New Concerns About Libya’s Fledgling Government As It Shuts Out Pro-Western Liberals

By Patrick Goodenough | October 4, 2012 | 5:56 AM EDT

Libyan prime minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

( – One day after Libya’s top lawmaker appeared to back down – under criticism from fundamentalists – over the need for a secular state, the country’s prime minister-elect on Wednesday submitted a cabinet that does not include a single member of the country’s pro-Western liberal coalition.

Also on Wednesday, Libya’s central bank governor confirmed plans to push for a shari’a-compliant banking system. Reuters quoted Saddek Elkaber as saying on the sidelines of a banking meeting in Kuwait that demand for the changes was so high he hoped the new rules would be in place by the end of this year.

Together, the developments add new concerns to those voiced over the months since the overthrow of the Gadaffi dictatorship about the future direction the North African country may take – concerns dramatically underscored by the deadly September 11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

The proposed cabinet could still change as lawmakers consider each nomination on Thursday, but the 28 names put forward by Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur thus far exclude any from the National Forces Alliance (NFA), a liberal coalition headed by former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril. There is also only one woman among the nominees: Summaya Mahmoud Baltief is proposed as social affairs minister.

The proposed ministers include several from the Muslim Brotherhood, which operates in Libya under the name Justice and Construction Party (sometimes translated as Justice and Development Party).

The NFA was by far the most popular party in legislative elections last July, winning 48 percent of the vote and taking 39 seats in the General National Congress (GNC), Libya’s parliament. In second place was the Muslim Brotherhood party, taking 10,3 percent of the vote and 17 GNC seats.

Abushagur, the prime minister-elect, is an independent who was elected by the GNC on September 12, the day after American ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Benghazi attack.

Why his proposed cabinet includes no NFA members was not immediately clear. The English-language Tripoli Post reported earlier this week that a meeting Monday between Abushagur and Jibril ended with an agreement that the NFA would get three portfolios, including possibly the coveted post of foreign minister.

The list submitted to the GNC Wednesday did not include a foreign minister, and the independent online Libya Herald reported that the post would be held by Abushagur for the meantime.

Earlier it was reported that the foreign minister position could go to Ibrahim Dabbashi, a diplomat who served at Libya’s mission to the U.N. in New York until he publicly repudiated Muammar Gaddafi in February 2011. (Before his defection, Dabbashi had served as the frequently controversial face of the regime, using its temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council to equate Israeli policies to those of the Nazis and defend Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir against allegations of war crimes in Darfur.)

Early this week the speaker of the GNC, Mohammed Magarief, provoked a storm with comments, given in a newspaper interview on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, reiterating his view that Libya should be a secular state.

Asked about the role of shari’a in the new constitution being drafted for Libya, he told the London-based, pan-Arabic Al Hayat newspaper that the state should be secular, but added as well that its laws should not clash with Islam.

The first part of that answer angered Islamists at home, with Muslim Brotherhood lawmakers walking out of parliament in protest on Tuesday. Hours later Magarief offered a televised apology, saying it would be up to the people of Libya to decide on the constitution.

He did add, however, that “it is obvious that our reality has no room for secularism or theocracy,” the Libya Herald reported.

Magarief is leader of a small party generally viewed as the most liberal in Libya’s political spectrum.

The Obama administration last year played down concerns about shari’a forming the basis of new constitutions in Libya and other “Arab spring” countries, with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stating that the term shari’a “has a broad application and is understood differently in different places and by different commentators.”

“We’ve seen various Islamic-based democracies wrestle with the issue of establishing rule of law within an appropriate cultural context,” she told a briefing last October, in response to questions about Libya.

“But the number one thing is that universal human rights, rights for women, rights for minorities, right to due process, right to transparency be fully respected.”

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow