Libyan Parliament Speaker Abu-Sahmayn Interviewed on Domestic Situation
Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Nouri Abu Sahmein: is a Berber, an indigenous ethnic group of North Africa. Today, most Berbers live in Algeria and Morocco. The Berbers make up about 10 per cent of Libya`s population. They were persecuted under Muammar Gaddafi. They live primarily in the mountains southwest of the capital or, like the Tuaregs, in the southern desert.
Text of interview over the telephone with Nuri Abu-Sahmayn, speaker of the General National Congress in Libya and commander in chief of the armed forces, by Khalid Mahmud in Cairo; date not given: “Abu-Sahmayn tells Al-Sharq al-Awsat: I am a Libyan, a Muslim, an Amazigh, and an Arab; I am not associated with the Muslim Brothers; Abu-Sahmayn says we have intelligence information that Al-Qadhafi`s followers are involved in the recent disturbances”
In an interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Nuri Abu-Sahmayn, speaker of the General National Congress (the Parliament) in Libya, affirmed that some followers of the late Colonel Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi`s regime are involved in the recent incidents and bloody armed clashes in the country. He disclosed that groups of them have been arrested in several Libyan towns and that they are being investigated. He added that the Libyan authorities have documented intelligence information in this regard. He pointed out that his country will not permit associates of the former regime to influence political life or spread again what he described as the culture of injustice and tyranny. Nevertheless, Abu-Sahmayn - who is the actual president and commander in chief of the Libyan Armed Forces by virtue of the position to which he was elected last Tuesday - affirmed that the current situation in Libya is not bad. He emphasized that the efforts exerted by the transitional government headed by Dr Ali Zaydan have succeeded in imposing total control over the clashes that erupted recently in the center of Tripoli, the Libyan capital.
In an exclusive interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat over the telephone from Tripoli - the first such interview with any local or Arab or international media outlet - Abu-Sahmayn said that the likelihood is to hold an imminent ministerial reshuffle on Zaydan`s cabinet in order to deal with the delinquency in some ministries. Abu-Sahmayn denied that he is a member of or is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement. He pointed out that there is nothing wrong in agreeing with any faction or political party on the constants that aim at reconstructing and preserving the future and security of the homeland. He said it is unlikely that his presence as person from the Amazigh minority in Libya would “Amazighize” the Libyan state. However, he emphasized that the Amazigh language should be treated as a cultural component of the homeland. Following is the text of the 30-minute interview on the telephone:
(Mahmud) As the number one man in Libya now, what is your opinion on the current situation?
(Abu-Sahmayn) We have to admit that we are in an extraordinary stage in general. We are facing security circumstances that may change every now and then and that may lead to a level causing us anxiety, However, in general, it is not a feeling of anxiety that others may think is due to a state of insecurity. There are things that we expect every now and then; however, in general, they are under the control of the state. The people in general are satisfied in this regard. As we follow up on events, surprises may occur in a specific area once in a while. Things may happen in Tripoli or Benghazi or in the south. However, they are all under control of the state. They have not caused us insecurity at the level of national security.
(Mahmud) Excuse me, however, the ordinary citizen does not share this peace of mind and confidence in the ability of the security and military organs to control the situation.
(Abu-Sahmayn) The ordinary citizen compares these incidents with other things that provide him peace of mind. The ordinary citizen is leading a normal life in schools, the universities, the market, and the beach, particularly during the summer season. He may be upset with some issues but in general he is satisfied. When I say this, I also pass through very normal situations. I experienced this phase as a member of the General National Congress and as its rapporteur; however, I was not isolated from the normal life of the citizen. First Deputy Speaker Dr Jum`ah Atiqah, Second Deputy Speaker Dr Salih al-Makhzum, and members of the presidential office - the observers, aides, and official spokesman - know very well that I reside in Zawarrah. Since 8 August, I go there every Thursday in my private vehicle. I drive it myself although I am a member of the presidency and I do not have private bodyguards. This is not out of defiance of the realities, but I assure you that we have this reassurance. And this is exactly what happened.
(Mahmud) Do you affirm that the bloody incidents in Tripoli have been put under control and that they will not recur?
(Abu-Sahmayn) To a certain degree, control was imposed the evening before last. We are very reassured; the Interior Ministry and the Defense Ministry are in total control of the situation. Moreover, the social components in that region from the kinfolks of Abu-Salim know this very well. We are now treating our wounds and consoling ourselves and the families that lost loved ones in this incident. We are trying to understand the nature of these incidents and we have formed specialized committees to investigate what happened. But the whole situation is now under control.
(Mahmud) Prime Minister Dr Ali Zaydan accused agents of the former regime of involvement in these incidents. Do you share the same opinion?
(Abu-Sahmayn) Yes; the prime minister stated this fact and although not all of us made the same statement, we are aware of this fact. We are very well aware that our security is targeted from inside and outside the country by some agents of the former regime. They are trying to spread chaos and lack of public reassurance. They are trying to gain positions or make some citizens feel that Libya is not calm. We are very well aware of this. They definitely have a long hand in these incidents. However, I assure you that Libya is safe, with God`s permission.
(Mahmud) But some people think this is scarecrow. All the men of the former regime are either in jail or in exile. So who are you talking about?
(Abu-Sahmayn) The scarecrow is playing a role in our lives; but what is the size of this scarecrow? This is what we are trying to find. We think it is a big scarecrow that is playing a role. They believe in this but we believe that they are playing a role. They think that this role of theirs will be positive and will convince the public. From the theoretical or legal aspect, we do not fight against ideas. But we do not give a chance to those who were tyrannical oppressors in the past who managed to use their ideas, powers, and the accomplishments of this country that they gave to themselves. We will not give them the chance to enter the state or politics not only through political isolation laws but also through the will of our great people after this blessed revolution. They have no role in planting the old culture that reflects injustice and tyranny.
(Mahmud) Excuse me, but is the talk about involvement of agents of the former regime mere speculations or documented intelligence information?
(Abu-Sahmayn) We have intelligence information; in fact, we have specific names. The information we have has led to the arrest of several groups in several towns; they are under investigation.
(Mahmud) Who from Al-Qadhafi`s followers outside the country represent a real threat to Libya?
(Abu-Sahmayn) I do not care about specific names; the world knows all those that played a role. We are very well aware of this. We are following up with the countries where they reside with legal measures to have them extradited and referred to the courts. This too is a role that specialized organs are playing in this regard.
(Mahmud) To whom do you owe your present position? It has been said that you are associated with the MB. Are you in contact with them?
(Abu-Sahmayn) I am first indebted to God Almighty for this gift and I pray that God Almighty would help me succeed in my endeavors. I am also indebted to the Libyan people who gave me their trust through the members of the General National Congress who were elected democratically. The ties that link me to all the parties whether Muslim Brothers or others are the constants of building this homeland. If such constants connect me to the Muslim Brothers or the National Forces Coalition or any other party then I am honored to have such connections. Everything that ties me to any party or elite group or thinker is for the same of this homeland. I have no objections to be associated with this or that. I came to the General National Congress from the town of Zawwarah as an independent member. I have never joined any party in my life. If I did in the past or if that was a secret, I do not think anyone believes it now. I am present and if I shared opinions or ideas with others in order to build this homeland then I am proud of it.
(Mahmud) Is it true that the MB are imposing their hegemony on the political scene in Libya?
(Abu-Sahmayn) I do not think that the MB or others are imposing their hegemony on the political scene. We are in the phase of taking steps to build the state. I do not think anyone can claim that he can monopolize such a hegemony. Libya has many currents. It did not have institutions or a party infrastructure. No one can claim otherwise. Some may be thinking of starting a party or developing a party. Yes, the door is open and it will be to anyone that can prove to the Libyans that he can do so.
(Mahmud) You are an Amazigh from a minority that represents only 5% of the total population,. Was your election as speaker of the General National Congress a message of some sort?
(Abu-Sahmayn) First of all, I am proud to say that I am Muslim, I am Libyan, I am an Amazigh, and I am an Arab. Libya is united in Islam and the homeland; it is united in the Amazigh and Arab cultures. As human beings we were honored in this life with the Arabic language, the language of the holy Koran, the language of the great messenger (may God`s prayers and peace be upon him). We were honored to have this language that God Almighty chose to spread the message. We are honored that from this language of the holy Koran and the prophet`s Sunnah, we take our rights and know our duties. If the Amazigh language is one of the tools to unify this homeland, we are proud of this culture and language. We are working to entrench our rights in it so it would act as one of the tools for national cohesion that would educate our people on its purity over the years. However, the rumors that are being spread by some that it is one way of planting an ethnic culture is not in the culture of our magnanimous people.
(Mahmud) Does your presence at the head of authority mean the Amazighization of Libya, if I may use the term?
(Abu-Sahmayn) No one and no speaker of the General National Congress can Amazighize or enable others to promote only the Arabic language. Arabic is the official state language and is the language of our culture and civilization. The Amazigh language was fought in this country and marginalized by the former regime. It would be our national duty if we find a way to enable those who wish to learn it or to help the state in spreading this culture. However, there is no contradiction between the two languages. If we revive an ancient language and give it what is its due, we would be expressing the words of God Almighty when He said: “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors; verily in that are signs for those who know” (Al-Rum (The Romans) 30:22) and “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, so you may know each other (Al-Hujurat (The Dwellings) 49:13)”
(Mahmud) Have you inherited an easy or difficult legacy from your outgoing predecessor Dr Muhammad al-Muqrif?
(Abu-Sahmayn) I respect and appreciate Dr Muhammad al-Muqrif. He is a patriotic struggler and I have known him to be a good man when I was a student in Benghazi from 1974 to 1978. I also studied his articles in the early 1980s in Britain. I know that he is targeted by the former regime and we consider him an oppositionist. I sensed his dignity and wisdom when he joined the General National Congress; he knew his duties and his rights. I cannot hold him responsible for all the mistakes that that occurred against him when he was speaker of the General National Congress. However, he did not have specific bylaws that outlined the parameters of his powers. Perhaps he had his own vision in running the general congress. Now that he has left his post in the General National Congress, we appreciate and respect him. It is my duty to recount his good attributes. I can assure you that we are in a specific period in history where you cannot dispense with anyone - regardless of whether he was included in the political isolation or not - as long as he is not found to have corrupted political life or made illicit material gains or contributed to the killing of Libyans. His struggle history is well known. He had the opportunity to do something for this country and he grasped it. We are very confident that he has a lot more to offer to the homeland.
(Mahmud) Do you think that Zaydan`s government should leave or change itself, particularly in view of the criticisms against it?
(Abu-Sahmayn) I prefer the term the government that Zaydan heads rather than Zaydan`s government. The government that Dr Zaydan heads as prime minister is a government elected by the General National Congress and enjoys all the legal legitimacy. It is the duty of the national congress to monitor the performance of the government, its tasks, and the implementation of its promises. It is also its duty to evaluate the performance of the ministries or for him to be evaluated as prime minister. It is the right of the General National Congress to review any ministerial portfolio or the prime minister himself. This is open space to the General National Congress and there is wide scope to do that.
(Mahmud) So, is it likely to reshuffle the government soon?
(Abu-Sahmayn) The likelihood always exists. The prime minister himself believes that amendments will be made and he made such amendments. The General National Congress will review emergency solutions in some ministries that suffer from clear delinquency in the current situation. We are looking into that; it is one of our priorities.
(Mahmud) You have a few months before the transitional period ends at the end of the year. Will you ask for an extension for the term of the General National Congress since the remaining time is not sufficient to draft the constitution?
(Abu-Sahmayn) I do not think it will be sufficient, unfortunately. When the constitution was amended from appointment to election during the term of the previous transitional council, this period was not taken to account. The transitional council talked about appointment and thought that the period was sufficient. However, after the election of the General National Congress, the fourth amendment took place that stipulated that the constituent body of the constitution should be directly elected. When civic society institutions and cultural elites contested this article, the Supreme Court took five months to rule on this issue. So this took a long time, but this period will be added, of course. As members of the General National Congress, we hoped that the period would be at the end of this year in accordance with the constitutional announcement. However, the situation and the realities force us to postpone for a later period in 2014.
(Mahmud) Will public opinion accept this extension?
(Abu-Sahmayn) Definitely; when the public elected the members of this national congress they felt that they can manage this stage. There is no material or personal gain in the extension; it is a responsibility that we all shoulder. Public opinion accepts what is necessitated by the national duty.
(Mahmud) What is the degree of foreign intervention in Libya`s affairs?
(Abu-Sahmayn) I do not think there is any intervention; there are common interests and vision and follow-up just like in various parts of the world and in countries that have common interests and borders. The security situation in any country is important to its neighbors. We follow up on events with the neighboring countries and friendly countries that helped us in the war of liberation. The general principle is reciprocity but on constants. We do not permit foreign intervention by those who are near or far in our affairs,
(Mahmud) Which heads of state and world governments contacted you to congratulate you on your post?
(Abu-Sahmayn) We are passing through a difficult stage. The Turkish prime minister contacted me on the next day and so did Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir. Several heads of state -Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia - sent congratulations through their ambassadors and so did His Majesty the King of Morocco. We appreciate this and we thank them for their appreciation of this stage.
(Mahmud) When will you begin your foreign tours? Which countries will you visit?
(Abu-Sahmayn) Although tours and foreign relations are important, I am tied to the homeland. As head of the General National Congress and as members of the presidential council and members of the general congress, we give priority to travel inside the country to become acquainted with the rights and demands of the citizens first. I try to narrow my foreign trips as much as is required internationally by attending conferences that I have to attend. I will do my best to reduce my visits and their durations as much as possible. The homeland needs efforts in an exceptional internal workshop.
(Mahmud) There are continuous reports about the presence of various intelligence services on the ground as well as eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of officials. What is your opinion on this?
(Abu-Sahmayn) I do not claim that there is no spying; world technology is very advanced. However, from your follow up on media and cultural events, you know very well that there is spying in some very advanced countries, like the United States, Russia, Japan, China, and advanced Arab countries,. This has become an existing phenomenon; it is reported on by intelligence sources in the world. We do not deny that there is spying. However, we are certain of our work and we work hard to safeguard our secrets. However, we cannot deny the existence of foreign intelligence efforts and we follow up on that as much based on the capabilities available to us. This phenomenon exists on the international level; no one can deny it.
(Mahmud) Are you satisfied with the performance of the intelligence department? Some people are demanding the dismissal of the intelligence chief.
(Abu-Sahmayn) I cannot tell you that I personally am fully familiar with the structure of the intelligence organ. As rapporteur of the General National Congress, it was not my duty to be in contact with the intelligence or military intelligence organs. This is a national duty that we all support. I can assess these matters but from the objective and dynamic angles. No one has a monopoly on the intelligence organ. What is important is for the head of these organs to be a good citizen. If he has defects they can be corrected and if he does not have the capabilities he needs, we should get them to him and help him.
(Mahmud) As speaker of the General National Congress, what do you promise the ordinary citizen and the world around you?
(Abu-Sahmayn) I promise the ordinary citizen to be an ordinary citizen, but determined to do my duty with efficiency. I do not care about presidential protocol or to be viewed as a president. I am a citizen of this great nation who came at an extraordinary period. I feel and sympathize with their needs. I look forward to achieving their aspirations. I look at the smile on the face of a child and I ponder the tear in the eyes of an orphan. I feel the groans of the oppressed, the bereaved moths, the orphans, and the widows. I try to apply the law and justice on the oppressed. I look forward to the stage of national reconciliation and transitional justice without forgetting the injustices of the past. Pardoning does not mean forgetting and forgiveness does not mean disregarding rights.
(Mahmud) How do you spend your day as president of your country? What has changed since you assumed your new position?
(Abu-Sahmayn) Nothing has changed in my life yet. Perhaps the burdens I shoulder have increased in the past three days. I frankly tell you that when I was rapporteur, I had only four or five hours to relax every day. Nevertheless, I was happy because I was able to help my country in this regard.
(Mahmud) I heard that you are an avid reader. What have you read recently?
(Abu-Sahmayn) (Laughing) When I read I hope to read for you after Dr Jum`ah Atiqah introduced me to your writings and I know him to be a writer and a poet. He praised you and praised the Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that we thank for always following up on what is happening in our country.
(Mahmud) Thank you for your time and patience.
(Abu-Sahmayn) I thank you too; I hope you will forgive me because I do not have much time. I have to visit some hospitals. It honors me that my first media appearance is with you.
(Description of Source: London Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online in Arabic -- London Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online in Arabic -- Website of influential London-based pan-Arab Saudi daily; editorial line reflects Saudi official stance; URL: http://www.asharqalawsat.com/)
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Berber elected Libya interim leader
June 25, 2013
A Berber was voted Libya`s interim leader on Tuesday, the first member of the long oppressed minority to hold high office, but he faces huge challenges addressing growing security concerns.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines of a regional security conference in neighbouring Algeria, a top African Union counter-terrorism official warned that post-Kadhafi Libya had become a major transit hub for terrorists.
Nouri Bousahmein, an independent member of the General National Congress (GNC), was elected its head in place of Mohammed Megaryef, who stepped down after a law was adopted barring from politics those who served under veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
He was chosen by the assembly on a second ballot, after leading a nine-candidate first round.
He received 96 out of 184 votes, against 80 for another independent, Al-Sherif al-Wafi.
Libya`s two leading parties -- the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Party of Justice and Construction and the liberal Alliance of National Forces -- did not put forward candidates to head Libya`s highest legislative and executive body.
Bousahmein is a law graduate of the University of Benghazi and worked at the Abu Kamash chemical complex from 1978 to 2000.
He was elected to the GNC from his home town of Zuwara and became a rapporteur of the assembly.
The Berbers make up about 10 percent of Libya`s population. They were persecuted under Kadhafi and continue to feel marginalised under the new regime even though they played a big role in the 2011 uprising.
They live primarily in the mountains southwest of the capital or, like the Tuaregs, in the southern desert.
Megaryef was Libya`s ambassador to India in the 1980s under Kadhafi before he defected to become a leader of the exiled opposition for three decades.
He was elected to head the GNC last August following Libya`s first post-uprising polls in July.
He stepped down at the end of May to comply with the law passed at the beginning of that month barring Kadhafi-era officials, despite it not having yet come into force.
A number of MPs had proposed exempting him from the law, which bans officials who served under Kadhafi between September 1, 1969 and the overthrow of his regime in October 2011.
The tough challenge facing the new interim leader in restoring security to a country that remains awash with weapons left from the uprising was highlighted by a deadly attack on an army checkpoint earlier on Tuesday.
Unidentified gunmen killed six soldiers south of the Mediterranean city of Sirte, Kadhafi`s hometown.
Libya`s authorities are battling to establish military and security institutions capable of restoring law and order and state authority in the face of armed militias who fought Kadhafi`s forces.
The violence has been particularly acute in second-largest city Benghazi, cradle of the uprising, where Islamists launched a deadly attack on the US consulate on last September.
“I have many reports which say Libya has become a major transit hub for the main terrorist groups travelling from one country to another,” the AU`s special representative in charge of counter-terrorism, Francisco Caetano Jose Madeira, said in Algeria.
Madeira said something “extremely dangerous” for the region as a whole.
The vulnerable security situation in Libya and the porousness of its vast desert borders was a key concern at the two-day security meeting in Oran.
“The question of Libya is on everyone`s mind,” the European Union`s representative for the Sahel region, Michel Reveyrand de Menthon said.
The EU has offered to cooperate with Libya on tightening border security but a Western source said the lack of organisation in the country since Kadhafi`s overthrow currently makes such a project “very difficult.”
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