But the government’s action is unlikely to ease fears that the current cabinet crisis is creating a power vacuum which has left observers speculating about the country’s political direction.
In short, is Libya “teetering into a maelstrom of factionalism and extremism” or is it ‘far too early to predict the demise of the Libyan democratic experiment”?
The US Embassy attacks and the current political stasis have heightened concern “that, without a strong authority in the capital to glue the fractured nation together, Libya could face explosive violence from extremists and even the remnants of factions loyal to the slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi,” writes TIME’s Vivienne Walt.
“I predict that what’s left of the government will implode,” says Rami el-Obeidi, a former intelligence chief for the Libyan rebels. “If there is no central power in Tripoli there will be no safe area in the country.” July’s elections to the General National Congress produced a surprise victory for the relatively liberal National Forces Alliance and a correspondingly heavy defeat for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party. But the defeat of Mahmoud Jibril, the NFA’s candidate for prime minister, on 12 September, led to his replacement by deputy prime minister Mustafa Abushagur.
“Is this a case study in Libyan dysfunction or a testament to the depth of Libya’s conversion to democratic practices? Only time will tell, but there are significant arguments to be made on both sides,” they contend:
Political parties or regions demanding a certain number of ministers and then refusing to participate entirely in a government if their demands are not met is not conducive to running a country in crisis. It would lead to the warlordisation of Libya with the central authority controlling no more than a portion of the capital.
The state’s inability to rein in Islamist and other militias threatens to undermine Libya’s democratic prospects, as anticipated in a report from the National Endowment for Democracy which anticipated the country’s transitional challenges.
A lifelong anti-Qaddafi dissident, Abushagur appeared to be a strong candidate to head the country’s first democratic government, but he failed to build a political base that could either draw on or counter strong regional and tribal loyalties.
His removal points to a degree of immaturity among the new political class, says Henry Smith, a Middle East and North Africa analyst at Control Risks. The parties responsible for the current impasse are “essentially holding the national political process to ransom with parochial demands for representation.”
The country’s politicians are essentially divided between those who support the Muslim Brotherhood — whom Abushagur included in his Cabinet — and those who do not, like Jibril, says Ethan Chorin, a former U.S. diplomat in Tripoli and author of Exit the Colonel, a new book on last year’s revolution:
There are also divisions between the returned exiles, like Abushagur, and those who spent years living under Gaddafi, as both Baja and Jibril did. Abushagur’s status as a U.S. citizen had also become a source of suspicion among many Libyans.
“All have become points of contention,” says Chorin. “The Benghazi attack has heightened the pitch of these quarrels.” With the NFA fracturing and reportedly in back-channel negotiations with the Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party, the parties may yet “produce a solid unity government able to take the necessary bold decisions to crack down on the militias and renew major public infrastructure projects,” Pack and Cook suggest:
It must also be remembered that despite the cabinet crisis there is not a complete power vacuum in Libya. The democratically elected Congress is still in place and despite the terrorist attack on the American mission, Libyans have spontaneously united to denounce violence and rebuild their nation.
“It is far too early to predict the demise of the Libyan democratic experiment,” they conclude.