Middle East, News

Abusahman, New President of Libya

7 min read

Nuri Ali Abusahman was elected as the president of Libya and of the General National Congress (GNC) after the resignation of Mohammed Yousuf Magarief. SETA Foreign Policy Expert Levent Baştürk shared his views on Abusahman with the New Turkey.

The General National Congress (GNC) – the highest legislative authority in Libya – has elected an Amazigh (a Berber minority) Nuri Ali Abusahman as its new chairman after the resignation of Mohammed Yousuf Magarief. As the first Berber who has been elected to a critical leadership post in Libyaafter about a century, Abusahman symbolically has a great deal of importance for his country. The Foundation for Social, Political and Economic Researches (SETA) Foreign Policy Director Levent Baştürk who closely knows Abusahman and his importance for Libyan politics made an assessment on the subject for The New Turkey.

The Libyan General National Congress (GNC) has been formed after the July 7, 2012 general elections. Why does the Congress have to elect a new chairman as it has not been even a year since the elections?

The GNC was formed after the general elections held on July 7, 2012, and elected Mohammed Yousuf al Magarief as its chairman. Al Magarief stepped down in May after the enactment of a new law, the Political Isolation Law (PIL), barring anyone who held a senior post under the Gaddafi regime from holding public office for 10 years. The bill was adopted on May 5 and Magarief submitted his resignation on May 28. However, it is not quite clear who these officials would be and Magarief was on top of the list of those who would suffer from the law. Magarief officially was the chairman of the GNC and it was found unnecessary to have a separate presidential post in the transitional government period. Therefore, the GNC chairman became the president of the country. Magarief’s latest position during the slain Muammar Gaddafi period was ambassadorship toIndia. He decided to put an end to speculations about his name and resigned. In this direction, Magarief asked others to have respect for the decision of the GNC as the requirement of democracy and laws.

Magarief probably was to be exempted from this law. However, taking a closer look into his statement of resignation, it is seen that he resigned as a reaction to the developments in the post-Gaddafi period. Under these circumstances, Magarief did not find it appropriate to be the cause of a new set of debates over whether or not he was within the scope of this law. Therefore, he resigned and taught a lesson of democracy.

The GNC elected Abusahman in the second round of a vote on June 25. He won by 96 votes of a total of 184 congress members.

Which political balances in the GNC were influential in the election of Abusahman?

Ten candidates participated in the first round of the ballot, all of whom were independents except one. The National Forces Alliance (NFA) led by Mahmoud Jibril, the winner of the July 7 general elections, and the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, did not directly nominate anybody. Backed by the NFA, Sharif al Wafi Mohammed won 60 votes; and backed by the JCP Abuasman, won 73 votes in the first round. He won the vote over the other candidate al Wafi in the second run-off ballot by 96 votes to 80. Eight members abstained.

The GNC in Libya has a total of 200 members; however, about 15 of the congressional members are already dismissed due to their positions and links during the Gaddafi era. Only 80 out of 200 seats belong to political parties as 120 members were elected among the independents. Following the establishment of the GNC, new political blocks have formed within. The Martyrs’ Loyalty Block gathered around the JCP has about 60 congressional seats as opposed to 75 seats of the NFA’s block. Although the NFA for the second time has been elected to the GNC, therefore to the Presidential Office of the country, its candidate failed in the presidential race. This is quite meaningful in terms of the Muslim Brotherhood showing their political pragmatism and becoming more successful than the NFA in reaching out to various groups.

What is the meaning of Abusahman’s election as the president in terms of the Muslim Brotherhood’s power and weight in the New Libya, given the fact that Abusahman was supported by the organization?

Although plenty of foreign observers bet on the JCP, which is the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, in the July 7 elections, the party was able to win only 21.1 percent of the votes. On the other hand, the NFA won 48.7 percent of the total votes and won the elections. International media interpreted the election results as the victory of the laic liberals over the Islamists. However, Jibril many times refused the claims that he and the NFA were laic and liberal. The reason is that there is no such discrimination as being a laic or a liberal or having any religious references inLibya. There is almost no difference of opinion about Islam’s role on social life and politics. This creates an advantage for the JCP but beyond that it causes a reaction. A significant part of people interprets this as an attempt of a party taking Islam as a reference and trying to teach Islam to a Muslim society. Besides, the Muslim Brotherhood being originally fromEgyptis also a reason for people’s reaction. Nonetheless, it is a fact that the Brotherhood plays a more determinative role in the New Libya politics.

The Muslim Brotherhood had played a determining role not only in the election of Abusahman but also of Magareif. Although Prime Minister Ali Zeidan is quite distant from the organization, he calculates the fact that a government without the inclusion of the JCP would not be approved by the Congress; therefore, allocated equal number of ministries to two parties and appointed one of his aides from the JCP. Besides, the Muslim Brotherhood made a significant contribution to the in-depth content of the PIL, passed in May, despite the NFA’s opposition.

The reason why the Muslim Brotherhood becomes more influential than the NFA is that the leaders of the organization read very well the fault lines and the relevant tensions occurring on the tribes, cities, regions and ethnic groups in Libya; therefore, they develop their political plan accordingly. In addition, almost all leading figures of the Brotherhood were in exile during the Gaddafi era, but they had managed to have quite successful contacts with local actors inLibya. At this point, it is possible to say that the world view of the organization has made significant contributions to this while they generate policies to embrace the Libyans. Besides, the leaders of the Brotherhood have the upper-hand to easily communicate with different elements because of their experiences of living in exile for long years, in the Western countries in particular, therefore being more inclusive and open to differences. In this perspective, it is quite meaningful to have Abusahman as the president ofLibyagiven the fact that he belongs to the Berber ethnic group which represents only 10 percent of the total population of the country.

What is the importance with regards to the New Libya of Abusahman’s being a Berber?

Nearly 90 percent of the population in Libya consists of Arabs. However, there are various ethnic groups, such as Tuaregs, Tabus and Berbers, in different regions. These groups were exposed to serious discrimination under Muammar Gaddafi ruling for 42 years. An important part of the Libyans consists of Berber-Arabs. Although Berbers are the natives of this country, their language and cultures were rejected and Berbers were forced to become Arabs, or subjected to Arabization. For this reason, Berbers supported the uprising against Gaddafi and they demand their rights in the new period. He is the first member of minority Amazeigh community to achieve a leadership role in Libyasince Sulaiman Barouni became the President of the TripolitanianRepublicin 1919-1923. Therefore, Abusahman’s election as the chairman of the GNC, hence as the president of the country, symbolically has a great deal of importance forLibya. Election of a Berber by the representatives of the people as the top official of the GNC which functions as a constituent assembly is very important.

How would Abusahman’s election as the president affect the Turkey-Libya relations?

It is a fact that Turkey’s image among the Libyan people is quite positive. It is possible to say that this is also true for the Libyan politicians as well despite a few exceptions. Among others, the JCP members have the most positive impression aboutTurkey. The former President Magarief, who was elected with the JCP’s support, had paid a great deal of importance to the relations withTurkey. So, it will not be a mistake to say that this attitude will be maintained during the Abusahman period as well.

Resource: Translated by Handan Öz

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