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Libya: Maiteeq steps down peacefully after a tense month for al-Thinni

By John Hamilton
Posted on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 11:19

Maiteeq was elected prime minister by the General National Congress (GNC) in early May in controversial circumstances, after his predecessor Abdullah al-Thinni – a former defence minister from the western town of Zintan – resigned following an attack on his family.

Al-Thinni had agreed to remain as caretaker prime minister but was unwilling to give way to a successor without a clear mandate.

The general acceptance of the court’s decision restored a degree of authority and unity after a chaotic month during which the country had two rival prime ministers, with a third claimant – Ali Zeidan – still insisting from exile that he had been removed from power in March by an illegal vote.

In early June, with rumours circulating widely that the court would decide in his favour, al-Thinni shifted his cabinet to the Cyrenaican town of Al Bayda.

He presented the trip as a routine visit to enable him to better understand the problems of eastern Libya.

However, with the dispatch of a ministerial delegation to Cairo, many observers speculated that Egypt’s newly elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi might be preparing to back al-Thinni in a concerted move against Muslim Brotherhood-aligned forces in Libya.

The disciplined withdrawal of Maiteeq and his supporters – who had earlier taken control of the prime minister’s office in Tripoli at gun-point – avoided the scenario where an Islamist administration remained in control of Tripoli-based institutions while a rival authority under al-Thinni established itself in the east.

The general who couldn’t sit still

The next test of these divisions was only weeks away. On 25 June, voters were expected to go to the polls to elect the GNC’s successor.

Its sole function will be to appoint a government to run the country while the constitutional assembly drafts a constitution.

It is not certain that these new institutions will be allowed to complete their work.

Libya’s Islamists are afraid to back down in case they are subjected to an Egypt-style anti-Brotherhood purge.

Meanwhile, the secularists are equally intimidated by what they regard as the infiltration of political Islam into the institutions of government and the security forces, which are effectively controlled by revolutionary militias.

The conflict between the military and Islamist groups in Cyrenaica adds another level to these political differences.

The unauthorised counter-terrorism offensive launched by retired General Khalifa Haftar against Ansar al-Sharia and its allies in early May was seen by the Maiteeq government as an attempted coup.

However, many tribal and military groups in the east have backed the campaign, some of them claiming that elements in the GNC have been supporting armed Islamist groups and their assassination of senior military officers.

Together, Haftar and al-Thinni threaten to eclipse Ibrahim al-Jathran, whose blockade of oil export terminals has dominated federalist politics in eastern Libya for the past 10 months.

Al-Jathran welcomed the court’s approval of the al-Thinni government while cautiously backing Haftar’s actions.

Amongst these rivalries and conflicts, it is not clear if the national dialogue established earlier this year will find any space for compromise. ●

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