TOBRUK, Libya: Libyan lawmakers, gathered far from the country’s chaos and warring militias, have elected a judge as the new parliament speaker.
Ageila Saleh Eissa narrowly defeated his rival for the post, Abu-Bakr Baeira, in a 77-74 vote late Monday night from among 158 lawmakers who convened the parliament’s inaugural session in the eastern city of Tobruk.
Weeks of fighting in the capital, Tripoli, and the nation’s second-largest city, Benghazi, have killed more than 230 people and forced most foreigners and diplomats to leave Libya. Because of the violence in Tripoli and Benghazi, the parliament session was held in Tobruk, an anti-Islamist stronghold and a militia-free zone.
Eissa is the country’s third parliament speaker since the downfall and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in the 2011 uprising and civil war. He held several judicial posts in the east under Gadhafi but his political affiliation is unknown. Opponents, however, accuse him of being a Gadhafi loyalist.
The Tobruk parliament meeting was dominated by opponents of Islamists, underscoring the defeat suffered in recent elections by factions of political Islam who previously led a majority in the house. Islamist factions and their allies did not attend the session.
In the weeks leading up the session, Islamist militias, armed wings of Islamist factions and cities allied to them launched a violent offensive, battling with rivals in Tripoli and overwhelming much of Benghazi.
Opponents accuse Islamists of pushing the country closer to a civil war to make up for their election losses. The Islamists, for their part, claim they are battling remnants of Gadhafi’s regime.
The speaker of the previous parliament, Nouri Abu-Sahmein, an Islamist-leaning lawmaker, declared the new parliament’s inaugural session as “illegal” since it took place despite his insistence that lawmakers convene in Tripoli.