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Libyan leaders expected to step down soon

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A political crisis is brewing in Libya with the imminent resignations of the president of the legislature, dozens of lawmakers and as many as eight Cabinet ministers, following the adoption of a law that bans officials who had served under late dictator Moammar Gadhafi from holding public office.

Mohamed al-Megariaf, president of Libya's General National Congress, is expected to step down before the law goes into effect June 6. He was Libya's ambassador to India when he defected in the 1980s.

"There will be political uncertainty because of the fact that most of the people who had any experience in government are being accused of being members of Gadhafi's regime; they are being ostracized," said Karim Mezran, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. "So what you have left is people who have no experience in administration."

"You're talking about tens of thousands of people who will be out of a job," Mr. Mezran added.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has said he will reshuffle his Cabinet in response to the expected departure of more than a half-dozen ministers. Mr. Zeidan worked under Mr. al-Megariaf in New Delhi but is untouched by the law because he held a junior role.

The General National Congress passed the Political Isolation Law under pressure from militias that had laid siege to government ministries in Tripoli and demanded the legislation be approved.

The law bars from public office anyone who held an official position from Sept. 1, 1969, when Gadhafi seized power, until the end of the revolution Oct. 23, 2011. Gadhafi was killed by rebels on Oct. 20, 2011.

Libyans who played a prominent role in the revolution, including former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the rebels' National Transitional Council, will be barred from public office for 10 years under the law.

A Political Positions Standards Implementation Authority will decide who else is affected by the law.

Earlier this month, the U.S., Britain and France expressed concern over the situation in Libya, saying it is vital that the country's institutions operate free from armed intimidation.

"The democratically elected representatives and leaders of the Libyan people must be able to carry out their duties and move forward with the constitution motivated by their responsibility to the Libyans who elected them rather than by the threat of force," the statement from the three countries says.

Defense Minister Mohamed Barghathi offered his resignation soon after the isolation law was passed in protest against what he said was an "assault on democracy" by the militias. Mr. Zeidan eventually persuaded Mr. Barghathi to stay on.

However, Mr. Barghathi, a commander of the air force in the eastern city of Benghazi before he retired in 1994, is expected to lose his job under the new law.

In March, the chairman of Libya's parliamentary human rights committee, Hassan El Amin, fled to London saying militias had threatened to kill him after he criticized their unchecked power and flagrant violations of the law.

"The balance of power belongs to the militias and hooligans on the streets," Mr. El Amin said.

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