On Sunday, May 5 the Libyan General National Congress (GNC) ratified the Political Isolation Law, a long-debated piece of legislation that bans individuals affiliated with the old regime from occupying political positions.
Following the vote, demonstrators rallied in Martyr’s Square on Sunday, in celebration of “the day on which our dignity is restored,” citing the law’s passage as a “victory for the revolution and for martyrs,” and chanting that “the martyrs’ blood is not in vain.”
The new law stipulates that those who held official posts during the Gaddafi era (1969-2011) will be barred from holding political office in the post-revolution period. Former members of political parties, and employees of state-owned businesses, universities, and the judiciary will also be excluded.
These broad conditions apply to a wide swath of political actors, including 40 members of the current parliament, as well as Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidane and President of the GNC Mohamed Magarief, who both worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the Gaddafi era.
Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson has warned that these broad conditions for political isolation create ample space for abuse, stating that “The GNC should not allow itself to be railroaded into making very bad laws,” and that “Libya’s long-term prospects for peace and security will be seriously diminished.”
Prime Minister Zeidane himself termed the Political Isolation Law “a necessary step,” and indicated his government would “fully” implement the legislation. GNC spokesman Omar Hmeidan also described the law’s passage as a “historic moment” in a press conference following the vote, arguing “The law doesn’t aim at incrimination at all; rather, it is just taking precautions to create a suitable atmosphere for the building of a modern state.”
But Hmeidan also admitted to Al-Jazeera that GNC members had voted under duress, in an attempt to end the armed militia’s week long siege of government ministries. It remains to be seen if the vote will convince the occupiers to give up their positions, as some have vowed to stay until the prime minister has been forced from office and the government resigns.
Libyans should rightly expect officials who committed crimes during the Gaddafi era to be banned from holding public office. It has become clear, however, that the sweeping Political Isolation Law was more a product of “political maneuvering” than anything else.
Emblematic of the ongoing power struggle between the militias and government, the law’s passage has “thrown the fate of the country into a tailspin,” and will ultimately deepen “the divisions in Libyan society, which has, until now, maintained a good sense of unity.”