Why Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan May Have the World’s Toughest Job

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Dec. 8 2013 7:57 PM

“I Started This Struggle 35 Years Ago”

Why Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan may have the world’s toughest job.

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So they had no choice but to put the militias on the payroll?

Yes, and then when I came, I said we have to pay with checks to see who is going to receive the money.

So you're sure who is getting the money?

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Yes, and so we won't pay anybody by cash anymore. At that time, they were very upset. They told me “You closed the tap of the money” and “You are our enemy.”

Do you have to try as much as you can to disarm the militias and turn them into a national force?

Yes, this is our plan. It should be done in a wise way.

Has the U.S. let you down? What would you like to see the United States do?

We have to stand on our own two legs. The United States helped us from the beginning, but we can't expect from the others what we wish.

What is your wish? What would you like the United States to do?

Help us disarm the militias, for example.

Why can't the U.S. help you do that?

In America you have the Democrats and the Republicans. Different opinions from different people. So I can't expect just like that ...

If outsiders don't help you, will you be able to disarm so many militias?

It will be difficult.

Then what happens? Does Libya become a failed state?

I don't think so. Libyans, if they organize their power and are united, they can solve any problem.

Did the U.S. SEAL team's capture of [the Libyan militant Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai] spark off your kidnapping or the murder of the American teacher?

The hostility toward America is long-standing among fundamentalists. ... As far as the killing of the teacher in Benghazi is concerned, people were outraged. Because this teacher was teaching their children.

Is al-Qaida planting roots in Libya?

I can't say so because they are rejected by people.

But aren't a lot of Libyans going to fight in Syria? And aren't Tunisians using your country to transit to Syria to fight?

This is said, but we cannot possibly confirm it.

Aren't there jihadi training camps in Libya?

No. There are no permanent camps, but they might stay for one or two days to train.

Do you plan to have parliamentary elections?

Yes.

When?

January. [First,] a committee to write the constitution. Then we will have elections.

You were criticized by the Islamists for going to visit Gen. [Abdel Fattah al-]Sisi in Egypt after [Mohamed] Morsi's ouster.

It is true that they might criticize me, but I didn't visit Mr. Sisi as such, I visited a neighbor country. It is my duty to visit a neighboring country and to have normal relations with our neighbors. If I closed the door, I would face a lot of problems. It is my obligation to have good relations with Egypt for the security of my country.

It seems like a dangerous job to be prime minister of Libya. Do you worry?

I am not worried. But I started this struggle 35 years ago.

When you left Qaddafi's foreign service?

Yes. And since then I moved from Egypt to Chad, to Algeria, to Iraq, to Sudan and to Germany.

And all the time you were opposing Col. Qaddafi?

Any way I could find I was going to do.

Did you ever think the day would come that Qaddafi would go?

Yes, I was sure about this.

When did you return to Libya?

I went to Benghazi first in February 2011 and from there we started. I was the first person who started the initiative of the diplomatic recognition of the National Transitional Council.

What do you plan to do in the next six months?

I started this matter, and we have to finish it. We can't give up.

You believe you can protect yourself and your ministers?

We have to do the maximum that we can. It is not our choice, it is our destiny. When you live with the feeling of struggle, it is quite different than when you live as a politician. Politicians are normally opportunistic people. The one who struggles is a person who believes in principles and sacrifice. I count myself as a struggler, not a fighter. I have never used a gun.

As a struggler if you see an opportunity ...

I have to use it, even if it has only 10 percent or 20 percent [chance of succeeding].

People criticize you for being weak. What do you say to those people?

I am not weak. I am very strong. I know the situation. Does strong mean using a gun? No, you have to use your wisdom to control the situation and to go through it. If I start with bloodshed and the situation continues and people fight each other, I'm not going to solve anything in 10 years. ... For example, when the kidnappers came to my room, the first thing I told my guards was "Don't shoot. Don't use the guns." And even [though] there were about five guns at my head before they dragged me from my room, I dealt with them as friends. I asked them for tea. I asked them which tribes they were from, from which country. I made jokes with them. They told me you are cold, you are German. I told them no, I know that if God did not write in my book, it isn't going to happen to me. Even if the thought went through my mind, if it is not my day to pass away, I'll be alive.

Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.