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Libya's new charter can shoot down contentious law

Wednesday - 5/8/2013, 6:03pm  ET

FILE - In this Friday, March 2, 2007 file photo, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi holds a copy of the Green Book during a debate on the sidelines of celebrations marking the 30-year anniversary of the declaration of the "jamahiriya," or "rule of the masses", in Sabha, Libya. A new law that excludes former officials of the Moammar Gadhafi era from public office is dividing Libya and deepening the turmoil that has plagued the country since the civil war that ousted the erratic leader. Passed by lawmakers essentially at gunpoint, it bans not just those who held office but even clerics who glorified the dictator and researchers who worked on his notorious political tract, the Green Book. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)

Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- A new law that excludes former officials of the Moammar Gadhafi era from public office is dividing Libya and deepening the turmoil plaguing the country since the 2011 civil war that ousted the erratic leader.

Passed by parliament Sunday essentially at gunpoint -- heavily armed militias were parked outside government buildings and refused to leave until it was approved -- the law bans from politics not only those who held office but clerics who glorified the dictator and researchers who worked on his notorious ideological tract, the Green Book.

The measure is one more symbol of the divided society that has emerged after Gadhafi in the oil-rich North African nation, stalling its troubled transition to democracy.

The collapse of central state authority and the already weakened military under Gadhafi has left successive governments without strong and decisive law enforcement bodies and forced them to lean on militias, formed initially from rebel forces that fought Gadhafi, to fill the security vacuum.

Legal experts as well as supporters and opponents of the new law note that it can be overridden if it's not included in a new constitution that has yet to be drafted. The parliament itself is temporary, with its main mission being the formation of a panel to write the charter that will result in new elections.

"This parliament and this government are transitional and therefore any decrees that are passed under transitional bodies become invalid," said veteran lawyer Abdullah Banoun. "Only after the new constitution passes, and we know how Libya will look in the future, only then can parliament debate laws like that."

According to a timeframe set by the transitional government during the eight-month civil war, the new constitution was supposed to have been drafted by November 2012. But the process stalled amid a struggle between two factions in parliament -- a group of mostly Islamists and their rivals over formation of the Cabinet.

In the meantime, many senior politicians and former Gadhafi-era officials who defected to the rebel side may lose their posts.

Banoun supports the idea of purging Gadhafi-era officials but objects to the passage of the law under pressure from the militias, which are comprised of former rebels who have refused to lay down their arms and hold sway in the absence of a strong military or police force.

"The law in itself is a legal violation because parliament passed it while it was under a state of terrorism and intimidation," Banoun said.

After the militia groups ended their siege of government buildings, Prime Minister Ali Zidan promised a Cabinet reshuffle and praised them Wednesday as "revolutionaries."

He said his government would look into the backgrounds of all senior officials and fire those banned by the new law.

Under the legislation, anyone with ties to the former regime would be barred for 10 years from state institutions, including the military, police, judiciary, local councils, universities, financial oversight bodies or media institutions.

The law bans anyone who held a post in or "behaved" in a way that served and prolonged Gadhafi's regime.

This includes participants in the coup that overthrew Libya's monarchy in 1969, members of the notorious Revolutionary Guards that hunted down Gadhafi's opponents, legislators in the Gadhafi-era parliament, members of local councils, ambassadors, heads of student unions, those with business ties to Gadhafi family members, employees of state-run media and those who took part in failed reform efforts by Gadhafi's son and heir apparent, Seif al-Islam.

Also targeted are those who studied and researched the Green Book, which laid out Gadhafi's vision for rule by the people, but ultimately put all power in his hands alone.

Also banned are Libyans who cooperated with security agencies and violated human rights, those who glorified Gadhafi and promoted his Green Book and ultraconservative Muslim clerics and others who opposed the 2011 civil war that led to Gadhafi's capture and killing.

Supporters of the law say such sweeping measures are needed to allow state institutions to develop free of the influence and corruption that plagued the Gadhafi era.

Critics say it perpetuates the regime's practice of excluding a large bloc of Libya's more than 6 million people from political life.

Opponents have dubbed the law "de-Gadhafization," and say it is reminiscent of what happened in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that ousted Saddam Hussein. Under that policy, Iraqis with ties to Saddam's ruling Baath Party lost their jobs, effectively draining the country of the most qualified and skilled bureaucrats.

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