One Week A Prime Minister: The Short Story Of Libya's Former Leader

Jun 9, 2014
Originally published on June 9, 2014 7:46 pm

In Libya, you never know from one week to the next who's going to be prime minister. And when I met with the man in the job last week, it was clear no one is really in charge.

Ahmed Maiteg had only been prime minister a couple of days. He took office under the apparent protection of a militia that supports him, even as another man still claimed the job.

Maiteg, a 41-year-old businessman, was so new in the building that his staff was getting lost.

"We are building our country together, and we would like to have a strong state and strong government. And to have that in a few months is not easy to do it," he said.

And, it turns out, Maiteg isn't likely to be the man to do it: Parliament elected him prime minister last month. But Monday — about a week after he took office — he stepped down after a court ruled his election was unconstitutional.

The fact is, the state is not only not strong, it barely exists. Moammar Gadhafi left behind basically no government institutions or civil society. That left the fighters loyal to varied regions, tribes and ideologies who had taken up arms against Gadhafi — and they refuse to hand over their weapons until there is a real state to keep order.

Many are paid by the state to provide security. But they attacked parliament scores of times to force decisions in their favor, and sometimes at the behest of the squabbling political leaders themselves.

And on top of all that, a rogue general in the east, Khalifa Hifter, is using militias within the patchwork of security forces to conduct his own military offensive against what he calls Islamist extremists. No one in authority can stop him.

And another problem facing the doomed prime minister is that his predecessor refused to step down. Maiteg shrugged it off.

"This is normal for a country like Libya. We're still a new democracy," he said. "We have to understand this chair is not for anybody. Everybody has to sit in it, finish his time and go. This message has to be clear for everybody."

Parliamentarian Mohammed Abdallah was overseeing the tricky handover between the two prime ministers. He'd actually managed to get a few ministries turned over to Maiteg. But he acknowledged the chaos.

"I think Libyans find themselves stuck in a swirling hole that's carrying them to an unknown conclusion," Abdallah said.

He said the biggest problem is security. Benghazi, the birthplace of Libya's revolution, sees daily bombings and assassinations that the government can't stop.

Abdallah said the mayhem fuels a lot of support for the renegade general, Hifter, even though he is a mistrusted figure who served and then defected from Gadhafi's old army. But people are so desperate for security, they'll latch on to anyone who says they'll bring order, especially in Benghazi in the east, where security forces get paid but don't show up, and no one has been held accountable for a single death there.

"Today you've got 17,000 security forces receiving salaries in Benghazi. ... I'm not talking about militias, I'm talking about employees of the police force of Benghazi," he said. "You don't have even have 2,000 that are actually working."

Abdallah said it's the same everywhere and won't improve until the politics are sorted out, especially since the unrest serves some greedy politicians well.

Three years on, Libya is still in a transitional period: Elections for another parliament are scheduled for June 25, and a constitution is still being drafted.

But it looks like Prime Minister Maiteg's time is up. On Monday, the country's Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that parliament's vote for him was illegal.

During a press conference in Tripoli, the capital, Maiteg said he would respect the ruling.

His intention was first and foremost to the service of the nation, he said, adding that he respects the judiciary and abides by their ruling.

Now, the predecessor who never stepped down, Abdullah al-Thinni, gets the job back again — apparently. Parliament will discuss it this week, and it could all change again.

Meanwhile, the renegade general out east continues to fight and gather support.

And regular Libyans are losing faith in the process.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Libya is facing what may be its greatest upheaval since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi three years ago. The country is awash in weapons and rival militias, and lacks any central authority to hold it together. Last month Parliament elected a new prime minister. He took office about a week ago and today stepped down after a court ruled his election was unconstitutional. NPR's Leila Fadel was in the capital, Tripoli, and caught up with him during that very short reign.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: In Libya, you never know from one week to the next, who is going to be Prime Minister. And when I met with the man in the job last week, it was clear no one's really in charge. Ahmed Maitiq had only been there a couple of days. He took office under the apparent protection of a militia that supports him, while another man still claimed the job. Maitiq, a 41-year-old businessman was so new in the building, that his staff was getting lost.

AHMED MAITIQ: We are building our country together. And we would like to have a strong state and strong government. And to have that in a few months is not easy to do it.

FADEL: But the fact is, the state is not only not strong, it barely exists. Muammar Gaddafi left behind basically no government institutions or civil society. That left the fighters, loyal to varied regions, tribes and ideologies who'd taken up arms against Gaddafi. And they refused to hand over their weapons until there is a real state to keep order. Many are paid by the government to provide security. But they attacked Parliament scores of times to force decisions in their favor, and sometimes at the behest of the squabbling political leaders themselves.

And on top of all that, a rogue general in the East, Khalifa Haftar, is using militias within the patchwork of security forces to conduct his own military offensive against what he calls Islamist extremists. No one in authority can stop him. And another problem facing the doomed prime minister, his predecessor refused to step down. Maitiq shrugged it off.

MAITIQ: This is normal for a country like Libya. We still have a new democracy and we have to understand that this chair is not for anybody, everybody has to sit in it, and finish his time and go. And just imagine it has to be clear and well known to everybody.

FADEL: Parliamentarian Muhammed Abdullah was overseeing the tricky handover between the two prime ministers. He'd actually managed to get a few ministries turned over to Maitiq. But he acknowledged the chaos.

MUHAMMED ABDULLAH: I think Libyans find themselves stuck in a swirling hole, that's carrying them to an unknown conclusion.

FADEL: He says the biggest problem is security. Benghazi, the birthplace of Libya's revolution, sees daily bombings and assassinations that the government can't stop. He says the mayhem fuels a lot of support for the renegade General Haftar, even though he's a mistrusted figure who served and then defected from Gaddafi's old army. But people are so desperate for security, they'll latch on to anyone who says they'll bring order. Especially in Benghazi in the East, where security forces get paid but don't show up, and no one has been held accountable for a single death there.

ABDULLAH: Today you've got 17,000 security forces receiving salaries in Benghazi. Seventeen thousand, we're not talking about militias, we're talking about employees of the police force of Benghazi. Seventeen thousand, you don't even have 2000 who are actually working.

FADEL: Abdullah says it's the same everywhere and won't improve until the politics are sorted out. Especially since the unrest serves some greedy politicians pretty well. Three years on, Libya is still in a transitional period. Elections for another parliament are scheduled for June 25th and a Constitution is still being drafted. But it looks like Prime Minister Maitiq's time is up. Today, the Supreme Court ruled that parliaments vote for him was illegal. Maitiq said he would respect the ruling at a press conference in the capital.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAITIQ: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: He says, my intention was first and foremost to serve the nation. But I respect the judiciary and I abide by the ruling. Now that predecessor who never stepped down, Abdullah Al Thani, gets the job back again, apparently. Parliament will discuss it this week and it could all change again, and that renegade general out east continues to fight and gather support. And regular Libyans are losing faith in the process. Leila Fadel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.