LIBYA – A COUP THAT FAILED – HAS THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD SHOT ITSELF IN THE FOOT?
Late in September 2013 rumours began to emerge that members of the Justice and Construction Party (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya) were attempting to gather the necessary 120 votes in the Libyan General National Council to dismiss Prime Minister Ali Zedan from office. It became increasingly clear early in October that their efforts were to be in vain.
On 5th October 2013 the US ‘Delta Force’ captured the Al Qaeda operative Nazih Abdul-Hamed Nabih al-Ruqai’i, whose nom de guerre is Abu Anas al-Libi, as he walked home from Friday prayers in the Nufleen district of Tripoli and smuggled him aboard a US Navy vessel from whence he was transported to the USA to stand trial for terrorist activities. I believe the Nufleen district of Tripoli is under the control of the Zintan militia brigade, the strongest in the city. The Libyan Prime Minister states that he was unaware that the US was to capture al Libi.
Whilst this daring operation allowed the Obama administration to claim some much needed kudos at home it implied that the Zeidan government had lost control of state security and at the same time that it may have been in the ‘pocket’ of the USA. The combined effect will have further diminished the authority of Ali Zeidan’s government in some quarters and given his enemies a propaganda coup.
Early on the 10th October 2013 the Libya Herald carried this startling report: ‘Dr. Zeidan, the Libyan Prime Minister, was abducted by two gunmen from his room in a Tripoli hotel at around 03.30 this morning. It seems that his bodyguard failed to resist being under the impression that the abduction was official.’
Later that day the same paper published this:
‘The Prime Minister was not released by his captors following negotiations with them, according to government spokesman Mohamed Yahya Kaabar: he was rescued after the headquarters in Fornaj of the Counter Crime Agency was stormed. This version of events was confirmed by Haitham Tajouri, the Commander of the First Support Brigade who had been involved in trying to negotiate Ali Zeidan’s freedom. He has said that Ali Zeidan was freed after thuwar from Fornaj and elsewhere in Tripoli had stormed the place where he was held.’
It is clear now that local residents of the Fornaj district joined the two ‘thuwars’, the First Support Brigade and the 106 Brigade, in storming the building in which the Prime Minster was incarcerated. Ali Zeidan was still, it seems, in his night attire when he was rescued. It is also reported that the powerful Zintan Brigade made it clear that they would ‘flatten’ the armed groups involved in the kidnap if the Prime Minister was not released; a not inconsiderable threat.
The Egyptian ‘Ashraq Al-Awsat’ reported:‘The audacious abduction of the Libyan premier by some 150 gunmen on Thursday points to a dangerous state of security instability in the North African country.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, head of Tripoli’s Supreme Security Committee, Hashim Bishr, said that a group affiliated with the Operations Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries (ORLR) appeared at the Corinthia Hotel where Zeidan was staying, informing the prime minister’s security guards they had orders from the Public Prosecutor to arrest Zeidan. But Bishr said that Zeidan’s guards “did not see any arrest order.”Tasked with providing security for the Libyan capital, the ORLR “told him [Zeidan] that he was wanted for questioning and he went with them, although his guards wanted to resist.”
The ORLR is a thuwar or militia which is contracted to the Interior Ministry to provide security in Tripoli. It has no training in police or security work. Its militiamen owe their loyalty to their commanders, not to the state. On the morning of the 10th October it stated on its Facebook page that it had been under orders from the Libyan Public Prosecutor when it arrested Ali Zeidan. It later removed this post and began to claim that it had arrested Ali Zeidan on charges of corruption and incompetence and for colluding with the USA in the capture of al Libi.
Sometime later Mohamed Sawan, the leader in the General National Congress of the Justice and Construction Party, told the AP that Ali Zeidan should resign and that Congress was seeking a replacement for him. This sounds like a defensive statement. The armed kidnap and intimidation of the lawful Prime Minster of Libya was focusing international condemnation and his determined refusal to be coerced by force into resigning was strengthening his mandate with the general public.
On 11th October Ali Zeidan delivered a long speech on national TV. He made some key remarks which were rendered into English by journalists from the Libya Herald. I believe the following to be the most significant:
“The GNC is being intimidated by a dangerous loud minority,” said Zeidan, “who stop at nothing to pass their agendas…. Since the day I assumed office a group within the GNC has been doing nothing but work to oust me on no real grounds. This group wants to rule Libya on its own”
“My abduction is a huge crime with so many sides to it, from lying to falsifying government documents and abducting the head of the government”.
“This number of armed men and vehicles would never happen without being pre-organised. This was nothing less than a coup. The armed group claimed to have an arrest warrant and terrorised hotel staff and guests. Armed men forced their way into my room and demanded that I go with them. They stole all my personal belongings, including my clothes”.
He appears to have made it clear that ‘his political opponents had been behind his abduction, intent on forcing him to resign after they had failed to unseat him by forcing a vote of confidence in the GNC’.
He promised to name the members of the GNC who were the instigators of the failed coup. It is not difficult to infer that he was referring to Mohamed Sawan’s Justice and Construction Party, though he may not be in a position to deal with them as a number of his coalition government belong to that party.
For the moment the balance of power has shifted towards Ali Zeidan and it is easy to agree with the notable Egyptian journalist and commentator Abdul Rahman al Rashed who suggests that …‘the responsibility of Zeidan’s government is to abolish and disarm the militias. What happened made him a hero in the eyes of the majority of Libyans, who saw in him a brave figure, refusing to bargain in the face of threats or to be blackmailed.’
15th October 2013
Update 21st October 2013
According to Reuters this morning the Libyan government has accused two members of the General National Congress, Mustafa al-Tariki and Muhammed al-Kilani, of involvement in the kidnap of Ali Zeidan. Both congressmen deny the charges but it as well to remember that they have immunity from arrest. The Libya Herald is carrying a long report giving more details.
Update 28th October 2013
The two GNC members named by Ali Zeidan as the leaders of the kidnap debacle, Mustafa al-Tariki and Mohammed al-Kilani represent Zawia. It seems that the Zawia town council is run by the Muslim Brotherhood and there have been protests in the town by ordinary citizens who wish o register their dissatisfaction with its performance.
Anyone interested in the future of Libya should read this interview with the highly respected Mustapha Abdul Jalil, sometime Chairman of the National Transition Council formed on 5th March 2011: