x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Leader warns that armed factions endanger Libya

Mahmoud Jibril, the outgoing prime minister of Libya's Transitional National Council, warns that Libya could be ripped apart by rival armed factions.

BOSTON // After emerging from "42 years of bitterness", Libya is now going through a stage where if the political vacuum is not filled the country could be ripped apart by rival armed factions, Mahmoud Jibril, the outgoing prime minister of Libya's Transitional National Council (NTC), has warned.

Mr Jibril was speaking to reporters on Thursday ahead of giving the opening keynote speech at the Harvard Club in Boston for the Harvard Arab Weekend, an annual gathering organised by the Harvard Arab Alumni Association.

He said Muammar Qaddafi, the former Libya leader, and Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian president, had both taken the same approach to protests in their countries, and Mr Assad would have felt the overthrow and killing of Qaddafi more keenly than most.

"Compared to what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, Bashar Al Assad thought Qaddafi took the right decision," he said.

Although foreign intervention in Syria was unlikely, he also suggested that many of the same countries that had helped Libyan rebels with arms and money would eventually help the Syrian opposition.

"The Syrian revolution," he said, "is going to become an armed revolution" in the not too distant future.

Welcoming Qatar's support for the Libyan revolution, Mr Jibril said he had hoped Qatar would moderate among all Libyan factions.

"Unfortunately this didn't happen and [this] has created dismay on behalf of some political factions … This might not be in the interest of national unity, at least in the short term," he said.

National unity remains the priority, Mr Jibril said. Libya was a stateless society where the gap between the legitimacy of the TNC and the real power of armed factions is becoming increasingly dangerous, he added.

"We've had no institutions whatsoever for 42 years. There is no culture of dialogue. And all of a sudden we've moved from a national battle against Qaddafi to a political battle without any rules," Mr Jibril said.

"You can imagine in the absence of a democratic culture what kind of interactions are taking place. And when some of those factions have arms in their hands the whole thing becomes very scary."

But Libya's strategic location, oil wealth and the enthusiasm of Libyans after Qaddafi's overthrow gave the country enormous potential - which was in the interests of all players to fulfil, he said.

To its neighbours, a stable Libya was a national security interest. To Arab countries, a successful Libya could be a model. And to Europe, Libya was important not just for its oil but to help curb growing African migration.