By Hanan Al-Mansouri.
Tripoli, 9 October:
Reports of Libya’s demise are . . .[restrict]greatly exaggerated. If you read the op-ed published a few days ago in the Libya Herald by Adrian Hong, you would have thought that with Mustafa Abushagur’s dismissal Libya’s future was apocalyptic. The author used a lot of ‘mays’ and ‘potentials’ to support his argument that Abushagur was Libya’s only hope to avoid an economic, political and security hellhole the likes of which would bring destruction to the rest of the region.
It would have been preferable if the author had declared his personal relationship with Abushagur’s son, but let’s let that pass as an unintentional memory slip. I’ll buy his concern about Libya and worry that Libyans would disappoint the world by not voting in Abushagur as his primary motivation for writing the article.
Whilst I agree with some of the points he made about the unchecked power of Congress and its “mission creep”. However the rest of the article’s hyperbolic conflation of Libya’s future with Abushagur’s position must be addressed.
A new democracy is inevitably difficult and to give up on it based on a misstep and suggest loudly that others will do so is wrong and damaging.
Libya’s failure or survival is not contingent on the political career or one man. The country faces many challenges and resolving them will require the collective efforts of its authorities and citizens. Libya’s highest offices are not personality contests, they are leadership contests (the clue is in the title). We need people who have the ability to build consensus and have the strength of character to drive forward much needed policies and decisions, navigating the murky waters of Libya’s tribal, regional, ideological interests. On this course we need the sons, daughters, relatives and friends of relatives of political figures not to take it personally. Libyans have the right to question and criticise the actions of public figures.
Abushagur I’m sure is a good man, I believe he means well, and did his best with his first cabinet offering to please the many blocs, coalitions and interests to arrive at a consensus government that he thought would satisfy. However, that is where he made his mistake. Instead of concerning himself with the needs of the people, he attempted to deal with the needs of the political class, forgetting the street and its demands. This is where he failed and it was his undoing.
The Abushagur who addressed Congress on Sunday was a different man, one who had been betrayed, pushed and outplayed by the wheeler-dealing and self-interests of Libyan politics. If he had given that speech and presented that cabinet two days earlier he would now be prime minister. But by the time he came to the GNC it was too little too late.
As one congressman said, this is not the programme they had been presented with nor the one they chose him for. Many in the GNC claimed to be unimpressed that Abushagur was unable to defend his original list when he first presented it, leaving them unconvinced about his leadership abilities. Despite the obvious displeasure and unhappiness of many, both citizens and GNC, the PM-elect was missing in action for the next two days, unavailable or unwilling to clarify or justify his choices, leaving rumours and misinformation to stoke the fires of discontent.
All of this is what led to the vote of no confidence in his ability to lead Libya through this delicate and fragile next stage. Despite efforts to spin it otherwise, Libya is no more unstable than it was last week. The problems that were not dealt with while Abushagur was deputy prime minister, a position he still holds, are still there and would have remained so whatever happened on Sunday.
Now the pressure is on the GNC to deliver a quick solution. The country will be holding them accountable for their behaviour and actions.
With members representing every group in Libya — from Salafis to liberals; from former exiles to those who have only ever lived under Gaddafi — the 200 are all of Libya. Implying that they are tyrants because they practise party politics is highly insulting and disingenious.
Where was the apocalyptic forecast for Libya when Mahmoud Jibril was not voted in? Despite the Libyan population overwhelmingly voting for his party (over 900,000 people chose the National Forces Alliance in the general election), the disillusionment that many Libyans felt with participating in an election process that then delivered a leadership that did not represent its voting was tangible on the street. Yet one can argue that the fault for this could be laid squarely at Jibril’s feet for not being able to reach agreements with the many other coalitions and blocs that he needed to support him. Abushagur was able to accomplish this and was given the mandate to form a government. Nevertheless, he failed to take the baton right to the finishing line, stumbling at the final hurdle.
The Justice and Construction party (J&C) were already un-amused that names they had vetoed were on the list, and others they had wanted were left out. They then felt betrayed when they were not given the preview of the cabinet list they felt entitled to. So they used the opportunity as an excuse to abandon him and publicly declared their rejection of his list. Unpleasant, but not any different from the practice of politics the world over. It was also not surprising, given the J&P’s efforts to both make themselves likable to Libya’s suspicious public and control the seats of power. Abushagur’s surprise at the J&C being unhappy about the distribution of seats both in his first and second cabinet lists shows political naivety at best. And sadly it did not show the signs of a skilled politician who can play all the different factions through the next year.
The sophisticated political operators in all of this are the J&C who have once again proven how far discipline and organisation can get you. They managed to turn around a humiliating loss in the elections to become the kingmakers. Everyone has to talk to them, whilst knowing that they are not to be trusted.
The international community is indeed keen for Libya to stabilise, as is the business community but their concerns are unrelated to Abushagur. They want, like the Libyan people, a stable government and protection of their political and economic investments.
The killing of the US ambassador, the threat of militias and the siege of Bani Walid are all factors in wanting a government to be formed quickly and smoothly. But we are all confident that a government will ultimately be formed. One diplomat described the weekend’s events as ‘disappointing’ but was comfortable saying Libya was still considered a success for hitting the many milestones it had hit already. “Libya” he said, “has a way of defying expectations.” Another diplomat told me that Libya was still far off from being a crisis situation and what we were witnessing was par for the course in a newly formed democracy.
As the former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright once said, “While democracy in the long run is the most stable form of government, in the short run, it is among the most fragile.” The international community is fully aware of the difficulties and the learning curve Libya is going through; they are not going to abandon it because of this, or as our author claimed ‘not take it seriously’. They will continue to advise and deal with whichever government is formed, because, to use the parlance of our times, Libya is too big to fail.
Let us also challenge the idea that the business community is deserting Libya.
Only this week one international finance company invested in a local Libyan company, giving what the Financial Times called a “vote of confidence” in Libya’s economic future. The business world is waiting for a government to be formed and partners to emerge as they have been for the past year. Every hotel lobby in Tripoli and Benghazi is still full of consultants and business representatives seeking prospective opportunities that Libya’s future promises. None of them left the day Abushagur was dismissed.
Do not believe the spin that it is unheard of for a prime minster to have a vote of no confidence; it is actually quite common in multi-party systems such as the one we now have in Libya. When governments are formed out of coalitions of smaller parties they often result in short-lived governments. In our case Abushagur did not get that far, but to be fair he should have resigned after his first list was rejected. In India, Atal Behari Vajpayee was prime minister for all of 13 days in 1996 before resigning when he was unable to form a majority. He did, however, come back as prime minister a few years later for a better run. Perhaps Abushagur will return when the country is more ready for a softer, kinder man.
What we witnessed on Sunday was unfortunate but hardly a disaster, for those who do not know, democracy is messy and we are seeing it in its rawest, purest form — warts and all.
Hanan Al-Mansouri is a Libyan political analyst now back and working in Libya.
The views expressed in Opinion articles do not necessarily reflect those of the Libya Herald [/restrict]