Transitions

Libya’s revolutionary president resigns for not being revolutionary enough

The president of the General National Congress (GNC), Mohamed al-Magariaf, has resigned his position in anticipation of the Political Isolation Law that’s set to come into effect in June. Magariaf, despite his considerable status as a leader of the country’s 2011 revolution, will be legally obliged to resign because he held senior government positions in ...

DON EMMERT/AFP/GettyImages
DON EMMERT/AFP/GettyImages

The president of the General National Congress (GNC), Mohamed al-Magariaf, has resigned his position in anticipation of the Political Isolation Law that’s set to come into effect in June. Magariaf, despite his considerable status as a leader of the country’s 2011 revolution, will be legally obliged to resign because he held senior government positions in Qaddafi’s regime more than 30 years ago. During the first few years of Qaddafi’s rule, Magariaf headed the audit bureau (with a ministerial profile) and served as Libya’s ambassador to India. He defected over thirty years ago in 1980 and has opposed Qaddafi and his regime ever since.

The controversial Isolation Law, which will bar Magariaf and several other prominent Libyan leaders from high-level governmental posts for the next 10 years, was adopted on May 5 amid violent turmoil in the capital and where armed militias pushed for its passage by staging an armed takeover of key ministries and government institutions.

Magariaf’s resignation is the latest disappointing turn of events in Libya’s transition to democracy after 42 years of dictatorship and an eight-month armed conflict. The authorities in Libya are facing a multitude of challenges, including armed groups that have mushroomed in size since Qaddafi’s fall and have exercised increasing influence on Libya’s political scene. They recently forced the resignation of the popular minister of interior, Ashour Shuwail, because his plans for security collided with their interests.

During his resignation speech, Magariaf warned against the use of weapons and armed militias to influence the democratic transition in Libya. He also hinted that some lawmakers have used militias to try to intimidate and manipulate the government. This echoes the warnings and statements issued by the National Forces Alliance (led by Mahmoud Jibril) and others within the that the law was passed under the threat of weapons and that the final version of the law was manipulated so that it would not target the Muslim Brotherhood as a group.

Despite the inherently undemocratic context of the law’s passage, Magariaf has said that he is stepping down to show respect for the democratic process in Libya. With his resignation, he becomes the first elected political leader to leave office in accordance with the Isolation Law. "All must comply with the law out of respect for the democratic legitimacy and rule of law," he said in what was clearly a very emotional moment for him. He is now being labeled in some news outlets in Arabic as "the first of Qaddafi’s men" to leave the scene. I think that shows how flawed and unfair this law is.

Magariaf and other prominent leaders are hoping that their resignations will help to calm the situation down, enabling Libya to move beyond this distraction and toward the drafting of a new constitution.

But accepting the Isolation Law could prove to be a dangerous path, and giving in to threats by militias sets a very dangerous precedent. The power struggle will enter a new phase as the GNC starts debating another crucial law: the Constituent Assembly’ Elections Law, which will oversee and outline the election process for the 60-member committee tasked with writing Libya’s new constitution. The new constitution could drop the controversial Isolation Law altogether in a public referendum. Mahmoud Jibril, who will also be targeted by the law, seems to be relying on just that outcome as he embarks on a nationwide trip ahead of the Constituent Assembly elections. He started last week with the cities of Tobruk and Albaida.

Magariaf’s resignation comes after Libya’s Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood in particular) rallied successfully to push through the Political Isolation Law. Islamists in Libya command some of the strongest militias in Libya and are on good terms with militias in the city of Misrata too. Both these city’s militias were used in the armed takeover of Tripoli used to push the Isolation Law through. As more GNC members are forced to resign, the Muslim Brotherhood hopes to have more influence over the drafting of the Elections Law, which could give them control over the constitution drafting process.

Critics of the Isolation Law (including Human Rights Watch) say that it is too vague and may be used as a tool to isolate political opponents. These fears are amplified by the fact that people are confused about how the isolation process will be applied, and this, of course, adds to the sense of uncertainty in Libya. In addition, the law equates long-time opposition leaders like Magariaf, who once served in some capacity under Qaddafi but also took part the 2011 revolution with officials who were still backing the dictator at the point when he launched missiles against anti-regime protesters. Supporters of the law say it is necessary to safeguard the revolution against regime loyalists.

During his resignation speech, Magariaf said, "I miss the Libya that once was, the Libya I used to know more than 30 years ago." I think Magariaf spoke for many Libyans in that statement. The ones I have in mind either lived in that Libya or heard about it from their parents or grandparents: a country in which people lived and coexisted peacefully and respected each other despite their ideological, religious, and ethnic differences.

Mohamed Eljarh is the Libya blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here.  

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