Why Libya’s ‘isolation law’ threatens progress
May 21st, 2013
09:04 AM ET

Why Libya’s ‘isolation law’ threatens progress

By Anas El Gomati, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Anas El Gomati is a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, and director of Sadeq Institute, Libya’s first think tank. The views expressed are his own.

Libya may want to move on from its past, but a law passed earlier this month with the backing of more than 90 percent of lawmakers is the wrong way to go about it.

The “Political Isolation” law would be sweeping enough if it just stuck to the provisions barring anyone that held a senior position in the Gadhafi regime from holding office again for a decade. But it also states that intellectuals, academics, civil servants, security and army officials and leading media personnel should also be barred from doing so. Even exiles and defectors in opposition during Gadhafi’s reign who held senior positions in the distant past could also be barred from serving again for 10 years.

The law, which will effectively be policed by an “Isolation Commission” tasked with vetting officials, was pushed through in the wake of increased activism by Libyan militias. Indeed, militias were quick to seize on the aftermath of the bombing of the French Embassy on April 23, one of a string of attacks in the past year on foreign interests, to help further their agenda. And, even as Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s cabinet attempted to draw up a response for the international community, revolutionary and rogue militias seized four key ministries at gunpoint, demanding that the law be passed.

Yet the sweeping nature of the law – and the power of the new Isolation Commission – should be of considerable concern to those who want to see a stable transition in Libya. After all, if the Commission fully utilizes the powers granted it by the new law, potentially thousands of government officials, civil servants and security personnel could see themselves affected.

Leading figures in the previous regime with close ties to Gadhafi were always bound to feel the brunt of the revolution, but now a significant block of Libya’s leading technocrats could also be affected, including General National Congress Chairman Mohamed Magariaf, who was Libya’s ambassador to India before he defected in 1981. In addition, Prime Minister Ali Zidan and Juma’a Atiga, first deputy of the GNC who served in Saif Gadhafi’s charitable foundation, could also be targeted. This despite the fact that all three men spent time in exile.

More from GPS: Why have we forgotten Libya?

Already, within 24 hours of the law passing, Defense Minister Mohammed Barghati had resigned before being reinstated. The fate of the head of the head of the country’s ground forces, Yousef Mangoush, meanwhile, has already been decided, and he will leave office in the next 30 days.

Unfortunately, the government is unlikely to be able to push back against the arbitrary application of the law – any move by the army or militias loyal to the state to permanently end the siege of government ministries could spark a massive episode of violence, with Libya’s police force and revolutionary Supreme Security Committee being no match for the revolutionary militias.

The long-term fallout from all this could be severe. For a start, national reconciliation is under threat, as are the still fragile political bonds between ministries, the police and the SSC. In addition, members of the army’s border control could be culled across the south, east and west of the country, putting at risk decades of logistical knowledge of the terrain and local tribes.

The new law should be of real concern to the international community, in part because it could undermine domestic security, but also because it could ultimately result in the collapse of the Zidan government.

How should it respond?

The international community can and should support the general process of political reconciliation in spite of the new law, although it will need to tread carefully and avoid issuing overtly strong statements either for or against the law to avoid further politicization within Libya. Meanwhile, immediate technical assistance should be provided to the new Isolation Commission to help soften its reading of the law, which could be done by highlighting best practices from similar experiences in Latin America, Germany, Iraq and South Africa.

But however “gently” the new law is applied by the Commission, large numbers of bureaucrats could be culled, and the international community – especially through the U.N. Service Mission in Libya – should stand ready to provide technical support and skills-based training to inexperienced replacements.

Libya’s troubles did not end with the overthrowing of the Gadhafi regime, and much remains to be done if it is to capitalize on the optimism that marked the revolution in 2011. If other nations want to help Libya rebuild its fortunes, they could start by helping to ensure that Libyan civil society is allowed a free voice for moderation, civility and a democratic future.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Libya

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soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. matslats

    Is Sadeq (Righteousness) a nonpartisan think tank, like RAND?
    What is this supposed to mean?
    >Libya’s troubles did not end with the overthrowing of the Gadhafi regime
    Is Libya less troubled with theiving US armed Islamic radicals in charge than with Socialist Gadafi?

    May 21, 2013 at 11:28 am | Reply
  2. Andrey

    I think France should go in and bomb that law to pieces: no fly zone is still on, is it?

    May 21, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Since Gaddafi's death, many parts of Libya have been plagued by violence and infighting. The government has failed to dismantle militias that formed during and after the war that toppled the long-time leader. The oil giant, BP has taken some non-essential staff out of in Libya after Britain had withdrawn its embassy staff in Tripoli.
    This bill passed by parliament has been criticised for settling scores with remnants of the old regime. As it stands, it will affect currently serving officials and other servicemen in the new government.

    May 22, 2013 at 7:24 am | Reply
  4. 100 % ETHIO

    It seems that, they fought for destructions, but not for progress.

    The lost of lives and the rise of poverty are much higher than Qaddafi era.

    So, the current Libya leaders are unconscious and do not know what to do for Libyan's.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:22 am | Reply
  5. rightospeak

    When I mentioned the book " The Illegal War On Libya" by former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney my comments vanished because they do not conform to our oligarch's propaganda.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:35 am | Reply
  6. sbsb

    Another must must must read along with McKinney's Illegal War on Libya is Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa by Maximilian Forte. I wonder if CNN will block my comment. lol

    May 22, 2013 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  7. MD

    I find the article biased in favour of the people affected by te people affected by the political isolation law. I fear that Sadeq is a biased tink tabk financed by money stolen from Libya, like many post gaddafi media outlets. The demand for political isolation started with victory of the uprising against Gaddafi and succeeded somewhat in getting a body that vetted people for senior posts. However, remnants of the regime found ways around it by simply not submitting themselves to vetting and the current government even ignored orders not to appoint people who played roles in the previous regime. The isolation law had been in discussion for over seven months when freedom fighters, who paid a heavy price for the liberation of Libya, in desperation blockaded ministries that are known to house a large number of pro-Gaddafi officials. And the reader should know what these were involved in: terrorism, assassinations, destabilising other nations, and corruption.

    May 25, 2013 at 7:15 am | Reply

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