Libya needs 'tremendous help', interim PM says
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FRANCE 24 sat down with Libya’s newly-appointed Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib to discuss handling armed militias, trying to secure international support, the Turkish model, and the political future of Libya.
In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor, Annette Young, newly-appointed interim Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib discussed the challenges currently facing his country, including disarming freedom fighters, following in Turkey’s footsteps, and the role of religion in the new Libya.
Here are the highlights:
Mixed messages on role of Islam in Libya
A recent declaration from Libya’s former interim prime minister, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, that the country’s new constitution would incorporate Sharia law has raised eyebrows among Western powers who are keeping a close watch on Libya’s unfolding political transition. But el-Keib dismissed these remarks. “This is not a possibility in my mind,” he said. “If you’re talking about modern Islam, in which people are accommodating and can communicate with others but still keep their faith, I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
El-Keib pointed to Turkey as an example of a nation successfully mixing Islamic faith and openness to modernity and diversity, suggesting that Libya could follow in those footsteps. “Turkey is a Muslim country, but it works well with the West and people of different faiths are living together,” he noted. “This is not a problem for us.”
Law and order
El-Keib stressed the need for patience in dealing with the armed militia roaming across the country. “This revolution started with people in the street voicing their feelings and opinions, asking for their basic human rights against a brutal regime used to killing and slaughtering people in every way possible. That regime transformed this peaceful revolution into one where people carry guns and arms,” he said. “Our government will not come up with hasty decisions to create laws to prevent people from holding arms, but we will find ways and means to talk with these freedom fighters and they have been receptive.”
Though he offered a “guarantee” that the new Libyan leadership would be able to get the militias to lay down their arms at some point in the future, he said that this would be accomplished through “programmes”, rather than “force”. “The majority of these people are interested in laying down their arms,” el-Keib said. “Many of them are doctors, many of them are engineers, many of them are university students, many of them are businessmen who want to go back to normal life.”
When asked whether the government was having a hard time securing international funding to locate and ensure the safety of weapons in Libya, el-Keib urged Libya’s allies to unfreeze the country’s assets. “Many countries have been supporting us during the revolution against this brutal regime. We appreciate their help and their patience, and I extend my appreciation and the appreciation of the Libyan people to their people,” he said. “But we hope they understand that implementing national reconciliation programmes and trying to retrain freedom fighters requires money. And we do have these assets, but they’re frozen. So we hope the international community will work with us to give us back our money.”
The return of violence?
El-Keib rejected the possibility of regional, religious, and political divisions leading Libya back to violent conflict. “I’ve read that in the international newspapers and magazines, but I don’t see what they see,” he insisted. “I see democracy in practice, I see people who have just gained their freedom. I see people who never held arms who then had to carry them. I see people who want to go back to their former way of life.”
The prime minister reiterated, however, that financial support from the international community would be needed to keep Libya on a peaceful path. “We need the funds to create the reconciliation programmes and implement those programmes. We cannot tell these militia, for example: ‘Put down your weapons and go back to work, but we don’t have any funds to help you’. This is impractical,” he said. “We need tremendous help from our friends in the international community.”