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In lawless Libya, Egypt's Sisi becomes a star

Source: Reuters - Mon, 26 May 2014 07:34 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Sisi gains popular following in chaotic Libya

* Many Libyans crave stability after years of unrest

* Comparisons to renegade Libyan general Haftar

By Ulf Laessing and Feras Bosalum

TRIPOLI, May 26 (Reuters) - Libyan civil servant Mohamed Ali has put on his business card a picture of the only man he thinks can save his country from falling apart - Egypt's new strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Libya is preparing for elections next month, but many Libyans have long given up on their own parties paralysed by political infighting three years after the revolution and civil war that brought down Muammar Gaddafi.

Instead, Libyans look to their eastern neighbour where former army chief Sisi is expected to easily win this week's elections after his military forced out an elected Islamist president from office.

Tired of militias and Islamist militants filling a power vacuum left by a five weak prime ministers since 2011, many see the revival of strongman rule in Egypt as their dream scenario.

"Sisi is an outstanding man, a nationalist, a Muslim and an Arab. He is restoring stability and fighting terrorism," said Ali who uploaded Sisi's picture on his mobile phone.

"Our politicians only think of their personal agenda. We wish we had someone like Sisi," he said.

In cafes across the desert country and on social media, admiration for Sisi has become a major talking point - so popular has Sisi become that an unknown author has dedicated a poem to him, shared by many Facebook users.

Many Libyans compare the bumpy transition of both Arab neighbours since their "Arab spring" revolutions in 2011.

Both have seen political unrest, though Egypt avoided anarchy like its neighbour where four decades of quirky one-man rule and an eight-month civil war destroyed state institutions.

Enemies denounce Sisi as the author of Egypt's toughest crackdown in decades after ousting Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last year.

But many Libyans say Mursi's removal was a blessing ending a chaotic year in power comparable to their unproductive government and parliament, dominated by an Islamist party allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, which failed to stop armed militias carving out their own fiefdoms.

"We have the same situation in Egypt and Libya with terrorists attacking police and army," said Asma Sarbia, an independent Libyan lawmaker.

"The Egyptian army's war on terrorists has made many Libyans look up to military institutions as saviour from assassinations and explosions," she said.

Now some also draw parallels to renegade former Libyan army general, Khalifa Haftar, who has declared war on Islamists and attacked militants in Benghazi in the east with his irregular forces. Some already call him "Libya's Sisi".

Gunmen who claimed loyalty to Haftar attacked the parliament in Tripoli a week ago to demand lawmakers hand over power, though the congress voted to support a new premier backed by the Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday.

Some military units pledge their loyalty. But western governments worry Haftar's campaign may further split Libya's army and provoke violent backlash from other more pro-Islamist militias who back the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya.

With no real army behind him, his former ties to Gaddafi, who he helped to bring to power in 1969 before turning against him in the 1980s, and his alleged CIA-connections, Haftar also looks less than credible for many Libyans.

"I don't think he will have success as politician," said Arish Said, a Libyan journalist. "No Libyan military man can succeed against terrorists. There is some support (for Haftar) but it won't be strong enough to bring him to power."

EGYPT TIES

Libyans have long looked to Egypt for orientation. Many government officials, intellectuals and business people have graduated from universities in Cairo or lived there.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president who challenged Western powers with his pan-Arab vision, inspired Gaddafi to stage his 1969 coup - the Libyan leader is said to have called Nasser immediately after the plot to ask for guidance.

Gaddafi's predecessor, King Idris, long lived in Cairo before leading his country to independence in 1951. He moved back to the Egyptian capital after Gaddafi ousted him and died there.

"If there hadn't been a revolution in Egypt in 2011 we would never have had a revolution here," said Umm Az al-Farsi, a political science lecturer at the University of Benghazi, the eastern city and cradle of Libya's uprising.

Many Libyans hope Sisi will boost as next president security cooperation with Libya, which has made little progress building up an army and police force.

Egypt under Sisi might seal the joint border and stop an influx of Islamists and weapons from Libya, which would also make Egypt's neighbour a less attractive place for militants.

On Libyan Facebook pages there is wild speculation that Egypt is aiding Haftar despite the general's denial that he gets any foreign support.

"If Egypt will become stable this will also make Libya more stable," said Ali.

He is so enthusiastic about Egypt's military, he says that if he expected a son, he would name him Ahmed - the same name as Egypt's army spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali.

"The Egyptian army is the greatest army in the world," he said. "They work tirelessly for the people." (Editing by Patrick Markey)

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