Libya’s first female foreign minister has come under pressure to resign and been subjected to personal abuse seven weeks into the job, after she called for Turkish troops and mercenaries to leave her country.
Najla El-Mangoush, a lawyer and human rights activist, was appointed foreign minister by the country’s interim prime minister, Abdelhamid Dbeibah, after he faced a backlash for backtracking on promises that 30% of ministerial posts would go to women.
A lawyer from Benghazi in the east, Mangoush is trying to navigate her way around an array of external actors in Libya.
On Saturday, a militia in Tripoli stormed a hotel used previously by the unity government, which finally came into being in March, replacing rival administrations in east and west. In footage broadcast over the weekend, the militia can be heard asking about Mangoush’s whereabouts and searching cars.
Separately, the radical Islamist cleric Sadiq al-Gharyani, who lives in Turkey, criticised Mangoush on his TV channel Al-Tanasuh, describing her as “mean, despicable, and serving the Zionist project”. Observers said the vitriol directed at Mangoush endangered her life and showed the inability of some Libyan men to accommodate women in Libyan politics.
Some of Mangoush’s opponents allege she is a supporter of the commander Khalifa Haftar and his eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), which still holds sway nearly a year after its 14-month offensive to seize the capital, Tripoli, collapsed. In Tripoli, the armed groups that pushed Haftar back from the capital with Turkish support still control the streets.
Mangoush’s opponents say her calls for Turkey to leave have not been matched by criticism of the presence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group, which has links to Haftar.
The foreign minister’s supporters say she has been even-handed in her call for all troops to leave, and clips of remarks she had made in 2019 now circulating on social media had been edited to excise her criticisms of Haftar.
The US ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland, defended Mangoush, saying the criticism must stop.
“We fully support foreign minister Mangoush’s unambiguous call for the departure of foreign forces in the interest of Libyan sovereignty and stability,” he said.
Turkey claims its presence in Libya cannot be compared to those of Russian mercenaries since its troops are in Libya at the invitation of the previous Libyan government.
The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who visited Tripoli last week, criticised those who suggest the Turkish presence in Libya is equivalent to that of illegitimate groups. But recent UN security council resolutions have called for all foreign mercenaries and troops to leave the country, as did a peace agreement signed by both sides last year.
The storming of the Tripoli hotel led to calls for the seat of the government to be moved to the coastal town of Sirte.
Dbeibah’s unity government is tasked with overseeing reunified state institutions until nationwide elections are held on 24 December. The elections are supposed to see a president elected for the first time and a new parliament, but there is resistance among MPs, who do not want to their access to power disrupted, nor a powerful president.
The ambassadors in Libya from France, the US, the UK, Germany and Italy issued a statement last week calling on all sides, including the government, to stick to the 24 December election timetable.
The statement was condemned by the parliament as unwarranted interference in Libya’s internal affairs.
The five embassies stressed the importance of making the necessary political and security arrangements for elections, along with “the technical and logistical preparations”, which they regard as critical.