Democracy is messy — especially in Libya

Jason Pack and Haley Cook write: Libya’s experiment in democracy has taken another unexpected turn. On the surface, the elections to the General National Congress (GNC) last July produced a surprising victory for the “liberal” National Forces Alliance (NFA) and a fairly resounding defeat for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party.

But when those political parties were unable to forge a national unity government, that picture changed. It became inevitable that locally elected independents, who form the majority of the Congress, would come to the fore.

On 12 September, the NFA saw its prime ministerial candidate, Mahmoud Jibril, defeated by two votes in favour of Mustafa Abushagur, the outgoing deputy prime minister.

Abushagur seemed to be a compromise candidate. He enjoyed a reputation as a good manager with moderate Islamist leanings but without party affiliation. All elements of the “anyone but Jibril” camp rallied around him: Cyrenaicans and Tripolitanians, Muslim Brothers and Misratans with loyalties to their homegrown militias. It seemed then that Abushagur was just the man to cobble together a coalition of Libya’s many factions.

And yet, when he presented his first cabinet list, it featured unexpected members of the outgoing transitional government, lacked a single candidate from the NFA, contained unknown quantities for key posts including the oil ministry, … and furthermore, it was apparent that Abushagur’s allies were favoured.

Libya has so many cities that harbour intense local sentiment and it is manifestly impossible to appease them all simultaneously. Yet protesters from Zawiya were not placated by such hard truths; they stormed the Congress building.

When the list was read out in Congress, the NFA members simply walked out. As a result, the Libyan government and Abushagur were disgraced. The authorities revealed that they did not yet have sufficient military capacity to provide adequate security for their own parliamentary offices, let alone for the complex process of disarming and demobilising the hundreds of militias. For his part, Abushagur had clearly miscalculated how his cabinet list would be received – suggesting that he was not the right man for the moment after all. [Continue reading…]

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