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Al-Thinni tries another government
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 24 - 09 - 2014

In Tobruk, near Libya's border with Egypt, the controversy that has been raging inside and outside the Libyan parliament over the formation of a new government headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni has entered its third week due to sharp discord between parliamentary blocs.
Parliamentary elections held on 25 June were designed to prevent political parties from participating as independents. But parliamentary sessions revealed that the map of political blocs have moved — in largely the same composition as the former General National Congress (GNC), whose term had officially ended — to the new parliament. In addition to this, pro-federalists have entered parliament for the first time since the 17 February Revolution.
The federalist movement boycotted the GNC elections held in 2012 in protest against the way in which the now defunct Transitional National Council had drawn up electoral zones.
It is clear that the parliament, which was unable to convene in either Tripoli or its main seat in Benghazi because of the warfare that has been raging in both cities, contains five competing blocs that have locked horns in their desperation to secure a controlling say in the next Libyan government.
The largest of these blocs is the liberal-oriented National Forces Alliance (NFA), headed by Mahmoud Jibril who had served as the director of the Executive Bureau of the former Transitional National Council. It is followed by the adherents of the civil/secularist trend that had begun to coalesce some weeks before the parliamentary elections and most of whose members are relatively young.
Then come the Islamists who were able to win 30 seats in the parliamentary elections, which is more than the movement had in the GNC. Lastly come the federalists, who obtained 16 seats, and the “dignity bloc”, so named because it consists of supporters of the “Operation Dignity” that retired General Khalifa Haftar set into motion against radical Islamists mid-May.
Although the Islamists have been boycotting parliament because it has been convening in Tobruk, which they claim violates the Constitutional Declaration of August 2011, the disputes between the other coalitions appear even more intense because to compound the political and tribal frictions that are shaping parliamentary discussions on the government that Al-Thinni is trying to form, parliament is coming under outside regional pressures with respect to a number of crucial ministerial portfolios.
Some MPs told Al-Ahram Weekly that Sunday's session was a particularly acrimonious one. Shouting matches escalated into scuffles and some MPs took off their shoes and waved them in gestures intended to threaten and insult others.
The MPs, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Al-Thinni is coming under outside pressures. Some of these pressures come from the tribes or Libyan regions, others from regional powers. For example, they said, some parties affiliated with civil society organisations in the capital and tribal leaders from Al-Zintan in western Libya who are close to the NFA have been pushing Al-Thinni to include certain individuals in his new cabinet.
The Weekly learned from other informed sources that those pressures — if certain political, tribal or region forces have their way — could lead to the selection of another person apart from Al-Thinni to form a government. They sources noted that Al-Thinni did not attend Sunday's evening session which was to discuss the cabinet composition proposed by Al-Thinni.
As Al-Thinni will join the Libyan delegation that will take part in the inauguration of the 69th UN General Assembly's in New York, the question of the cabinet will not be settled until that delegation returns to Libya.
To compound the problem, the Weekly's sources in the Libyan parliament reported that some candidates for the Al-Thinni government have bowed out at the last minute citing threats to their lives. Differences over regional, tribal and political party shares in ministerial seats also contributed to delaying a resolution on the final composition of the government.
The parliamentary sources indicated that Al-Thinni would have to meet a number of conditions if he is to win a vote of confidence from parliament. If he ignores the parliament's recommendations regarding the need to form a mini crisis government in which there would be no previous ministers and that would not be based on political party or regional quotas it would be difficult for parliament to award him its confidence.
This condition was revealed by several young MPs who told the Weekly that they intended to propose a bill of law calling for a freeze on political party activity in Libya until a permanent constitution is drawn up. These sources went on to point out that Al-Thinni's proposal for a government would require at least 84 votes in its favour. If it fails to win sufficient support, parliament will chose another figure to form a government.
The Weekly has learned that Al-Thinni, who submitted his final selections of cabinet members to parliament Sunday, decided to retain for himself the post of defence minister until such time as another person is nominated for the post. However, a number of MPs who support Operation Dignity have been pushing for that post to be filled by a military figure from among the supporters of retired General Khalifa Haftar.
There are two deputy prime ministers in Al-Thinni's proposed cabinet. These he awarded to Omar Al-Sanki, a businessman from Misrata who had been arrested and imprisoned in the purge campaign during the Gaddafi era, and Othman Abdel Jalil, chairman of the political committee in the mountain city of Al-Zintan.
Late last week, Al-Thinni had submitted a proposed government consisting of 18 ministers. Parliament rejected this and asked Al-Thinni to form a reduced crisis government consisting of no more than 10 portfolios. It also stipulated that none of the members of the current government should be carried over into the crisis government and that none of the members of the new government should have dual nationality. The latter condition appears difficult to meet at this stage, especially with regards to sovereign ministries such as the foreign ministry.
In his latest proposal, Al-Thinni offered this portfolio to Mohammed Al-Dairi who is currently regional representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Egypt, Palestine and the Arab League. In addition, he nominated Faisal Al-Karikshi, an NFA leader, as health minister and the political activist and blogger Omar Al-Qoweiri from Zintan as minister of information and culture.
It has been rumoured but not confirmed that he awarded the justice portfolio to the lawyer Omar Al-Hibasi, formerly director of the High Commission for Integrity and Patriotism. Former Minister of Interior Fawzi Abdel Aal and some commanders of the Misrata Brigades nominated journalist Suleiman Al-Buyoudi as deputy prime minister, but their nominee ultimately declined the post.
The official parliamentary spokesman Faraj Bouhashem described the cabinet proposal that Al-Thinni had submitted to parliament on Sunday evening as containing “a major flaw”. The posts of minister of defence and interior had been left empty, which caused considerable resentment among MPs. To make matters worse, he said, Al-Thinni did not attend that evening session, which is to say that he did not present his proposed government in an official manner.
Bouhashem said that parliament would meet the following morning (Monday) and summon the caretaker prime minister, Al-Thinni, to resolve the matter and hopefully chose two people to fill the defence and foreign ministry seats as the crisis government had to contain all the sovereign portfolios.
As parliamentarians wrangled in Tobruk, Benghazi has experience a sudden wave of political assassinations since last Thursday evening. Over the weekend, 30 attacks were carried out against military figures, Islamists and civilians, indicating resurgence in the phenomenon that had tapered off since the beginning of Operation Dignity last May.
Meanwhile, in southwest Libya, clashes erupted in the vicinity of Al-Fil oil field between forces reported to be from the police and army and fighters from the Tabu who were trying to smuggle some of their colleagues across the border into Libya from Algeria. The fighting began in Ubari last Wednesday, near Al-Sharara oil field that had suspended operations last week because of a damaged petroleum storage tank at Al-Zawiya refinery that is fed by the field.
At least 12 people were killed in the clashes. According to inhabitants in the area, gunmen attacked a police station in Ubari after they failed in their attempt to smuggle fighters across the borders. Medical workers reported that 27 people were injured. Some bloggers on social networking sites saw a link between that incident and the fighting in the north.
They described the battles in the southwest as an attempt on the part of Misrata's Third Force to advance on Al-Sharara oil field after it had succeeded in taking control over Tripoli last month.
Libyan media had reported that delegates from certain groups in Misrata had visited various parts of southern and western Libya during he past few weeks in order to study the possibilities for cooperation with local groups and tribes in those areas.
The forces from Misrata's archrival, Al-Zintan, control the pipelines from Al-Sharara and Al-Fil oil fields. Members of the Tabu tribes, which complain of being marginalised, have been prevented from reaching Al-Sharara field to ask for financial assistance and guarantees for equal citizen rights for the ethnically African tribes.


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