CAIRO/BENGHAZI, Libya: The Libyan General National Council, which was replaced in an election in June, reconvened Monday in order to choose an Islamist-backed prime minister, leaving the chaotic country with two rival leaders and assemblies, each backed by armed factions.
The GNC, in which Islamists had a strong voice, has refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of its successor assembly, the House of Representatives, which is dominated by liberals and federalists.
The development came after armed factions from the western city of Misrata, which backed the GNC, forced a rival faction from Zintan out of Tripoli’s main airport Saturday, after a month of fighting that has come to symbolize the country’s deep divisions.
The Zintanis and Misratis joined forces in 2011 to topple Moammar Gadhafi but have now turned their guns on each other, as each group seeks to monopolize power and exploit Libya’s oil resources.
The Misrata-led brigade, backed by an Islamist militia called Operation Dawn, had previously called on the GNC to resume work.
Many in Misrata feel the new parliament – the House of Representatives – does not represent the majority. The Zintan faction opposed the old assembly.
The GNC, which met in the capital Tripoli, elected Omar al-Hassi as its new leader, spokesman Omar Hmeidan said.
Hassi is a lecturer in political science at the University of Benghazi. He was the losing candidate in a GNC election in June for a new prime minister.
A lawmaker who attended the session said 88 deputies voted for the move. Libyan television station Alharar said 94 lawmakers voted. The discrepancy could not be immediately reconciled.
TV stations said the GNC had also voted to sack the current interim House of Representatives government of serving Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, currently residing in the eastern city of Tobruk due to the deteriorating security situation.
Following the vote, a security official in Tripoli said gunmen had stormed the home of Thani in the capital, apparently searching for documents. The gunmen also stormed the homes of at least two leaders from the Zintan militias.
Speaking in a televised interview in Tobruk, Thani slammed the GNC’s election of Hassi, branding the session “illegal.”
His House of Representatives elected Abdel Razzak Nadhuri as new army chief of staff Monday. He declared a “war on terrorists” as he was sworn into office.
“Allow me to declare, from this moment on, war on obscurantists, terrorists and takfiris [extremists],” Nadhuri said.
Nadhuri, who hails from the town of Marj, 1,100 km east of Tripoli, was appointed after his predecessor had been sacked for failing to restore law and order in Tripoli and Benghazi.
The Islamist power grab in Tripoli Monday coincided with a meeting in Cairo of diplomats from countries neighboring Libya, in which the participants called for an international push to disband the myriad of militias.
Libya’s neighbors agreed not to intervene in Libyan affairs to end chaos and clashes, calling instead for a national dialogue, according to the final communiqué issued after the meeting.
“This joint initiative of the neighboring countries is based on the main principles of ... non-intervention in Libya’s domestic affairs,” the statement read.
Libya’s ambassador to Cairo had earlier demanded the international community help protect oilfields, airports and other state assets.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri told the gathering that the developments in Libya threatened the entire region and other parts of the world.
“The developments in Libya have left an impact we have felt on the security of neighboring countries, with the presence and movement of extremist and terrorist groups whose activists are not only limited to the Libyan territories but also spill over to neighboring countries,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the eastern city of Benghazi, one of the main jihadist groups, Ansar al-Shariah, urged other Islamists to unite under its banner Monday. Ansar al-Shariah controls around 80 percent of Benghazi.
The group, which governments in Tripoli and Washington have both branded a “terrorist” organization, urged other Islamists to beware of what it dubbed Western plots that were aimed at “opposing the mujahedeen under the pretext that they are extremists.”
“Unite with the mujahedeen in Benghazi so together we can defend the same objective – a total rejection of any Western plan” for Libya, it said in an online message.