Libya’s Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah on Sunday came to the defence of his foreign minister, Najla al-Mangoush, a day after the country’s presidential council said it had suspended her.
Dbeibah’s office argued that the council, formed this year, doesn’t have the authority to suspend ministers and instructed Mangoush to continue her duties, reiterating its “appreciation” of her work.
The dispute highlights the power struggles within the fragile administration which – after a decade of war and turmoil following the 2011 ouster of dictator Moamer Ghadaffi – is supposed to steer the country toward elections.
Dbeibah said in a statement that “the nomination, dismissal, suspension or indictment of a member of the executive branch… fall under the exclusive powers of the prime minister”.
The presidential council, headed by Mohamad al-Manfi, on Saturday said it had suspended Mangoush from her duties and barred her from travel, days before a major international conference in Paris.
In the absence of further details on the allegations against Mangoush, Libyan media connected her suspension with a BBC interview in which she had suggested that Tripoli is ready to coordinate with the US over the extradition of suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
The council said Saturday it had opened an inquiry into alleged “administrative breaches” by Mangoush, spokeswoman Najla Weheba told the Libya Panorama television channel.
Dbeibah’s government called on Libya’s different institutions to “respect procedure” and “avoid conflicts of interest”, saying they should not obstruct the government’s work at such a “critical” phase.
The presidential council, headed by Mohamed al-Manfi, was formed in February, consisting of three members representing the three regions of Libya. It was set up as part of a UN-sponsored political process, alongside the new government under Dbeibah, to pave the way for presidential and legislative elections in December.
Analysts said Saturday’s move to suspend Mangoush reflect growing tensions between Dbeibah and Manfi ahead of the polls.
“Last night the growing rift between #Libya’s President Manfi and PM Dbeibah flared up, as the President jumped on – a pretty flimsy – excuse to try and suspend FM Mangoush,” tweeted Tarek Megerisi, a senior policy fellow at the European Council.
Parliament recently announced that legislative polls would be postponed to January amid simmering tensions that threaten to derail the political process, which seeks to put an end to the conflict between Libya’s rival factions.
But on Sunday Libya’s electoral commission said that candidates for presidential and legislative polls slated for December 24 can start registering Monday.
The move to suspend Mangoush comes ahead of a conference on Libya in Paris next week, expected to be attended by world leaders.
According to the BBC, Mangoush alluded to one of Kadhafi’s top bomb-makers, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, who is jailed in Libya and wanted in the US over the Lockerbie bombing.
A total of 270 people were killed in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet as it was flying over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
Libya expert Emadeddin Badi, an analyst at the Geneva-based Global initiative, linked the move to suspend Mangoush to her comments to the BBC.
“The US position is key; therefore the current fallout is also covertly about currying favour with the Biden administration, and who will take credit,” he told AFP.
Mangoush has denied specifically mentioning Masud, according to a statement from her ministry, and said that “these questions are the responsibility of the prosecution”.