LIBYA – PRIME MINISTER ALI ZEIDAN UNDER SEVERE PRESSURE.
Dr. Ali Zeidan is a decent man and, as he has recently been forced to proclaim, a true Libyan. In the early Gaddafi era he was a Libyan diplomat, working in the embassy in India with Ambassador Mohamed Magarief. Both these men were to defect from the Gaddafi dictatorship and help to form the influential ‘National Front for the Salvation of Libya.’ They were to spend long years in exile, Zeidan in Germany and Magarief in the USA.
Ali Zeidan, as the representative in Europe of the National Transition Council, was said to have been partly instrumental in persuading President Sarkosy to intervene when the 17th February Revolutionaries were threatened with annihilation by Gaddafi’s superior forces in Benghazi.
He has, therefore, good revolutionary credentials. He came to power as Prime Minister on 14th November 2012 with the support in the General National Congress of Mohamed Jebril’s National Force Alliance, amongst others. His administration is opposed by The Moslem Brotherhoods’ Group in the GNC, the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), which has the second-biggest number of seats in Libya’s legislature, and has been growing in influence.
Prime Minister Zedan has much to contend with. Let me examine briefly the case of Benghazi.
As I write (17.05 GMT 23rd August 2013)Al Jazeera is reporting unrest in Benghazi where ‘hundreds took to the streets overnight to Saturday the 17th to denounce the killing of a prominent political activist and critic of the Brotherhood, Abdelsalam al-Mosmary, who was shot dead after leaving a mosque following Friday prayers.
Mosmary was an outspoken opponent of the Brotherhood, whose political wing is the second biggest party in the General National Congress, and regularly appeared on television criticising the presence of armed militias on Libya’s streets. Two military officials were also killed in Benghazi on Friday 16th.’
In Benghazi, Libya’s second city, senior police and military personnel are being summarily executed by persons unknown. Some sources are suggesting that around 50 people have been killed in this way. The British Ambassador’s motorcade was attacked in broad daylight and still unresolved is the killing of US Ambassador Stephens, an event which upset the American people and which left a blemish on the career of Secretary Hillary Clinton.
An attempt by citizens to rid Benghazi of overweening armed militias took place recently with disastrous results. This report dated 9th June 2013 appeared in the Libya Herald: ‘The Chief of Staff, Major-General Yousef Mangoush, has quit. He submitted his resignation to Congress this afternoon (Sunday 9th June 2013) following yesterday’s bloody incident in Benghazi in which 31 people died in clashes between members of the First Brigade of the Libya Shield Forces (Deraa 1) and protesters who were demonstrating outside the brigade’s headquarters, demanding the force be disbanded.’
Benghazi is not alone with its troubles. The eastern town of Derna is a hotbed of Islamist activity. It harbours the largest number of Jihadist training camps in Libya and, it is reported, that here also assassinations of prominent persons who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood are taking place. Again some sources put the number as high as 50. Derna is an isolated town approached by a steep road from the fertile heights of the Jebel Akhdar. It is easily defended and it is likely that the Libyan government has written it off, though it has positioned a large naval craft there on a permanent basis.
Long ago I sometimes stopped in Derna when driving from Benghazi to the port of Tobruk. This latter town surrounds a fine deep water harbour and boasts an oil port of some significance. Reports from Tobruk suggest that it is plagued by arms smugglers trading across the nearby Egyptian border and by illegal migrants attempting to find boats to carry them across the Mediterranean to Malta and Italy.
Recent events in Tripoli have added the alarming prospect of a possible coup. On 13th August 2013 I wrote this; ‘Colonel Muhamed Musa commands the Misratan Brigades of the Libyan Shield Force and others which entered Tripoli on 11th August to forestall armed attempts to influence the democratic process of the General National Congress.
According to the Libya Herald dated 11th August 2013 ‘More than a thousand vehicles belonging to the Libya Shield forces for Central and Western Regions are reported to have arrived in Tripoli over the past four days. The troops have been deployed to various military locations in and around the capital. The move is to defend it from forces causing instability or planning a move to impose their will on Congress and the government by force…………’ The Executive officer of Supreme Revolutionary Council, Muhammed Shaaban, told the Libya Herald….. ‘It was timely to authorise the Libya Shield movement. The threat of a coup was very real and those informed know about its repercussions .’ There has clearly been a threat to undermine the democratic process in Libya.
This event was followed by a further blow to Ali Zeidan’s government. The Interior Minister Mohamed Al-Sheikh resigned on the 18th August, saying that the Prime Minister Ali Zeidan had withdrawn all powers from him and he could not do his job properly. Sheikh has been in his job for just four months. According to Asharq Al Awsat on 20th August he described the government as “weak, incoherent, and dependent on the agendas of political entities and regional powers, and it relies on their feedback and flattery and added: “the cabinet is tantamount to staff that carry out administrative tasks that are issued to them through instructions—without having any authority.
That alone would seem to be enough. However back in the trouble-ridden East Libya there are renewed calls for a return of a Federal Government overseeing the largely autonomous Provincial Governments of the ancient provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and The Fezzan. The call for a federal system received renewed impetus last week.
On Saturday, supporters of this system issued a third declaration proclaiming Cyrenaica a fully autonomous federal region. They declared that Islamic Sharia would be the source of legislation and all legislation that violates the principles of Islamic Sharia would be regarded as null and void. They also called for the recreation of the historic Cyrenaica Defence Force.
The majority of Libya’s oil is found in the old Province of Cyrenaica and this group has threatened to interfere with the production and shipping of major quantities of Libyan oil.
This alone would focus the attention of any government. There are further problems, however. The Southern region of Libya has been declared a Military Zone. This is because there are frequent clashes between Libyan tribes and the Tebu and Tuareg minorities. Trafficking in arms, drugs and people is endemic in this remote and dangerous region which border Darfur, Chad, Niger and Algeria.
The governments of Chad, Niger and Algeria are protesting to the Libyan Government that notorious Al Qaeda Emir Mokhtar Belmokhtar and his gang known as al Mua’qi’oon Biddam, or the Those Who Sign in Blood Brigade, are holed up in the badlands of south-west Libya for whence they were said to have launched the raid on the BP natural gas facility in South West Algeria in January 2103.
In the meantime the minority Tebu, Tuareg and Berber people are restive. They argue that they and their precious languages are not receiving due recognition in the process of drawing up a new constitution. A recent protest by a group representing these several minorities outside the General National Congress turned ugly and some protesters invaded and damaged the building.
To add to the general discord Libya’s oil production is being severely reduced by strikes and armed occupations of refineries and oil port facilities.
So it was not surprising that Dr Ali Zeidan was summoned on 20th August by the General National Congress, together with a number of his Ministers, to defend the performance of his government. Zeidan refused to hand in his resignation, saying that it was up to Congress to withdraw confidence from his government if it wanted to remove him.
We will see.
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
Update 24th August 2013
This interesting article in Asharq Al Awsat corroborates some of the assertions I have made in the above post and adds another dimension with regard to US ‘drone’ operations;
And this indicates that there is a crackdown on political activity within the military at last:
Update 25th August 2013
The Moslem Brotherhood is beginning to show it’s hand in the GNC through its front, the Justice and Construction Party.
Update 29th August 2013
Tunisian PM labels Ansar Sharia a terrorist group which receives money from Libya amongst other sources.
Update 8th September 2013
Dr. Zeidan is facing some difficulties with the Moslem Brotherhood since his recent visit to Egypt. Libya’s Grand Mufti has called for his removal from office.
Update 11th August 2013
Further manoeuvring by the Moslem Brotherhood and calls for Dr. Zeidan to resign:
Update 12th August 2013
The crippling armed occupation of key oil ports and facilities has driven Dr. Zeidan to take drastic action. It is clear from this report that as a true democrat he deplores the use of force to settle the argument but is left with little alternative.
Update 22nd September 2013
Dr Zeidan appears to have survived the crisis. The expected street demonstrations against his government were a flop.
Update 10th October 2013
Dr. Zeidan was abducted from his room in a Tripoli hotel at 03.30 this militiamenhttp://www.libyaherald.com/2013/10/10/breaking-news-zeidan-kidnapped/#axzz2hIiJto7Z