Nouri Abusahmain, the leader of the General National Congress, heads one of two rival administrations battling for power in war-torn Libya.
Since former president Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown in the Libyan Revolution in August 2011, Abusahmain has been at the heart of a power struggle in Libya – at times serving as the rightfully elected interim leader, and others as the head of a rival faction engaged in armed conflict to control the political affairs of the country.
Here are twelve things you may not have known about Nouri Abusahmain.
Sources: Aawsat.net, ForeignPolicy.com, EgyptSearch.com, Reuters.com, TodaysZaman.com, WorldTribune.com
Abusahmain is from the Mediterranean coastal town of Zuwara, were he attended primary and secondary school. He later returned to his hometown to work in a petrochemicals plant, as well as in the assembly president’s office.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Abusahmain traveled overseas to study law and international relations in the United Kingdom.
In June 2013, Abusahmain was elected as the president of the General National Congress (GNC, or the country’s interim legislature), making him the de facto head of state. He won the position with 96 votes in his favor, just beating out his opponent’s 80 votes, al-Sharif al-Wafi. The election occurred after President Mohamed al-Magariaf was forced to resign as a political isolation law was set to go into effect, barring former Qaddafi-era officials from office.
Though many of the Qaddafi-era officials in fact played a role in helping to topple the former leader, Abusahmain supported the political isolation law that barred them from office. In an interview, he said, “We know that our security is being targeted by some followers of the old regime both here and abroad who are trying to incite chaos among citizens and create the idea that Libya is not safe…We cannot allow any opportunity for the members of the previous tyrannical regime to seize on the unrest with their ideas, powers, and looted state funds.”
Upon his election as GNC president, Abusahmain became the first Libyan Berber to hold a role in the national leadership since the Tripolitanian Republic of 1918-1922. He is considered Libya’s first non-Arab head of state.
During the Qaddafi-era, Berber rights were often repressed and the Amazighs, as they are also known, faced constant discrimination from the Arab majority – much of Berber culture, including its language, was suppressed. Many Berber intellectuals were also imprisoned by Qaddafi in the 1980s, accused of plotting to overthrow the state
After being elected as the GNC President, Abusahmain praised Libya for its democratic success and progressive views on race and ethnicity. Similarly, Giuma Attaigha, the interim assembly president following Magariaf’s resignation, echoed similar sentiments when he said, “What happened today is a sign we can prove to the world that we are democratic in our choices and we don’t take into account regional factors when making decisions.”
Abusahmain is the founder of the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) group, one that is considered a terrorist group by the Libyan parliament, an internationally recognized body. The LROR is an Islamist armed group that attempted an Islamist coup in October 2013, and Abusahmain has been accused of diverting state funds to the group in the past. Abusahmain set up the LROR immediately after his election as GNC President by uniting existing militias under his command to keep order in the capital.
In October 2013, supporters of then-Prime Minister Ali Zeidan walked out of a GNC session in protest to agenda changes, causing Abusahmain to cancel a request to disestablish the LROR. He later also cancelled an investigation into the allocation of state funds to the group. The following month, LROR forces surrounded a GNC session where it was being debated to withdraw their mandate for security in Tripoli, forcing members to allow LROR operations to continue in Tripoli, but on the terms that they are brought under the command of the General Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces.
Ahmed Maiteeq, an Islamist candidate, was elected prime minister in April 2014 during a GNC session, but armed Islamist militants burst into parliament during the session, intimidating members and unduly influencing the proceedings. The GNC Deputy Speaker, Justice Ministry, Supreme Court, and opposition parties all rejected the proceedings, and Maiteeq’s appointment, as illegal, but Abusahmain confirmed Maiteeq in a decree anyway.
Since his election, it has been speculated that Abusahmain has strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, especially given their support in the vote. Though he maintains his position as an independent, he has said that he is happy to be linked with any party that shares his values, “I am also indebted to the great Libyan people who granted me their trust through the democratically-elected members of the GNC, linking me with all political parties, the Muslim Brotherhood and all others. We all share values regarding the importance of building this nation. If shared values brought me into alignment with the Muslim Brotherhood, or the National Forces Alliance, or any other party, then I am honored by this. I do not mind anything that brings me together with any party or thinker, so long as this serves the nation.”
Two rival governments and two parliaments now exist in Libya, with Abusahmain leading the GNC. Abusahmain has been in talks with the rival government, which is internationally recognized, to try to reach an agreement to end Libya’s political crisis before it descends into full-scale civil war. Abusahmain’s administration is not recognized, but still controls ministries, airports, and some oil facilities – giving it crucial influence in the country’s affairs. UN-brokered talks in Geneva are underway to form a unity government.