Secular and democratic Libya is possible, says ex-justice minister

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ON THE first floor of a modest hotel here in Libya’s third largest city, the man who yesterday announced he would lead an interim government in the country’s rebel-held east is holding court.

Dozens of well-wishers file and in out, shaking Mustafa Abdel Jalil’s hand and praising his decision to resign as justice minister earlier this month following a brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests that has so far claimed more than 1,000 lives in fighting across Libya.

A diminutive man with a neatly trimmed beard and a bruise-like mark – called a zabibah – on his forehead from regular prayer, Abdel Jalil wears the traditional burgundy-coloured wool hat which is known as a shanna in Libya.

“We will establish a temporary committee and after that move towards free and fair elections which will allow the people of Libya to determine who they want to lead the country in the future,” he told The Irish Times.

Asked how long he believed Muammer Gadafy would cling to power, Abdel Jalil replied: “This is not something I am prepared to speculate on but it will be determined by two things: the will of the Libyan people; and the will of God.”

He called on the international community to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gadafy flying in foreign mercenaries or bombing from the air, and he also urged efforts to undo the regime’s blocking of telecommunications and internet.

“We need to speak and communicate with the outside world so they can know what is really happening here.”

Abdel Jalil, who long prior to his resignation had a rather turbulent relationship with Gadafy, said he was shocked by the regime’s violent response to what were peaceful protests.

In al-Bayda, Abdel Jalil’s hometown, some 20 people were killed, including a 10-year-old girl who was shot dead.

“Everything that has happened goes against my principles – how could I be a minister when this is happening in my own country?”

He said several of his ministerial colleagues felt the same but were stuck in the capital which is still under Gadafy’s control.

“I know that in many ministers’ hearts they do not approve of what has been happening but they have not stood up and spoken out just yet.

“Unfortunately, most are still in Tripoli so they are trapped,” he said. “The capital is a dangerous place right now, and they fear [Gadafy’s] wrath and his evil.”

Abdel Jalil said he wanted to reassure those who had been supporters of Gadafy.

“We would like to tell them that they are safe and we are not against them. What is happening here is a political power struggle and they will not be affected.

“The tribe and the clan of Gadafy are not responsible for his behaviour, they are innocent.

“We will not assign to them any blame.”

Asked what kind of Libya he would like to see emerge in the future, he replied: “A democratic, free state that is run by government institutions with no religious character or nature.

“As Muslims, we respect all faiths and all creeds, and the humanity of everyone.

“We will also respect and honour all our treaties and agreements with the international community.”

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