On the heels of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to the United States, Energy & Environment Program Associate Director Mihaela Carstei joins CTV to discuss the Keystone Pipeline project that would transport tar sands oil from Canada and the northern United States to refineries in the Gulf coast of Texas.
The election of Mohammed Magarief as president of Libya’s General National Congress on August 10 is a sign of the Libyan people’s search for unity and will to continue on the path toward democratization. Despite increasing security problems and the many centrifugal pressures present in the Libyan polity, the Congress managed to elect a president and two deputies in perfect adherence to the timeline set by the outgoing National Transitional Council and in full accordance with the established rules. This is an important step towards the construction of the institutions needed for Libya’s democracy to take root.
The selection of Magarief also deserves a more sophisticated analysis than it has received in the Western press, which has defined him as “pro-Islamist,“ showing a lack of understanding not only of the person but also of the dynamics that led to his election. Mohammed Magarief might be a pious and respectful Muslim but nothing in his history, personal or political, suggests he should be characterized as pro-Islamist. Rather he is a pragmatist with more of a secular vision of society and politics than a religious one.
Magarief does share some of the ideas of the Libyan Islamists and is ready to engage them at all levels, but the dynamics of his election show he was not the Islamists’ first choice. The Islamists supported Magarief’s candidacy only after their preferred candidate, Abdulrahman Sewehli, came in third in the first round of voting after Ali Zidan (the candidate of Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance) and Magarief. Islamists then voted for Magarief in the second round in order to deny victory to Jibril’s candidate. Thus Magarief was a compromise candidate for the Islamists.
Magarief is a sound choice for many reasons. Hailing from eastern Libya, he will appease inhabitants of that region and dampen the fervor of their federalist tendencies. Furthermore, he represents a clear break with the past because he defected from the Qaddafi regime in 1980, unlike many other contenders for the position, who defected far more recently. Other supporters of the new president point to his decision-making abilities and his charismatic personality. Perhaps Magarief’s greatest asset, however, is his political intuition. Magarief came to office understanding that Libya, at this juncture in its history, needs a leader capable of bridging the various territorial, cultural, and ideological divides that have fragmented the country since the collapse of the Qaddafi regime. He called in his first speech for national reconciliation and for the appointment of a government of national unity. He reiterated the need for “[exchanging] views in order to reach common agreement for the supreme interest of the nation” and repeated that the new government “should be a coalition government, a national reconciliation government.” He has positioned himself as the man who can bring unity, which resonates well in a country facing the risk of implosion.
Magarief understands that only a true process of national reconciliation that engages all forces can lead to a solution for the main problem Libya is facing, that of security. In addition to clashes between the various militias, there have been worrisome attacks against public institutions and a string of assassinations that have targeted members of the military who defected from the Qaddafi forces to join the revolutionaries at the beginning of the revolt. The perpetrators of all these crimes are still unknown. Some attacks have been claimed by a previously unknown jihadist group, the mysterious Ansar al-Sharia, while others have been attributed to common criminal elements seeking to threaten state institutions.
At the highest levels of the security apparatus and the political establishment, there is a conviction that behind this terroristic campaign are elements of the former regime that have taken refuge in neighboring countries such as Egypt and Algeria. These elements can count on the support of sympathizers inside Libya, who are excluded from participation in the new political system and who engage in acts of destabilization in the hope of regaining power. While unproved, it is a credible theory.
The possibility that former regime elements are trying to destabilize Libya makes the inclusive attitude and the political credibility of Magarief all the more important. He can play a critical role by devising and supporting a process of re-incorporation of supporters of the Qaddafi regime who have not committed crimes into the new polity at all levels. Such a program, if successful, would defuse the opposition of powerful forces to the democratization process and facilitate its development throughout the country. This is a most urgent matter and Magarief is the best person for the task.
Karim Mezran is a senior fellow with the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.
The MENASource blog follows the transitions in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, as well as other political and economic changes throughout the region. MENASource provides a platform for diverse perspectives from the US, Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa on major issues that are at stake in the post-Arab Spring era.
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