Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur joined the Atlantic Council on June 5 for a discussion hosted by the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and moderated by Senior Fellow Karim Mezran.

Libya’s Transition: Prospects for Elections and the Way Forward by Atlantic Council

Libya has made a great deal of progress on the security front since liberation, according to Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur. Despite the recent takeover of the airport by a militia, Abushagur said noted that Tripoli is no longer riddled with militia checkpoints and that generally today there is freedom of movement in the capital with little danger.

The Deputy Prime Minister also highlighted Libya’s economic development since liberation, stating that oil production is approaching pre-revolution numbers at 1.6 million barrels per day. He noted the re-opening of the Libyan stock market and the increased interest in foreign direct investment in the country. He mentioned that the interim government has allocated 1.8 billion Libyan dinars towards economic projects, including youth training for jobs and entrepreneurship, but also recognized that the private sector must play a major role in the economic recovery of the country.

In regards to election preparations, Dr. Abushagur outlined the success of the interim government in its voter registration drive in the run-up to the national election, registering 2.8 million people at 1600 registration centers, accounting for some 90 percent of eligible voters, 47 percent of which are women.

Dr. Mezran questioned the optimistic picture painted by Dr. Abushagur, asking him to comment on recent calls from certain groups for a federal system and the declaration made by a conference of federalists in March declaring eastern Libya an autonomous zone within Libya. He also asked why the National Transitional Council (NTC) sent a representative to Cairo to try and mediate between the government and members of Qaddafi family seeking refuge in Egypt, without opening up the question of national reconciliation to the public at-large. Mezran said that such actions may send the message that decision-making in the new Libya is arbitrary – much like decision-making under the old regime.

Responding, Dr. Abushagur stated NTC head Mustafa Abdul Jalil is able to take initiative outside of the interim government’s mandate as the NTC is the body that elects the government and oversees it. He reiterated that the government is open to every Libyan being part of a national reconciliation process so long as they have not committed crimes against the people during the Qaddafi era or during the revolution. He also stated that he believed the current discussions regarding reconciliation should be much broader and inclusive.

On federalism, the Deputy Prime Minister said that the question of choosing a governance system will have to be made by the people as a whole, not a small minority trying to impose its will on the majority. He noted that despite the declaration of autonomy in eastern Libya, more residents of the region turned out in counter-protest to show their support for a united Libya. If in the future Libyans decide to adopt a federal system, it will be done in a democratic way, he said.

Responding to audience questions, Dr. Abushagur commented on controversial Law 37, recently enacted by the NTC, which criminalizes criticism of the revolution or the glorification of Qaddafi and his ideology. Responding to accusations that the law is a “copy and paste” of a similar Qaddafi era law, the deputy prime minister noted that it is currently being challenged by rights groups in Libya before the country’s Supreme Court, an indication that the democratic process is working in Libya.

Dr. Abushagur responded to a question regarding the situation of the Tebu and Tuareg groups that inhabit Libya’s southern regions near Chad, admitting that this would be a long-term problem for any future Libyan government. While some of the Tebu and Tuareg are Libyan citizens, about 40-50,000 are not. He stated that those who are citizens of Libya will be allowed to partake in elections, the right of all Libya citizens. However, he noted that non-citizens will not be allowed to vote, and that there is a process in place in order to become a Libyan citizen.

He also highlighted the government’s efforts to recruit new members to the country’s nascent military and police forces, as well as retain former military and police officers with relevant skills. He said the government was recruiting militia members for six-month training programs and sending new recruits abroad for training in other countries.

Dr. Abushagur cited the success of local council elections that have been implemented across Libya, which have proceeded smoothly and successfully in places like Misrata and Benghazi. The national conference will deal with issues of a national scale, including writing the constitution and deciding how to govern the country, and any related administrative decisions. Local councils will continue to be allowed to organize their local elections.

On aid and assistance from the international community, Abushagur reiterated that the government was grateful and appreciative of the help of the international community, NATO, and other Arab nations in helping to secure liberation. He said that the UN and EU were helping the government prepare for elections and stated that the government would like further assistance in police training and capacity building, particularly in healthcare infrastructure from the international community. For the US in particular, the Deputy Prime Minister noted that its priorities center on border security and institution-building, particularly tackling corruption.

Responding to reports over a possible postponement in elections, Abushagur said that the decision ultimately rests with the election commission that is independent of the government. However, he reiterated that the government’s position was that elections need to be conducted on time and that a delay would only occur for technical reasons. He expects elections to be held before Ramadan, but the commission would make a final decision in the coming week.

On the economy, the Deputy Prime Minister said that the government is restructuring the Libyan Investment Authority, and is pursuing its frozen assets under Qaddafi. He also said that some countries were slower than others in unfreezing funds, but assessed that there was some USD 60-70 billion to recover to help reconstruction efforts. Dr. Abushagur stressed the need for the country to use its human resources to help decrease Libya’s dependence on oil revenues and the predominance of the oil sector in the country’s economy.

Related Experts: Karim Mezran