BEIRUT

Middle East

Libyan prime minister left in the cold

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Beth Jones (L) shares a laugh with Libyan Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur during a meeting in Tripoli on October 2, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD TURKIA)

TRIPOLI: Libya’s dismissed Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur appears to have paid the price for an unlikely rapprochement between liberals and Islamists planning to form a government of national unity.

The turmoil comes with post-revolt leaders facing many challenges in a country still awash with arms and struggling for reconciliation nearly a year after the death of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in the uprising that ousted his despised regime.

Abu Shagur’s downfall comes less than a month after his Sept. 12 election following an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, a date burned into U.S. history.

The two largest parties in the General National Congress, a democratically elected assembly that took power in August, joined forces to oust Abu Shagur in a vote of no confidence on Sunday after rejecting his proposed crisis Cabinet.

Abu Shagur, a U.S.-educated engineer with a long history of opposition to Gadhafi, was elected last month by a narrow margin in a runoff on an independent ticket.

He was seen as close to Islamists, but vehemently denied any association with their parties, even though they voted for him over transition leader Mahmoud Jibril as a compromise candidate.

But the plug was pulled on Abu Shagur by Jibril’s liberal National Forces Alliance and the Justice and Construction Party so they could form a unity government headed by an independent, an NFA official told AFP.

Abu Shagur blamed his failure on his refusal to bow to NFA and JCP demands for control of a raft of ministries.

Congress members discussed the possibility of such a government Monday when they met in a televised debate on appointing a new premier.

The pressure is on to resolve the impasse since one of the chief tasks of the assembly elected on July 7 is to ensure the appointment of a transitional government to run Libya for 12 months until elections can be held under a new constitution.

JCP backing gave Abu Shagur a two-vote lead over Jibril, one of the architects of the revolt that toppled Gadhafi, who Islamists view as too secular to guide a conservative Muslim nation.

“Is everyone convinced now that I am not part of the Muslim Brotherhood?” Abu Shagur wrote on Twitter after the national assembly’s motion of no confidence, which was supported by 126 of its 200 members.

A source close to the toppled premier told AFP that “Abu Shagur knew his government team would be rejected even before he pitched the new Cabinet to the assembly.”

Analysts had said he faced an uphill task in forming a new government that would satisfy all regions and political tendencies while also tackling security issues that include supporting the army and disbanding illegitimate militias.

One of the first challenges facing Abu Shagur in his short-lived tenure was the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in second city Benghazi.

He spoke bitterly when he presented his proposed Cabinet to the assembly Sunday.

“It is unfortunate that I am not worthy of the confidence of some because I refused to meet their unrealistic demands,” he declared.

“When I started to amend the composition of the government, I tried to contact the political parties in vain because they had already decided to withdraw their confidence,” he added.

“The first government was not perfect. And we should have discussed and modified it ... [But] the demands made by the representatives were unrealistic: Some wanted specific ministries for their region,” Abu Shagur added.

The technocrat also accused assembly members and political blocs of blackmail, noting that one party had asked for 11 ministers and another for nine, demands he refused to meet out of principle.

The NFA, a coalition of smaller parties led by Jibril, who shot to fame as wartime prime minister in the 2011 conflict, holds 39 of the 80 seats reserved for parties in the national assembly.

The JCP, which was spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood, is the second largest force with 17 seats.

The remaining 120 seats in the national assembly are held by independent representatives whose allegiances remain largely unknown.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 09, 2012, on page 9.

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