from From the Potomac to the Euphrates and Middle East Program

Libya: Dealing With the Enemy?

June 13, 2012

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My friend, Karim Mezran, weighs in with a guest post today on an under-reported meeting between a prominent Libyan Islamist and members of Qaddafi’s entourage in Cairo.  What is going on Libya?

The recent meeting in Cairo between Ali Sallabi, an important figure of the Libyan Islamist circles, and Ahmed Qaddafi Eddam, cousin of the late Muammar al-Qaddafi and one of the most relevant members of the former strongman’s entourage, has provoked widespread controversy and criticism. The meeting threatens to become another divisive issue for the Libyan people.  Addressing this issue should be taken quite seriously, however, as it appears to highlight one of the largest problems facing the transition to democracy in Libya: the National Transitional Council (NTC).

According to Sallabi, the President of the NTC, Mustafa Abd el Jalil, became worried by reports of armed and well-trained Qaddafi supporters infiltrating Libya to provoke unrest and stir up popular support in order to reclaim power for the old regime. As far-fetched as this plan appears, recent developments have given Abd el Jalil cause for concern. Large parts of Libya have regressed into anarchy or are revolting, particularly in the south, and some cities such as Sirt and Bani Ulid still retain large numbers of active Qaddafi supporters. The leadership of the former regime is based in Cairo and is represented by Ahmed Qaddafi Eddam, the ex-coordinator of Libyan tribes and representative of the Qaddhafa tribe, Ali el Ahwal from Bani Ulid, and Abd el Hamid Bezzine, from Tripoli, another prominent member of Qaddafi’s entourage. Abd el Jalil, cognizant that even the threat of Qaddafi loyalists intervening in Libyan reform could be disastrous for the country, instructed Sallabi to meet with the Qaddafists in Cairo in order to inform them of the folly in their plan. We do not know officially what Sallabi was allowed to offer in exchange for this renunciation, but in the course of an interview in Tripoli the day after the meeting he said that the bargain would allow the families of all former members of the regime to go free and would provide them with safe return to Libya. The possibility of amnesty was never mentioned; indeed, on the contrary Sallabi made clear that subjection to a legal trial would be the only possibility for the deposed regime officials to return to Libya. Although the proposal was received, no decision was taken, and Sallabi went back to Tripoli the following day.

Where is the scandal? Most have asked why Sallabi, an Islamist leader, was chosen to negotiate with these discredited figures. The answer is simple: Sallabi has much experience and interaction with the old regime because he was involved in the negotiations with Saif al-Islam Qaddafi that led to the release of imprisoned Islamists. In addition, Sallabi is a political figure in Libya and his interest is clearly in saving whatever nascent democracy is currently in place as well as preventing Libya from spiraling into civil war and anarchy once again. Based on this, no scandal is readily apparent.

Political pundits and those decrying the meeting have also criticized the state for legitimizing the Qaddafists’ cause and condoning their crimes. The first objection makes no sense. The NTC is negotiating with the Qaddafists even if they are illegal in order to reintegrate them  into the framework of the state and bring stability to the system (the successful transitions in Chile, Argentina and many others were carried out this way by means of negotiated settlements). Moreover, the terms of the negotiation do not provide evidence of the state abdicating power for exacting justice on the crimes of the regime since no amnesty or impunity was offered. Therefore, even the second objection is inconsistent since no crime would be condoned.

The real problem should not center on Sallabi himself, the holding of negotiations, or more in general, justice, but rather on the leader of the NTC. The scandal is that an issue as delicate as national reconciliation was dealt with arbitrarily and in secret by the non-elected leader (Abd el Jalil) of a self-appointed institution (the NTC). This is the scandal against which the protests should be centered. The NTC continues to govern Libya, secretively and arbitrarily, with the same procedures, mentality and attitudes as the previous regime did. The only hope is that the elections scheduled for July 7 are held regularly and result in the creation of an Assembly that rules with transparency and inclusiveness, and relegate the NTC to its historic role and position

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