Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

LIBYA’S PARLOUS STATE.- SOME NOTES ON THE MAY 2013 CRISIS IN LIBYA

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Armed militia units entered the Libyan capital, Tripoli, with the intention of influencing a vote in the democratically elected General National Congress. The likelihood that the government and the armed forces would be destabilised has alarmed many observers.

A Reuters report datelined 7th May 2013 from Tripoli read –“ Libya’s defence minister resigned on Tuesday in protest at a siege by gunmen of two government ministries that he denounced as an assault on democracy almost two years after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

He was the first cabinet minister to quit in a crisis over the siege, which armed groups refused to lift even after parliament bowed on Sunday to their main demand by banning from government posts any senior official who served under Gaddafi.

“I will never be able to accept that politics (can) be practiced by the power of weapons … This is an assault against the democracy I have sworn to protect,” Defence Minister Mohammed al-Bargathi said.

Members of parliament in Libya, plagued by armed disorder since Gaddafi’s demise, say the new legislation could be applied to around 40 of 200 deputies and could also unseat the prime minister, who some protesters demand should quit immediately.

Diplomats fear that parliament, in agreeing to vote under duress, could effectively embolden the powerful armed groups that fought to topple Gaddafi and are now more visible in Libya than state security forces, and that the sweeping terms of the vote could cripple the government’s ability to function.

On Monday a spokesman for parliament conceded that the siege of the ministries was out of the government’s hands and that it would be up to the militiamen now to leave as promised.”

Update 18th May 2013

It now seems that the Interior Minister also tendered his resignation (according the Libya Herald dated 18th May 2013):-

Interior Minister Ashour Shuwail handed in his resignation ten days ago, but Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has refused to accept it.

“The Interior Minister handed over his resignation to the Prime Ministry but it has not yet been accepted,” spokesman of Libya’s Interior Ministry, Majdi Urufi, said, speaking live on state television station Al-Watanya.

It now (22nd May 2013) seems that the Interior Misister, Ashour Shuwail, has refused to withdraw his resignation despite the Prime MInister’s efforts to retain him. Dr. Zedan has asked the GNC to approve Khalifa Shiekh for the post. He is from Suq Al-Jumaa and was an assistant to former Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal with whom he fell out.

AN ATTEMPT TO SUBVERT LIBYA’S DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED GENERAL NATIONAL CONGRESS BY FORCE OF ARMS?

The Libyan General National Congress (GNC) voted on Sunday 5th May 2013 to form a High Committee to Implement the Criteria for Occupying Public Positions to implement a Political Isolation Law. Under the law all those who held key posts from September 1, 1969 when Gaddafi took power, until the fall of his regime in October 2011 will be excluded from government. The ban will remain in force for 10 years, according to the draft.

The law could force out several ministers as well as the congress leader, depending on the wording finally adopted. The GNC Vice President, Salah al-Makhzoum, said a compromise had been reached among the political blocs by adding “exceptions” in the bill in order to retain key individuals. It remains to be seen if these exceptions were included in Sunday’s vote.

As they voted the freely elected legislators of the GNC may have been influenced or even intimidated by armed revolutionary militia brigades surrounding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Justice Ministry. Observers have noted that brigades from Misurata, Nalut, Benghazi and Tripoli were numbered amongst them. It is estimated that more than 300 armed militia vehicles entered Tripoli during late March and early May.

Prime Minister Zedan at first stated that the pressure brought upon the GNC by armed militias may have ensured that the vote for the Political Exclusion Law was passed in haste and under duress. In this context it is noted that Dr. Zedan revealed he had been targeted by armed men during a conference with the militias.The Libya Herald quotes him thus:

It has emerged that militiamen tried to intimidate Prime Minister Ali Zeidan when he met and negotiated with them. He said today that they had brandished a grenade and a gun at him. He did not say when this happened. ”The rebels unlocked the grenade in front of me but no one was hurt because the grenade did not explode and it was taken quickly outside the Prime Ministry headquarters,” he stated today at a press conference. He said that they also had put a gun on the table in front of him saying that they could easily use force against him.

So incensed was his defence minister, Mohamed Bargahthi, that he resigned in protest against the use of force to influence a democratically elected congress.

Prime Minister Zedan singled out Adel Al-Ghiryani, the president of the ‘Supreme Council of Libyan Revolutionaries’, as the possible instigator and leader of the armed intervention. It is easy to see why. Al-Ghiryani spoke to the media outside the besieged Foreign Ministry in Tripoli demanding the dismissal of Ministry employees, including Libyan ambassadors who had worked for Qaddafi. His Vice President, Mr Kaabar, went further and stated: “We are determined to bring down the government of Ali Zidan.”

It is interesting, therefore, that no less a figure than sometime post-Gaddafi Libyan Prime Minister, Dr. Mahmoud Jibril, has had the courage to speak out against the law. He is now the Head of the National Force Alliance party in the GNC and commands a considerable following in the country. He told Al-Arabiya TV, “We participated in the overthrowing of Gaddafi but the law says we must go. But I say that I have performed my part in the 17 February Revolution and no isolation law is able to erase that from history.” Political proscription should, he said, be based on what individuals had done rather than the jobs they had held. In his interview with Al Arabiya TV Jibril said that legislation as sweeping as the Political Isolation Law was unprecedented in any country. He also deplored the presence of militias besieging government ministries before the GNC took its vote. “The law was passed under duress and force of arms.Libya needs to approve the isolation law, but not now.”

The case of Mahmoud Jibril illustrates the difficulties the ‘political isolation’ law may create for the governance of Libya.

The problem for Jibril is that from 2007 to early 2011, he served the Gaddafi regime as head of the National Planning Council of Libya and of the National Economic Development Board of Libya. He was one of the ‘jama‘at Saif,’ a group of apparatchiks recruited to high level posts by Gaddafi’s favourite son, Saif al Islam, who was attempting to soften his father’s autocratic rule but expected to succeed him. Jibril’s tribe, the Warfella, is thought by some to be Gaddafist. It supplied many of Gaddafi’s security personnel and army officers.

A DILEMMA FOR THE NEW HIGH COMMITTEE TO IMPLEMENT THE CRITERIA FOR OCCUPYING PUBLIC POSITONS

Jibril has a point and the key role he played in the days when the ‘17th February 2011’ anti-Gaddafi rebels were close to extermination in Benghazi may have been forgotten outside Libya. A short summary of the key events may serve to remind us.

On Saturday 5th March 2011, the Libyan opposition movement in Benghazi nominated an Interim National Council to lay the foundations for a government. Not all the members were named for security reasons.

The first Council had 32 members representing various regions and cities. Mustafa Abdul Jalil was elected Chairman. A judge from al Baida, he was Justice Minister under Gaddafi but resigned after the Benghazi uprising began. As Chairman of the Council, he had a price on his head believed to be 500,000 Libyan Dinars.

Dr. Mohammed Jebril el Warfally, and Ali Aziz el Esawi, the former Libyan ambassador to India and a sometime minister for the economy, trade and investment were made responsible for foreign affairs. Both these men would be ineligible for office if the new political isolation law is exercised without care.

Mohammed Jibril played a key role in the negotiations to achieve French support for military intervention on the side of the National Transition Council. It will be remembered that on 5th March 2011 President Sarkozy issued a press release, in which he welcomed the formation of the Interim National Council. This was the Council’s first sign of legitimacy. With Gaddafi’s heavily armed forces threatening Benghazi this news brought hope and a number of French flags sprouted around the besieged city. What Sarkosy now needed was the approval of President Obama and a mandate from the United Nations.

By the following Thursday, National Transition Councillor Mohammed Jebril was in Sarkozy’s office in the Elysee Palace and an agreement of considerable importance was reached. Sarkozy agreed to recognise the National Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya. Sarkozy also agreed implement a ‘no fly zone’ and to bomb three key airfields in Libya, notably the one in the south used for receiving mercenaries from Chad and elsewhere.

US Secretary Hillary Clinton was in Paris at the time. Jebril later met her at her Paris hotel and persuaded her to back the National Transition Council.

On Thursday 17th March, resolution 1973 was put before the UN Security Council in New York, when France, Britain and the USA

were among the ten who voted in favour of the use of all necessary means to protect civilian lives in Libya.

Russia and China were amongst five nations which abstained. It was thus that the intervention of NATO in Libya’s civil war was assured. Qatar joined NATO on behalf of the Arab League. Jibril’s role in these negotiations is a matter of history and cannot be overlooked. Should Jebril be barred from public office?

THE PEOPLE FIGHT BACK

By Tuesday 7th May 2013 it became clear that Prime Minster Zedan had persuaded his defence minister to withdraw his resignation. This event seems to have given courage to those who supported the democratically elected government.(It was later to emerge that the Interior Minister had also resigned but D. Zedan has refused to accept it and, for a while, denied it in public.)

On Friday 10th May around 400 anti-Militia demonstrators gathered in Tripoli’s Algeria Square carrying placards in support of democratic government. There are some reports that a number of them were chanting slogans against, Sheik Hamid bin Kalifa al Thani the Emir of Qatar. This is disturbing as Qatar played an important part, alongside NATO, in the battle to depose Gaddafi.

The Islamic Wahabi sect is dominant in Qatar, as it is in her larger neighbour Saudi Arabia. It is possible that some Libyans believe that funds are being channelled from Qatar to the Salfists in Libya: social media sites have been full of such rumours for some time. The Qatar embassy in Tripoli was quick to state that there was no interference in Libyan affairs. It was my impression that an agreement had been reached between the Libyan government and Qatar that the latter would communicate with Libya via official channels.

It seems that 200 or so protesters left Algeria Square and began to march along the seafront road to the Foreign Ministry building. As they did so their numbers grew. From the testimony of one of the marchers it is clear that they were divided about the Political Isolation Law but united in their determination to see that democracy should not be high-jacked by armed militias. The angry and, by now, large crowd was successful in clearing the militia ‘guards’ from the Foreign Ministry and its grounds. The Ministry (and the Justice Ministry) is now back in business after a two-week siege.

QATAR WAS THE MAIN TARGET OF A DEMONSTRATION IN BENGHAZI. THE FLAG OF THE OLD SENUSSI EMIRATE OF CYRENIACA APPEARED ON THE STREETS.

On 10th May a demonstration outside the Tebesti Hotel in Benghazi was interesting because an effigy of Emir Sheikh Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani was burned. Benghazi is a troubled city where the US ambassador Stevens was killed in an attack on his consulate and over 20 senior military, air force and police officers have been killed. Many suspect the Salafist militia Ansar Sharia of complicity in these killings.

Rumours that Qatar may be funding Salafist have recently been circulating via social media. One hypothesis is that the Wahabi of Qatar and the Ansar Sharia militia of Derna both have Salafist leanings and there may be unofficial back channels between them.

One intriguing aspect of the Benghazi demonstration was the appearance of the black flag of the old Senussi Emirate of Cyrenaica, which was founded in 1949 during the British occupation of Eastern Libya. It has been adopted by the ‘Federalist’ movement, prominent in Eastern Libya, which looks for the reintroduction of the three provinces, Tripolitania, the Fezzan and Cyrenaica. That they may envisage a separate state of Cyrenaica in which most of Libya’s oil and water is found must have raised the anxiety level of the Zidan government. A parallel is found in the Scottish Nationalist Party which is endeavouring to gain independence for Scotland and sequestering the income from North Sea Oil.

The febrile situation in Benghazi was made worse by a large explosion in the car park of al Jalaa hospital on 13th May. Three were killed and many injured. This sparked a street protest blaming the Islamist Ansar Sharia of Derna and demanding more action by the army to restore a semblance of quiet. The interior Minister has been dispatched to Benghazi to lead an investigation and attempt to supply better security for the citizens.

LIBYAN CHIEF OF STAFF UNDER PRESSURE TO QUIT

Those of us who are anxious to see Libya succeed are also watching, with some trepidation, the plots and manoeuvres going on around the current leadership of the Libyan armed forces. Libya needs its army. The remote southern region has been declared a military zone and Chad and Niger have complained to the Libyan government about Islamic extremist gangs finding refuge there. At the moment the army is outgunned by the militias.

The General National Congress voted on 5th May to consider appointing a new Chief of Staff in a month’s time. According to GNC spokesman Omar Hemidan this was because of the poor performance in rebuilding the army by the current Chief of Staff, Major-General Yousef al-Mangoush.

The Libya Herald reports that ‘the Major General faces opposition from officers of the new national army, especially in Benghazi and other eastern regions. Though government officials continue to express confidence in al-Mangoush, a recent conference in al-Burayqah saw army officers, militia leaders and civilian leaders call for the chief-of-staff’s immediate dismissal and an investigation into missing funds issued to the Libyan Army’s General Staff. One of the groups represented at the conference was composed of current and former army officers who have organized under the name “Free Libyan Army Officers Assemblage.” The group has called for the elimination of the Libyan Army’s General Staff and its replacement with an ‘independent body of qualified personnel’.

Update 26th May 2013. The destabilisation of the Libyan military has repercussions. Without a strong and well organised army Libya’s remote southern regions are impossible to control. It has been suggested that Mokhtar ben  Mokhtar, the man thought to have been responsible for the attack on the BP facility in southern Algeria, has established a base in Libya from  whence he dispatched an attack Niger. Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou has claimed that that suicide bombers who carried out the two deadly attacks in the north of the country had come from Libya

THE PRESIDENT OF THE GENERAL NATIONAL CONGRESS MAY RESIGN (Update 22nd May 2013)

There are indications that the GNC President, Mohamed Magarief, may resign on 28th May. The Political Isolation Law would seem to bar him from holding high office as he was a Libyan ambassador to India during the Gaddafi regime. He broke with Gaddafi and joined the opposition in 1980.

Update 29th May 2013. Mohamed Magarief resigned as President of the GNC yesterday after an eloquent speech. It seems that he retains his seat in Congress and it will be interesting to see what becomes of him. He spent many years of his life in exile from Libya as an opponent of the Gaddafi regime.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

The Political Isolation Law has yet to be scrutinised by the legal arm of the GNC. It will be interesting to see how it emerges for final ratification.

The future of Major General Mangoush will be interesting. The Zedan government has expressed its support for him but he is perceived as being too slow to build up the army and absorb the armed militias into its fold. The development of the ‘Free Libyan Army Officers Assemblage’ needs watching.

Update 10t June 2013
A terrible incident in Benghazi when around 200 protesters were apparently fired upon by Libya Shield militia has resulted in at least 27 fatalities and the resignation of Major General Mangoush. His position as Chief of Staff has been less than secure of for some time. The Benghazi incident is complex and needs more attention so I have appended a link to the Libya Herald report for readers who wish to keep up to date.
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/09/mangoush-resigns/

The drafting of a constitution for Libya will be difficult as the Salafist are ruthless and will try to insist on a theocratic government. Also Adel al Gharayani and his ‘Supreme Council of Libyan Revolutionaries’ may be emboldened to intervene and intimidate the GNC again. I take the liberty of adding this piece from The Libya Herald by Ahmed Elumami. dated Tripoli, 21 May 2013.

Finishing touches are being put to the draft law on the elections for the “Commission of 60” which will draw up the new constitution.  It should be ready for submission to Congress next week according to Constitution Election Committee member Wissam Suqair. The Committee was set up on 10 April under the chairmanship of Benghazi Congressman Suleiman Zubi andt given 45 days to submit its proposals to Congress. That gives it until Saturday.

According to Shaban Abu Seta, one of the three congressmen on the committee, the draft is ready but there are some details to be ironed out regarding seats allocations for women and other groups.

The Commission will be elected on the basis of 20 members each from Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan – Libya’s historic regions – and deliberately follows the structure of the Commission of 60 that drew up Libya’s 1951 independence constitution.

The emergence on the streets of Benghazi of Federalists and their black flag may be a flash in the pan but is none the less interesting. In this context it is important to read part of a report in Al Jazeera dated 8th May 2013:

‘The growing tension between the groups and the government has alarmed federalists and other factions in the east, prompting their leaders to unite to defend their territory from a similar assault. Representatives from these groups pledged on Saturday to revive the Cyrenaica Congress. Formed about a year ago to demand greater autonomy for the east, it sets out a manifesto for a federal Libya.

“We will not let Cyrenaica be ruled by the power of force,” said Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi, a distant relative of King Idris, who was deposed in a military coup led by Gaddafi in 1969.

Senussi will remain the symbolic head of the congress. In addition to selecting a head and combining military forces, the leaders moved to start a television channel for the region. The eastern congress agreed to start work on June 1, when it will hold its first assembly in the city of Al Baida. For about 10 years after Libya became an independent state in 1951, the country was run along federal lines with three regions. Power was devolved to Cyrenaica, to the southern province of Fezzan and to Tripolitania in the west.’
Update 9th June 2013
Reports of a very serious incident in Benghazi in the Libya Herald today will need further thought. It seems that the Libya Shield militia was involved in fighting with 200 or so protestors who may have had a number of federalists amongst them but there may have ben others involved.

See this report from Benghazi
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/09/benghazi-libya-shield-protests-at-least-27-dead/
….and these interesting pieces on the failure of the army to establish control over the militias;
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/world/africa/libyan-violence-threatens-to-undercut-power-of-militias.html?ref=opinion
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/opinion/libya-doesnt-need-more-militias.html?_r=0

The independence and integrity of the ‘High Committee to Implement the Criteria for Occupying Public Positions’ will be particularly interesting. The mistakes made in the Iraqi de Ba’athification Council are only too obvious in hindsight.

Read the ‘Political Isolation Law’ in full here:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/05/14/political-isolation-law-the-full-text/

Update 26th June 2013

Note – A new Congressional President elected……

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/25/nuri-ali-abu-sahmain-elected-congress-president/

Update 30th July 2013

This small piece in Al Jazeera sums up the situation in LIbya at the end of July.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/07/2013729163050948443.html

JOHN OAKES

For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

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