By Ahmed Elumami.
Tripoli, 18 February 2014:
There was confusion at the General National Congress this evening after it was announced on TV . . .[restrict]that Zintan’s Qaqaa and Sawaiq brigades had issued an ultimatum to its members to resign by 10 pm or be arrested. Members and staff are reported to have left the Congress building but there was no visible extra security in the road outside which remains open to traffic, unlike previous occasions when there have been threats to Congress.
Zawia Congresswoman Naima Al-Hami told the Libya Herald that over 20 Congress members had left the GNC in response to the threats but that she herself had stayed, saying she would have the honour of being arrested in the chamber if it came to it.
She said that it was time for the government to protect the state. If it did not send troops then this would demonstrate its unwillingness to protect legitimate institutions and that it was complicit with the brigades.
The ultimatum was part of a statement reported this afternoon by Dawlia TV, seen as supportive of Mahmoud Jibril and the National Forces Alliance. The chairman of the latter’s steering committee, Abdulmajid Milaiqtah, is the brother of Othman Milaiqtah, the commander of the Qaaqaa Brigade.
The statement allegedly claimed that instability in the country was the fault of the Muslim Brotherhood in Congress and those organisations sympathetic to it. The statement also reportedly said the Brotherhood was an epidemic and disease which only the brigades could cure.
Qaqaa and Sawaiq also allegedly claimed that they were not attempting to grab power but would act as “protectors of the homeland” until such time as the military and other security institutions had been built up to their full strength.
The statement provoked a call to Libyans by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to refrain from resorting to force to resolve political disputes and instead rely on dialogue to ensure a peaceful transfer of the powers of the GNC to a new elected body.
The European Union, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States also put out a joint statement effectively giving their backing to Congress and stating that the use of force was not a legitimate means “to divert the democratic transition”.
Reflecting UNSMIL’s call, GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain, speaking on Wataniya TV, said peaceful dialogue and the transition of power according to legal mechanisms were the only course open to Libya. He said that Congress had instructed the General Chief of Staff to take the necessary measures against the “armed groups” and called on the Libyan people to “defend their political choices in the face of these threats”.
Reports this evening that forces were heading from Misrata to Tripoli to protect Congress appear, however, to be premature. According to the Libya Herald correspondent in the city, there has been no mobilisation. Nevertheless, the Military Council there has called forces to be on alert. The Council of Revolutionaries in nearby Zliten also issued a statement this evening calling on revolutionaries to be on alert and warning Qaaqaa and Sawaiq to stop interfering in Congress’ affairs. It said that they would use an “iron fist” to punish anyone who harmed Congress.
Questions, however, surrounds the veracity of the statement. In what appears to be a repeat of General Hafter’s coup that was not, there was no sign of the Qaqaa brigade in Tripoli this evening although, in what appears to be a precautionary measure, large numbers of military vehicles are reported to have been deployed at the roundabout near the Tripoli end of the Airport Road. It is viewed as a possible route of forces coming from Zintan.
Meanwhile Former Defence Minister Osama Juwaili, himself from Zintan, interviewed by on TV, distanced Zintan from the two brigades, saying they did not represent the town.
The government appears not to be overly concerned about the threat. It has denied on social media claims by Aljazeera TV that it had asked the ministries to evacuate in anticipation of an armed attack.