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Racing to form a government
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 03 - 09 - 2014

The interim Libyan government said Monday that “most ministries and government agencies in the capital” are outside its control. “Some of them have been besieged and occupied by armed militias, which are now barring staff members from entering the buildings,” a statement read.
But even as the security situation worsens, the recently elected parliament called on Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni to form a new cabinet within a week.
The Al-Thinni government issued a statement on its website saying that its “ministers and deputy ministers are threatened and that it is too dangerous for them to report to their workplaces.” These acts are “punishable under law as crimes against the public and against individuals who have the right to prosecute those who have threatened them,” the statement added.
Libya Dawn operation forces, affiliated with the coastal city of Misrata, east of Tripoli, took control of the Libyan capital after pushing out the Qaqaa and Sawaeq brigades, linked to the mountain city of Zintan, southwest of the capital. The Misrata and Zintan forces had been engaged in fierce hostilities since 13 July.
The Al-Thinni caretaker government, in power since March, submitted its resignation to parliament in accordance with normal parliamentary procedure. At the same time, the General National Congress (GNC), which officially ended when the new parliament was elected, responded to the call of the Libya Dawn command to reconvene in Tripoli, ostensibly in protest against the fact that the new parliament is meeting in Tobruk, instead of in its official headquarters in the capital.
Further escalating the tension, the GNC asked Professor Omer Al-Hassi of the University of Benghazi to form a “crisis government to contend with the current situation in the country,” as a GNC statement put it. “That the parliament is meeting in Tobruk is unconstitutional and its members have granted themselves unwarranted constitutional rights,” the statement continued, referring to the parliament's resolutions, adopted soon after it first convened, to dissolve all militias, build a national army, and replace the incumbent chief of general staff.
Following his appointment by the officially defunct GNC, Al-Hassi announced that he would try to work with all sides to contain the crisis. But will the government he is assigned to form actually see the light of day?
The GNC is the parliament that ruled until it handed over power to the new parliament elected on 25 June and sworn into office on 4 August. That the former parliament should now attempt to revive itself and compete with the recently elected one highlights the deep divisions in Libya, where violence and anarchy have prevailed for three years. Over the past few months, hostilities between Libyan factions — including erstwhile allies in the 2011 revolution — have intensified as never before.
The GNC and its supporters accuse the new parliament of backing Operation Dignity, led by retired General Khalifa Haftar. They regard the armed force as illegitimate on the grounds that it was launched outside the framework of the command of the Libyan General Chiefs of Staff. For their part, the new parliament and its supporters hold the GNC responsible for the deterioration in security after Islamists attempted to monopolise power and obstruct efforts to form a national army and police force.
Realities on the ground suggest that institutionalised structures hold little sway in a country where the laws of tribal affiliation and custom prevail. A prime example of this was the crisis surrounding the blockade of the oil-exporting ports in Libya's so-called petroleum crescent. Despite an April agreement between Cyrenaican federalists, who controlled the port, and the Al-Thinni government, no progress has been made due to the influence of rival regional and tribal bonds. Indeed, one cannot help but observe that government bodies in Libya these days can do little more than issue statements.
In response to the worsening hostilities in Libya, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 2174, which calls for an immediate ceasefire between all parties to the conflict and expands the already existing sanctions regime to target militia groups and their supporters.
Yet even as the two main parties prepare for difficult negotiations brokered by the UN, and in which the US is expected to play an important role, the elected parliament in the east and the self-regenerating GNC in the west have chosen their own paths. Each is clearly committed to one of the parties in the Benghazi and Tripoli conflicts, and each is determined to remain one step ahead of the other.
Thus, the parliament in Tobruk asked Al-Thinni to form a new government before Al-Hassi does, in order to force a de facto reality on the GNC. The GNC and its supporters, meanwhile, want to mirror their military victories in Tripoli and Benghazi in their bid to circumvent the new parliament and demonstrate to the international community that they are the group that can restore order in Libya.
According to sources who spoke to the Al-Ahram Weekly by phone from Tobruk, the new parliament, following urgent consultations, moved to assign Al-Thinni the task of forming a new government that is consistent with the legitimacy of the parliament. They sought to pre-empt the forces of the so-called Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries in the east, and the forces of Libya Dawn in the west, from using their victories on the ground as proof that they are more capable of bringing the situation in Libya under control.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the lack of a suitable candidate ready to succeed Al-Thinni convinced parliament of the need to keep him in his post. They expect him to retain some of his current cabinet members, including Interior Minister Saleh Mazeq Al-Barasi, Culture Minister Al-Habib Al-Amin and Justice Minister Salah Al-Marghani. These men are regarded as the strongest members of the governments of Al-Thanni and his predecessor, Ali Zeidan.
In Benghazi, battles continue to rage between fighters allied to the Shura Council of the Revolutionaries of Benghazi (SCRB) and fighters allied to retired General Haftar. While the latter are continuing their offensives against the strongholds of Islamist extremists in Benghazi and Derna, SCRB forces are trying to seize control of Banina Airport and the airbase there, the second largest and most important airport in Libya.
In Tripoli, since the expulsion of the Zintan forces, the Libya Dawn militias have carried out arbitrary searches and sweeping arrests, targeting opponents of the Libya Dawn operation. All representatives of the official government have reportedly fled and what is described as a “weak” government is now operating entirely out of Beida and Tobruk in the east.
In the past week, a video clip showing unidentified young men inside the US Embassy compound in Tripoli has been circulating on the Internet and social media sites. The clip shows the men jumping off the roof of a building into a swimming pool. US Ambassador Deborah Jones denied that there had been a break-in at the embassy, but did not confirm whether the footage in the video was old or new.
A spokesman for the Halbous Brigade, one of the militias affiliated with Misrata, denied reports that members of the militia had entered the embassy compound. In a statement to the press, however, he confirmed that these forces were guarding the embassy compound in coordination with the US ambassador who is operating out of Malta.
Given the continued lack of security, schools have not opened for the 31 August start of the new academic year. This is because fighting is continuing and schools are being used to house people who have fled conflict zones. In addition, schoolbooks have not yet arrived in certain areas.
Some municipalities have postponed the beginning of the school year for a week, others for an indefinite period.
“Any call on the part of a ministry or agency for students to return to school in Tripoli or Benghazi is invalid as both these cities are unsafe, as the interim government has acknowledged,” said Younis Fanoush, the MP for Benghazi.
“A new government will be formed by the end of this week. It will work to enable the Libyan army to retake those two cities from their abductors, restore them to the sovereignty of the state and to keep them safe. After that, it will declare that life has returned to normal in Tripoli and Benghazi. Until that point, any individual has the right to refuse any call issued by an agency or institution, in order preserve his safety.”
The School of Journalism at the University of Benghazi also announced that it is considering cancellation of its first semester, given the continued violence and poor security.

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