The power struggle among Libya’s rebels took a dramatic turn on Monday night as they suspended their top executives – those responsible for finance, defence, interior and other portfolios – and promised to appoint a new cabinet by the end of the week.
At least two or three senior figures are expected to lose their jobs in the shuffle, apparently designed to quell the anger of factions loyal to a rebel leader assassinated under mysterious circumstances.
The killing of General Abdel Fatah Younis last month highlighted the divisions between the urban professionals who started the revolution, and the Islamist volunteers who now provide a large portion of its muscle. The shuffle will likely remove key leaders blamed by Gen. Younis’s family for this death; not only will this appease his relatives and his powerful Obeidat tribe, but it may also address the concerns of rebels who saw those figures as being too closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The shuffle comes a few days after an influential group of lawyers and judges, the February 17 Coalition, called for resignations over the handling of the Younis assassination, and the disbanding of militias.
Coalition members expressed concern that the presence of well-armed Islamist groups, and their growing political clout, had caused the revolution to stray from its original goal of pluralistic democracy.
The rebel council was careful to avoid speaking about those sensitive topics while announcing the shuffle, preferring to frame the issue as a matter of competence.
Fathi Al-Ba’ja, head of the rebel council’s political committee, said the move was not a reaction to the demands of the February 17 Coalition.
“It’s not a victory for anybody,” Mr. Al-Ba’ja said in a phone interview. “Some people were not doing a good job, so we are making changes.”
Mr. Al-Ba’ja said the new list of cabinet members would be decided by the end of the week by Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril. The prime minister is now away from the country, a spokesman said, but will return this week to handle the issue personally.
Initial reports speculated that rebel ministers for finance, defence and information will be dismissed, but Mr. Al-Ba’ja said the prime minister has not decided. “We don’t know who he will choose,” he said.
Abdel Hafez Ghoga, deputy head of the rebel council and its chief spokesman, said he believes that Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni will remain safe in his job, but reiterated that Mr. Jibril has final authority.
“We have asked him to reform the executive office, because it made many mistakes,” he said.
Mr. Ghoga also said the rebel council is committed to its recently announced goal of disbanding militias, or brigades, and uniting them under the control of the rebel military. The largest group of brigades, the Union of Revolutionary Forces, has insisted that it will not disband and that it understood the rebel council’s order as applying only to the forces not engaged on the front lines.
Mr. Ghoga, however, said the Union must dissolve. The rebels have consistently declined to talk about the number of fighters under their command, but their formal military structure – composed of ex-soldiers and Special Forces units – is understood to be significantly smaller than the vast numbers within the civilian brigades. The brigades currently answer to the rebels’ defence minister, and it’s not clear whether the rebel council will be successful with integrating them into a more professional group of soldiers.
In some cases, the brigades are composed of Islamists who suffered at the hands of Libyan forces during decades of oppression, which may prevent the two groups from co-operating.
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