The UN-backed Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LDPF) scored a major breakthrough in Geneva in early February when it elected the heads of the country’s new transitional executive authorities.
Contrary to expectations, the final list delivered a surprise result, with the candidates most expected to win being shunned in favour of individuals who have been out of the political limelight for some time.
Mohamed al-Menfi, from the east, was selected as head of the Presidency Council, with Abdullah al-Lafi, who is from the west, and Musa al-Koni, who is from the south, being elected as his two deputies. The executive prime minister’s post went to Abdulhamid Dabaiba who is from Misrata.
Coming just in time for the tenth anniversary of the uprisings that launched the 2011 revolution, this new line-up has brought a guarded but renewed sense of optimism that the country can set itself back on the right path.
Mohamed al-Menfi comes from the eastern coastal town of Tobruk. Although his al-Menfa tribe is not particularly large or powerful it has a special resonance. This is because it is also the tribe of Omar al-Mukhtar (1858-1931) (a.k.a. the Lion of the Desert) — who lead Cyrenaica’s resistance to the Italian colonial administration for 20 years before he was captured and publicly hanged — and, as descents of the Prophet Mohamed, is claimed as Ashraf.
As a young man, al-Menfi was a Muammar Qadhafi ideologue and student activist. After the 2011 revolution he was elected to the General National Congress (GNC) as a member of the National Forces Alliance (NFA) — founded and initially led by the 2011 prime minister Mahmoud Jibril (1952-2020) — but later pulled out.
In 2016 he became a member of the newly established Higher State Council (HSC) before being appointed by the GNA to be Libya’s Ambassador to Greece in 2018. He was, however, expelled from Greece in December 2019 following the GNA’s signing of its controversial November 2019 maritime border agreement with Turkey.
Although al-Menfi’s tribe is known to be a strong supporter of Khalifa Haftar, he was personally opposed to the Libyan Arab Armed Forces’ (LAAF) disastrous eight-month attack on Tripoli which began in April 2019.
As such, al-Menfi is not considered to be strongly in one camp or the other and although he comes from the east, is an acceptable face to many in western Libya.
Dabaiba, who was born in 1959, is a well-known businessman from a wealthy Misratan family who obtained a Master’s degree in planning construction technology from the University of Toronto. Like many other expatriate Libyans, he moved back to Libya in the midst of the post-sanctions political opening and a construction boom. He eventually caught the eye of the regime and his expertise soon earned him the trust of Qadhafi who, in 2007, appointed Dabaiba as the head of the state-owned Libyan Investment and Development Company (LIDCO), which was responsible for some of the country’s largest public-works projects.
His close association with the former regime makes him a sworn enemy of some hard-line Misratans. Despite this, however, he also supported the nascent revolution and reportedly bankrolled the Muslim Brotherhood which connected him to the Islamist camp. Because of his experience in the construction sector, he has strong ties to Turkey which dominated the housing and infrastructure sector during the latter part of the Qadhafi era. After the revolution, he continued with his business activities: he has various private construction companies and was also the manager of the Al-Ittihad Football Club in Tripoli.
His brother, Ali Ibrahim Dabaiba, who is a member of the LPDF, is a contentious figure who was the mayor of Misrata during the early years of the Qadhafi regime. Ali headed the Organisation for Development of Administrative Centres (ODAC) between 1989-2011 during which it reportedly awarded 3,091 contracts with a total value of US$233 billion. According to investigative journalists he stole many millions from the state, transferring the money to offshore firms, leaving investigators searching for more than 100 companies located in the UK, Malta, the British Virgin Islands and elsewhere.
As noted above, through his business dealings Abdulhamid Dabaiba has strong ties to Turkey. Two years ago, he established a political current named Libya Mostaqbel (Future), although he has not been at the forefront of the country’s political scene. His name was connected to allegations of vote buying during the session of the LPDF that took place in Tunis in early November, which is something that is still being investigated.
His name was also included on the list issued by the House of Representatives’ Defence and National Security Committee in June 2017 of 75 individuals it accused of being terrorists. Dabaiba is accused on this list of being a ‘funder to the armed battalions affiliated and loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood.’
Yet despite these allegations and Dabaiba’s links to Turkey, he was evidently a more acceptable choice for prime minister to members of the LPDF, including those from the east, than the other candidates on offer. It is notably that Dabaiba is an ally of the outgoing Presidency Council deputy head, Ahmed Maiteeq, and supported the deal that the latter struck with the LAAF in September 2020 to end the economically crippling blockade of the country’s oilfields and export terminals.
Given the relatively low political profile of Dabaiba and the other candidates on the list, they are deemed to be a compromise choice, who are being viewed more as a technocrat team that will work to oversee the transition until elections are held on 24 December 2021.