can return to his country; and if he is one of the leaders who assumed positions during the era of the previous regime, and the society now considers that he should not assume any position, he should return home, and he has the right to live and to have the opportunity for a suitable livelihood and to live the same as any other Libyan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How has the National Security Committee reacted to the US consulate attack, and the murder of the US ambassador?
[Zidan] The committee most certainly has interacted with this incident. The role of the committee is supervisory and directional toward the government. Naturally the committee has been in contact with the government all along this period, and has known and followed up everything that has happened. A number of the committee members have been in Benghazi and have got acquainted with the course of the events.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the course of the investigations between the Libyan and US sides of this incident?
[Zidan] There is intention to cooperate fully with the US side. This indeed has happened, especially as the United States has come to us early at the beginning of the revolution against Gaddafi, and the US ambassador, who was killed, came to us at that time in Benghazi. The United States has offered us a hand of help and support, and there is close and effective cooperation between us in order to find the truth. This is because the Libyans are unanimous that what happened by all criteria is a catastrophe, a crime, and a huge insult to the Libyan people. Therefore Libya’s interest and duty dictate that investigation takes place of this issue and cooperation with the United States takes place over it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are the Libyan-US investigations of the incident taking place currently?
[Zidan] Yes, the investigations are taking place, and the search continues jointly with full cooperation between the two sides.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your capacity as a member of more than one committee of the National Congress, what are the current priorities of the congress?
[Zidan] The Constitution Committee is at the top of the priorities on the legislative side, and it is the most important issue. The second issue is the formation of the new government chaired by Dr Mustafa Abu-Shaqur, and enabling it to play its role with the quality for which we aspire. There is unanimity in the National Congress to give full opportunity to the new government, and not to put any obstacles or problems in its way. We will try it; if it achieves the urgent entitlements for which the Libyans aspire at this time, this will be all right, but if it does not achieve them, it is under supervision, and the duties of the National Congress include withdrawing confidence, changing it, amending it, or directing it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the priorities that the National Congress considers for the government of Abu-Shaqur?
[Zidan] When the new government is formed, we consider that it ought to undertake the duties of the issue of security, the issue of the army, the issue of the borders, and the political and living entitlements related to restoring the services system, providing dignified living for the people, reforming the health and financial and economic systems, and activating the role of the state.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Well, has the National Congress commenced the process of drawing up the constitution?
[Zidan] This week, or next week, the discussion will commence of this issue, and the arrangement of the way to form the committee that will draw up the constitution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people are afraid that the constitution will be a hard-line Islamist constitution?
[Zidan] This will not happen. However, in Libya Islam will be present in the constitution as the principal source of legislation on the basis that all the Libyans are Muslims. We are interested in having Islam present in the constitution in a distinguished way. However, this presence will not include any hard-line, excess, or steering away from centrism and the Islam to which the Libyans are accustomed, which is Maliki Sunni Islam that includes a prominent presence of centrism.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regard to the political system, do you expect it to be a presidential or a parliamentary system?
[Zidan] This issue has not been decided yet. However, whatever the situation will be, the system will be a democratic one, whether it is presidential or parliamentary.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the most important laws on the agenda of the National Congress?
[Zidan] The constitution is first, and then other laws will come. After the constitution there will be the parties’ law, then the electoral law, and then the laws which the state needs to manage its affairs will come one after the other.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there is a draft law to impose a state of emergency in the country?
[Zidan] There is a draft law presented by the chairmanship of the National Congress, and the second deputy chairman of the congress has talked about it. However, my personal opinion is that unless we have the tool that implements the law and imposes its stipulations, namely the security forces, the judicial police, and the army, I consider it a nonsense to issue an emergency law, as it will be issued while the people are afraid of it, because they still remember the consequences of imposing the emergency law in Egypt and in the other countries. This is a frightening issue.
I have worked in the field of human rights for 3.5 decades, and I consider that such laws always will cast a dark shadow on the life of the people, and when they are issued, all controls ought to be issued for them. The dysfunction in which we are is not caused by the absence of law, but by the absence of the state and its security and defense institutions.