Fears in Libya as Muslim Brotherhood rise to power

The recent appointment of an Islamist-backed prime minister bolsters fears that political life will be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood

Mustapha Ajbaili

Published: Updated:

The controversial appointment of Libya’s new Prime Minister Ahmad Maiteeq, following a chaotic vote, has raised fears of growing Muslim Brotherhood clout in the oil-rich North African nation.

The 42-year-old businessman, who hails from a wealthy family based in the city of Misrata, had won 113 out of 185 votes but failed to garner the 120 quorum needed to be confirmed as prime minister.

As a result, the voting was extended until he was able to win eight more votes in a step dismissed as illegitimate by many in the General National Congress (GNC) - the Libyan parliament.

Abdullah al-Qumati, a member of the General Congress Party, described the voting process as unconstitutional and illegitimate.

“Libya does not want a person similar to Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. Ahmad Maiteeq did not win the needed vote quorum and the extension of voting went against the constitution and was illegitimate,” Qumati told Al Arabiya News.

In Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki lost the parliamentary election in 2010 by two seats to a rival alliance, yet he formed a coalition government and became prime minister.

Sharif al-Wafi, another GNC member, also dismissed Maiteeq’s confirmation as prime minister, condemning what he said was the “monopoly by one ideology” of Libya’s political life, in reference to Islamist parties led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party (JCP).

“This goes against the Libyan revolution’s aspiration for freedom and democracy,” he told Al Arabiya.

The GNC member said the speaker of the house - who named Maiteeq as prime minister - was “kidnapped” by the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies.

“No reasonable man can sign the decision to appoint Maiteeq as prime minister,” he added.

A ‘comic film’

Libyan writer Mohammad al-Houni described Maiteeq’s election as a “comic film directed by the Muslim Brotherhood and Libyan Fighting Group,” a sub-state armed group which operated in the country.

He said Libya is currently caught in a “dark tunnel” of Islamic extremism and needs another revolution to return to the path of democracy.

“We cannot, in any case, make Libya come out of this dark tunnel unless people come out by [the] hundreds and thousands to say to the Muslim Brotherhood and to al-Qaeda: Enough,” he said.

But Izz Al-Din Aqeel, from the Libyan Republican Coalition, sought to dispel fear that Maiteeq would be serving a Muslim Brotherhood-led Islamist project.

“What I understand is that Maiteeq is not a Muslim Brotherhood member, but that he is the product of an alliance between various Islamist groups,” Aqeel said during an interview on Al Arabiya News channel Wednesday.

In his first speech after GNC speaker Nouri Abu Sahmein confirmed him as prime minister, Maiteeq vowed on Tuesday to empower state institutions and restore order.

Speaking on state television, Maiteeq listed security as his top priority.

“Imposing state authority, control and sovereignty on the country’s soil and building the security and military institutions,” were top priorities, Maiteeq said.

He noted that national reconciliation, decentralization and the restructuring of government services and the economy were next in line in terms of his priorities.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s role

The Muslim Brotherhood’s JCP chief Mohammad Sawan has said that his party will seek compromise with rival parties to form “a consensual constitution.”

He denied seeking to exclude rival political blocs within the parliament and denied any aims to impose the Muslim Brotherhood’s political plans on others.

The political wing of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood was established in 2012 and has developed to be a major political force in Libya.

Internal disputes within the rival National Forces Alliance and the political isolation law targeting former Qaddafi officials weakened the liberal National Forces Alliance, allowing the Muslim Brotherhood’s JCP to consolidate its grip on Libya’s political life.

The party’s first national congress was held at luxury hotel in Tripoli on May 1 and was attended by hundreds of supporters from all parts of the country, in an event that signaled it as a thriving political force.

A Foreign Policy report this week described the JCP as possibly the sole party to emerge from the country’s political turbulence more solid than it was two years ago.

“None of Libya’s political neophytes has emerged from the chaos unscathed. However, the JCP appears to have largely escaped the infighting that has all but atomized the National Forces Alliance,” the Foreign Policy report said.

In March, the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies in the conservative al-Watan Party, whose leader Abdelhakim Belhadj once headed the now defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, led the ouster of former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.

Zeidan was a vehement critic of the Muslim Brotherhood and the group had previously attempted to weaken his position by withdrawing its ministers from Zeidan’s coalition government in January this year.

Following Zeidan’s resignation, Abdallah al-Thinni was appointed as interim prime minister. But after unknown gunmen attacked his home in Tripoli in April, al-Thinni submitted his resignation.

The Muslim Brotherhood and hardline Islamists have been blamed for threats made against al-Thinni.

The group was also blamed for the July 2003 assassination of Abdulsalam al-Mesmari, a Benghazi-based human rights activist and vocal critic of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Angry protesters at the time attacked and burned offices of the Muslim Brotherhood and its JCP in Tripoli and Benghazi.

Ever since, the Islamist movement has faced growing suspicion among the general public and its critics have seemingly become more emboldened by the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood in neighboring Egypt.

Libyan writer al-Houni said the group and its radical Islamist allies seek to establish an Islamic emirate in Libya. “I think they are on track to achieving this goal,” he said.