Thursday, 25 November 2010

Attacking Libya Press

Much commentary has interpreted the arrests of Al-Ghad's journalists simply as an escalation of the row between reformists and the old guard. The media were certainly issued with a very stern warning and their ability to criticise has probably been constrained – at least in publications printed and distributed within the Jamahiriya.

However, Oea's attack on long-time hardliner Ahmed Ibrahim, who is currently the head of the World Centre for Studies and Research on the Green Book, adds a deeper dimension to the conflict.

Ibrahim is a die-hard figure who still goes to the limit to defend the revolution. Despite his demotion in 2008 from deputy secretary of the General People's Congress to his current position, and despite his well-known misgivings about Saif al-Islam, he remains very close to the Leader, who is a cousin, and is a key figure within the upper echelons of the regime.

Libya Press goaded Ibrahim by reporting that he had held a series of meetings to mobilise support for a special internal organisation to prevent Libyans returning from abroad from being given leadership posts.

This is a very hot topic at the moment. Saif al-Islam is regularly criticised for bringing in exiles who have made their peace with the regime and appointing them to senior positions.

The article also claimed that Ibrahim had called for foreign companies to be barred from taking part in the country's development plan. It reported his view that economic openness and foreign investment are unhealthy phenomena that have damaged the economy.

The article concluded that Ibrahim wanted to take Libya back to the 1980s, a decade considered to be dark by many Libyans as it was characterised by particular brutality. It painted Ibrahim as single-handedly standing in the way of the country's future development.

Given that all the journalists who were arrested were from Libya Press, it seems reasonable to assume that Ibrahim may well have been behind their incarceration. He is certainly powerful enough to have made such a move. Indeed it is doubtful that al-Mahmoudi would have had the power to issue such instructions without backing from more senior elements in the regime.

Therefore while the arrests fell within the context of the battle between reformists and hardliners, they also appear to have been motivated by important figures within the regime taking revenge for having been publicly insulted.

Ibrahim has never been shy about hitting back at his enemies. Many remember the famous showdown in 2005 in the General People's Congress between him and his nemesis, Shukri Ghanem, when the latter was still prime minister. Ibrahim objected to a series of policies that Ghanem had tried to introduce to open up the economy.

In a bitter exchange of words he said of Ghanem, 'You cannot respond to or sympathise with someone who wants power for himself.'

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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