Libya National Congress Names Magariaf Interim President

Interim President Mohammed Yussef Magariaf
Interim President and National Front Party Leader Mohammed Yussef Magariaf was a long-time opponent of Qaddafi, who ruled the north African country for 42 years. Photographer: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

Libya’s new interim legislature elected Mohammed Yussef Magariaf, leader of the National Front Party, as its new president as the country rebuilds after the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi 10 months ago.

Magariaf won 113 votes to 85 votes for Ali Zaidan, an independent, in a session late yesterday of the General National Congress. The 200-member legislature also chose a first vice president and will select a second vice president later today.

Magariaf was a long-time opponent of Qaddafi, who ruled the north African country for 42 years. He set up the National Front for the Salvation of Libya in 1981, the oldest Libyan armed opposition movement, and lived in exile for many years, according to the Associated Press.

The National Transitional Council, which took power in Libya after Qaddafi was ousted and killed in one of the bloodiest uprisings in the Arab Spring, passed authority to the Congress in a ceremony in Tripoli yesterday. The legislature is charged with naming a prime minister and a Cabinet before parliamentary elections expected to be held in 30 days.

“The National Transitional Council hands over all constitutional authorities in the country to the interim legislature, which is considered from this historical moment the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the council’s chairman, said around midnight local time in a televised address.

Abdel Jalil acknowledged that the council was unable to meet public expectations for dealing with issues such as security, refugees and help for those wounded in the revolution. “We were not able to establish security like we wanted or in the manner that the Libyan people hoped,” he said.

‘New Chapter’

The U.S. is prepared to work with Libya, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement yesterday. The U.S. had played a key role in the initial part of the NATO bid to aid the then-rebels against Qaddafi.

“Less than one year after an entrenched, brutal dictatorship, the Libyan people are writing a new chapter in their history,” Clinton said.

The change in Libya has been far from smooth. The lack of a clear victor in the elections, as well as unrest, moves toward autonomous rule and the reluctance of militias to disband, have left the incoming assembly with little flexibility as its members seek to revive the economy and restore security.

Libyan Achievements

“It’s easy to underestimate what has been achieved in Libya,” Crispin Hawes, head of the Eurasia Group’s Middle East program, said by phone from London. “Yes, there’s been considerable violence. However, if you go back to October last year, there was absolutely no guarantee, or anything close to a guarantee, that you’d be talking about anything called a Libyan government.”

The NTC has managed to hold a national election and the country has seen a rebound in external revenue and the oil industry, he said. Still, “the next phase of this transition is arguably at least as difficult,” Hawes said.

The new legislature takes over a nation that remains almost as divided as the one the NTC inherited after the eight-month rebellion against Qaddafi. A secession bid in the east has been echoed in the south, where African tribal rivalries have pitted regional militias against each other, as well as against the still-weak national army.

New Alliances

Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, Libya’s Islamists came in a distant second in the national vote for the new congress, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party winning 17 of the 80 seats reserved for party blocs. An alliance headed by Mahmoud Jibril, Libya’s wartime rebel premier, won 39 seats, falling short of a majority and leaving both groups jostling for new alliances with the other parties or some of the 120 independents who won individual seats.

The centrist National Front Party won three seats in the assembly.

Among the names touted in the Libyan media for the premiership are current Deputy Prime Minister Mustapha Abushaghur and former wartime Prime Minister Ali Tarhouni.

One of the main tasks facing a new government will be reducing the economy’s dependency on oil. The International Monetary Fund said in an April report that crude had typically accounted for 70 percent of gross domestic product, more than 95 percent of exports and about 90 percent of government revenue.

Foreign investors have been slow to return to Libya. Oil and gas companies, which have worked to develop Africa’s largest source of proven crude reserves, have returned with skeleton crews and lower budgets.

“Most of the companies that have returned thus far have been in the country’s hydrocarbon sector,” said Jonathan Terry, a senior analyst with Maplecroft, a U.K.-based risk consultant. “Outside the oil sector, where risk margins are tighter, many companies are still holding out until the 2013 elections take place before they commit major capital spending.”