x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Islamist leader says Libya PM must quit

Muslim Brotherhood leader describes US special forces raid that snatched a Libyan Al Qaeda suspect from the streets of Tripoli as ‘a blatant violation to the national sovereignty’.

The Libyan prime minister, Ali Zeidan, in Tripoli this month with members of his party. Mahmud Turkia / AFP
The Libyan prime minister, Ali Zeidan, in Tripoli this month with members of his party. Mahmud Turkia / AFP

TRIPOLI // The leader of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood political party said on Saturday that the country’s prime minister – who was briefly abducted by militia members last week – has failed and needs to be replaced.

Mohammed Sawan, leader of Justice and Construction party, said the Libyan parliament is “seriously searching for an alternative” to Ali Zeidan.

Mr Sawan said mismanagement by Mr Zeidan’s government might have led to “irresponsible actions” by individuals, referring to Mr Zeidan’s kidnapping.

Simmering tensions in Libya were inflamed by an October 5 raid by US special forces that snatched a Libyan Al Qaeda suspect known as Abu Anas Al Libi off the streets of Tripoli and whisked him off to custody in a US warship.

“This was a blatant violation to the national sovereignty,” Mr Sawan said. “It has caused big problems and grave repercussions.”

Mr Zeidan for months has been facing mounting pressures from parliament, first by Islamist blocs including the Muslim Brotherhood and another group of ultraconservative Salafis. Independents later joined the criticism of Mr Zeidan over allegations of corruption and wasting public funds, as well as the country’s deteriorating security.

On Thursday, Mr Zeidan became victim of the insecurity plaguing the country since the 2011 civil war that toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Militias kidnapped the prime minister and held him for several hours.

Such armed groups, many including Islamist extremists, carry out daily violence nationwide and have defied attempts by the weak central authorities to control them. Many of them are connected to political groups that have representatives in the parliament.

On Friday, Mr Zeidan described his abduction as an attempted coup by his Islamist political rivals, using militias that he said are trying to “terrorise” the government and turn the country into another Afghanistan or Somalia.

Mr Zeidan, however, did not name those specifically behind his kidnapping, only referring to the Libyan Revolutionaries Operation Room, the militia umbrella group loosely affiliated to interior ministry.

“I wish he named the political party he thinks is behind the operation,” Mr Sawan said, adding that Mr Zeidan told his lawmakers that he did not mean Muslim Brotherhood. “We are against any action that violates legitimacy.” In addition to Mr Zeidan’s abduction, militias have besieged key ministries in the capital and stormed ministers’ offices this summer to force the parliament to pass a divisive law aimed at purging officials who served under Qaddafi from government. The parliament passed the law virtually at gunpoint, highlighting the challenges facing Libya as it tries to transition to democracy.

The Muslim Brotherhood finished second in the country’s first parliamentary elections last year after a non-Islamist bloc led by the wartime prime minister. The Brotherhood has five ministers in Mr Zeidan’s government.

A day before Mr Zeidan’s abduction, parliament agreed to form a committee to discuss either an alternative to Mr Zeidan or to summon him for questioning.

“The government represented by the prime minister has had no success,” Mr Sawan said.

The militias originated in the “revolutionary” brigades that fought Qaddafi’s forces. Since his ousting, they have refused to disarm and have mushroomed in size and power. Many have been enlisted by the state to serve as security forces, since the army and police are weak, underequipped and underpaid. But they often continue to act as armed vigilante factions with their own interests, and some follow radical ideologies or are believed to have links to Al Qaeda.

Touting themselves as “revolutionaries,” some have long demanded Mr Zeidan’s removal since he once served as an ambassador under Qaddafi.

Militias have in the past besieged government buildings and carried out kidnappings – including the abduction last month of the defence minister’s son, apparently to pressure him against trying to rein in the groups.

* Associated Press