TRIPOLI, LIBYA — Libya was thrown into greater political turmoil Sunday when the country’s congress gave in to the demands of revolutionary militiamen and voted to remove former Gadhafi-era officials from office - even if they had contributed to the downfall of the late dictator.
Libya’s revolutionary militiamen are celebrating what they see as a “correction of the revolution.” They chanted and danced when they heard the news that the country’s General National Congress had voted to throw out Gadhafi-era officials.
For a week, militiamen from across the country have been besieging government ministries to press for the approval of a law that bars Gadhafi-era officials from being in government, the Congress or the bureaucracy.
A 45-year-old militiaman, Abu Ali, was one of those celebrating. “We want to isolate the people who was guiding the government with Gadhafi, we do not want them anymore. We want to rebuild Libya with fresh minds with people who likes Libya, not likes Gadhafi. I fought and I had so many friends has died in this revolution," he said.
But while the militiamen celebrate, others are dismayed.
Many members of the Cabinet will be forced to quit - so too the president of the congress, Mohamed Magarief, who was an ambassador during the Gadhafi regime before breaking with it and becoming a leader of the rebellion that ousted the late dictator.
The position of Libya’s beleaguered prime minister, Ali Zeidan, is unclear. He was for several years a Gadhafi-era diplomat, but may not fall within the provisions of the so-called political isolation law. Even so, some Islamists now want to pursue a separate measure to have him dismissed.
Many in the Cabinet will be forced out, including the interior minister, and so will some moderate lawmakers.
Western diplomats warn the measure, which was argued over for weeks, amounts to a “legal coup” and will strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood and smaller Islamist parties.
Expressing regret over the approval of the law, politician and journalist Abdulrahman Shater worries that the future of Libya will be one of persistent lawlessness.
“They have more power than the ministry of interior or the ministry of defense because they have guns and heavy armament and they have more power than the official bodies of the state. Some of them want to be in the government, some of them want to be in the embassies, some of them want to be rich. I wrote several times warning that the revolution will be stolen," he said.
In the days leading up to Sunday's vote, Zeidan and his ministers urged ordinary Libyans to rally behind the government but they did not. The Zeidan government has not been popular because of the slow pace of change.
Only about 200 people turned out for a rally on Saturday, not enough to help swing the struggle in the government’s favor.