TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya's parliament chief, who served under Moammar Gadhafi before becoming an opposition leader in exile, resigned on Tuesday, just weeks after lawmakers passed a bill banning former regime officials from senior government posts.
The law, which may effectively bar the speaker, Mohammed al-Megarif, and several other experienced Libyan leaders from high-level posts for the next 10 years, was adopted on May 5 amid much turmoil and pressure from militias.
The resignation was the latest turn on Libya's rocky path to democracy. The country's nascent government faces a multitude of challenges, including reining in armed groups that have mushroomed in size in the last two years. The government continues to rely on some of the militias to provide security in the absence of a strong military or police force, but has also struggled to enforce its authority over them.
Al-Megarif's move comes after Libya's Muslim Brotherhood rallied successfully to push through the so-called Political Isolation Law in the face of liberal opposition.
As he announced his resignation before the General National Congress in the capital, Tripoli, al-Megarif suggested that lawmakers passed the new law under threat of force and decried what he described as the empowerment of some legislators backed by gunmen.
But he said he was stepping down out of respect for democracy, the first official to resign in accordance with the new law.
"All must comply with the law out of respect for the legitimacy and institutionalization of democracy," he said, his eyes welling up with tears. "I put my resignation in your hands, and I want you to witness that I leave you with my head up."
The power struggle now enters a new round as parliament is to draft another law — one that will oversee a nationwide vote for a 60-member committee that will be tasked with writing Libya's new constitution. The new charter could undo the controversial isolation law.
Under Gadhafi, al-Megarif was Libya's ambassador to India in 1980 before he joined the opposition in exile and the struggle against the former dictator.
After Gadhafi's ouster in an eight-month civil war and his killing at the hands of rebels in 2011, al-Megarif returned to the country to become one of Libya's new leaders.
In his resignation speech, al-Megarif chastised militia tactics.
"The use of force, threatening to use force, or brandishing force ... do not conform with the building of and transition to democracy that we all seek," he said.
Much of Libya's turmoil ahead of the isolation bill's passage took place in Tripoli, where militias besieged government buildings for days to pressure lawmakers to adopt the law, their guns drawn on the streets.
Fathi Bin Essa, a prominent writer and political analyst, said al-Megarif's resignation shows that "those who have weapons are the ones ruling Libya today."
Al-Megarif, though, disappointed anti-militia protesters when he denounced their rallies just days after U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi in September.
While he apologized to the United States for what he called a "cowardly" assault, al-Megarif at the time also said that some of the militia groups were legitimate.
On Tuesday, he said there are tens of thousands of weapons in the hands of those pretending to be revolutionaries. He also lamented that tribal and ideological affiliations continue to trump what is best for the nation.
He warned of the need to eradicate Gadhafi-era schemes, including "revenge, antagonism ... and hatred" that still plague Libya.
Critics of the law charge that its wording is too broad and equates longtime opposition leaders who once served under Gadhafi with officials who backed the dictator as he launched missiles against anti-regime protesters.
Supporters say the law is necessary to complete the 2011 Libyan uprising against Gadhafi. The bill is to come into effect on June 5, but a committee will look into the case of each official before they are ousted.
Al-Megarif will be replaced by deputy head of parliament, Juma Attiga, until a new speaker is elected by lawmakers.
For now, al-Megarif remains the head of the National Front Party, an offshoot of the exile opposition group he once helped lead, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya.
While in exile, he wrote a series of books on Gadhafi's repressive policies. The National Front was involved in several assassination attempts on Gadhafi, including a daring 1984 raid on Bab al-Aziziyah, the late dictator's fortified compound in Tripoli.
Gadhafi subsequently cracked down on the group, executing and arresting many of its members and forcing others to flee abroad.
Libya's ambassador to Cairo, Fayez Jibril, who is related to al-Megarif, described him as a "hero with a long history of struggle."
Batrawy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo.