Libya's Muslim Brotherhood is threatening to quit the cabinet of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, angry over a visit to Cairo they claim served to legitimize the coup in neighboring Egypt.
The threat further adds to tensions in a country already suffering from a blockade of oil terminals by disgruntled employees that has slashed vital exports and ongoing unrest, accentuated by a car bomb Wednesday in the restive eastern city of Benghazi.
Zeidan travelled to Egypt last week and met interim president Adly Mansour, as well as General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the July 3 popularly-backed coup that ousted President Mohamed Mursi, who hails from Egyptian branch of the Brotherhood.
Following that trip, the Libyan Brotherhood's political arm, the Party of Justice and Construction, issued a statement criticizing the trip.
According to the PJC, it constituted an “open recognition of the coup d'etat and of its instigators, who have committed crimes and violations of human rights” against members of the Egyptian Brotherhood.
The party further accused Zeidan of trying to “distract public opinion from domestic matters” and spoke of his government's “bitter failure” at all levels, particularly in terms of insecurity, corruption and plunging oil production.
But Zeidan struck back, telling a news conference Sunday that his trip was “in the nation's interest,” highlighting close ties with Egypt and underlining the importance of bilateral cooperation, especially in the security field.
He also noted that the Muslim Brotherhood and the PJC had been hostile to his premiership from the outset and that they had only reluctantly joined the government in the first place.
Deputy Prime Minister Awadh al-Barassi, who hails from the PJC, already resigned last month, accusing the government of being dysfunctional.
Party members head the economy, housing, electricity, youth and oil ministries, and a PJC source said that the party's politburo had decided at a meeting on Sunday to consider an eventual withdrawal from government.
PJC chief Mohammed Sawan has sought to play down the significance of the trip to Egypt, instead reproaching Zeidan for failing to reestablish security in the country and form a professional army and police force.
Political analyst Issam al-Faidi acknowledged that “Zeidan's performance is poor”.
“But the criticism by the PJC following the trip demonstrates that, for the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, their connection with the Brotherhood (in Egypt) is stronger than their ties to the nation,” Faidi added.
Since the popular uprising that ousted long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, Libya has been plagued by insecurity, particularly in the eastern city of Benghazi, which was the cradle of the revolution.
On Wednesday, a car bomb exploded outside a building that once housed the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi in what an official said was a warning that diplomats are not safe.
The blast seriously damaged the building but left no casualties, and came on the anniversary of a militant attack on the current US consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the ambassador.
A ministry official said those responsible for it “want to send a message that diplomatic offices are not secure in Benghazi”.
The city has been hit by a wave of deadly attacks in recent months targeting officers in the security force and members of the judiciary, many of whom served with the previous regime.
Attacks have also targeted diplomats and Western interests.
Much of the violence has been attributed to radical Islamists who are deeply rooted in the region.
Added to that are the effects of a strike by security guards at oil terminals that has forced a drop in production to less than 100,000 barrels a day from the average of 1.5 million-1.6 million bpd.
That is leading to daily power and water cuts in the capital, which is also seeing a rise in crime.
Libya Muslim Brotherhood mulls Cabinet withdrawal