Libya - Politics

Libya is caught up in chaos with its Congress deadlocked between Islamists and a leading nationalist party, with infighting between the National Forces Alliance party, and the Islamist Justice and Construction party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. The National Forces Alliance (NFA) was formed in 2012 by liberal war-time leader Mahmoud Jibril. The nascent army is struggling to assert itself against unruly former rebels, tribal groups and Islamist militants. Libya's tribes and regions remain highly polarized following the 2011 civil war that ended the four-decade rule of Moammar Gadhafi. Residents of Zawiya and other regions battered by Gadhafi's attacks during the conflict demanded high-level positions in Libya's post-war government, leading to friction among rival communities.

The challenges facing Libya are further compounded by the 42-year legacy of dysfunctional State institutions, which were purposely undermined over decades of authoritarian rule. Tribal and regional tensions, the absence of political norms and the suppression of independent elites and civil society also resulted in insufficient capacity to foster the type of far-reaching changes that are required.

There is a regional dimension to the significant political changes in Libya. Developments, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia, have had a palpable effect on the political scene and greatly influenced the behaviour of some political forces. These events have injected a sense of unease into the political system as different political actors reassessed their positions regarding the major problems confronting Libya and the region more generally.

By early 2014 deteriorating security and rising political polarization in Libya left some analysts worrying that Libya may be on the verge of breakdown. The sense of pending crisis only worsened when more than a third of Libya’s fractious parliamentarians tabled a motion of no confidence in the country’s beleaguered Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. The move against Zeidan, a former human rights lawyer, came just days after Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) voted on 23 December 2013 to extend its own mandate for another 12 months, which sparked anger among democracy activists, who argued the extension was not legitimate and sets a dangerous precedent. Previous efforts to bring down the government faltered because the 200-strong the Islamist-dominated General National Congress failed to secure sufficient numbers to meet the 120-member quorum required for approving the motion.

The Islamists argued the time had come for a new government and have now been joined by centrists, led by Mahmoud Jibril, calling for a national salvation administration as a possible way to break a political impasse that has added to Libya’s dangerous drift and lawlessness. Jibril served as an interim Prime Minister for the rebels for seven and a half months during the uprising that toppled Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Zeidan’s authority had been weakened in large part by his failure to engineer an end to a months-long blockade by militias of vital eastern oil terminals. The blockade stifled oil production, the main source of government revenue, which has fallen to ten percent of capacity. On 01 January 2014, labor minister Mohamed Swalin told a news conference that the blockade was undermining Libya’s ability to pay public salaries. He warned the strikes were leading Libya into a “dark tunnel.” Blockade leader Ibrahim al-Jathran, who once oversaw the Petroleum Facilities Guard assigned to defend the facilities his supporters now control, refused to reopen the key oil-exporting ports until the Tripoli government recognizes eastern Libya, known by federalists as Cyrenaica, as a semi-autonomous region.

Libya’s most prominent factions have agreed to hold early elections, according to the spokesman for Libya’s interim parliament, Omar Humeidan, who stated that the decision was made on 16 February 2014 in a parliamentary session. A law to oversee the new elections was expected to be presented in March 2014. The country had seen an outburst of protest since the government’s choice to extend its mandate since the expiration of its term on 07 February 2014.

Libya's parliament voted March 12, 2014 to remove the country's prime minister after a tanker loaded with crude oil from a rebel-held port escaped the navy and made it to international waters. The episode was the final straw for Ali Zeidan, who faced criticism from the country's Islamist politicians and a public that blamed him for failing to rein in eastern militias following the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. A spokesman for Libya's General Assembly said the no-confidence measure was approved by 124 of the 194 members of parliament. "The General National Assembly has decided to dismiss Mr. Ali Zeidan from his post as prime minister, and instate the Minister of Defense, Mr. Abdullah al-Thinni, in his place until a new prime minister is elected," said Omar Hmeidan, speaker of the assembly. Zeidan left the country last week after Parliament voted him out of office.

The government said it has ordered special forces to deploy, within a week, to bring all rebel-held ports back under government control. The standoff has cut Libya's oil exports by more than 80 percent. Militias based in Misrata in northwestern Libya, known for their violence and independence, launched an offensive against the eastern rebels which could be regarded as the beginning of a civil war between western and eastern Libya.

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