Libya: Agreeing to peace terms but without the GNC
Tunis - Efforts to bring peace to troubled Libya took a step forward when most of the delegates to UN-brokered negotiations in Morocco initialled an amended draft agreement submitted by UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon.
Nonetheless, the process is far from ended.
“Initialling” does not mean the same as “signing”. By initialling the draft, negotiators simply approved the content and can now select a prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and address other items in the annexes to the agreement.
These include the priorities for the Government of National Accord, a mechanism for choosing the members of the State Council and the organisation of its functions and terms for the administration of Libyan financial policies and national assets.
Once chosen, the prime minister and his deputies will select the rest of the government whose names will be added to the appendices and the entire draft is to then be sent to the House of Representatives for approval.
If it is approved, the delegates will formally sign the agreement, the Government of National Accord will be set up and Libya will be in a new situation.
But there is a major complication: The team from the continuing General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli did not sign the draft.
The GNC took exception to amendments and decided that its delegates would not return to Morocco unless Leon agreed to address changes it wants in the text. More importantly, it demands Leon accept its interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling last November, that the House of Representatives does not legally exist and that the GNC is the only legitimate Libyan legislature.
Such a demand would unravel the draft, which is based on the idea that the House of Representatives, elected in 2014, is Libya’s main legislature. The GNC was given the secondary role of contributing 90 members to the 120-seat State Council, which is effectively an advisory upper chamber in the Libyan parliament. In an early version of the draft, the council had limited powers but in the amended versions these were removed at the House of Representatives’ insistence, which is what prompted the GNC to walk away.
After its boycott decision, there were appeals to it to return to Morocco, repeated by Leon at the July 11th initialling. But he and the delegates who turned up have taken the view that they can live without the GNC, at least for now.
That may strike many as bizarre. After all, the initial idea of the dialogue was to achieve peace in Libya by bringing together the rival groupings in the country: the internationally recognised one consisting of the House of Representatives in Tobruk as well the government of Abdullah al-Thinni in Beida and the Libyan National Army, and the unrecognised one in Tripoli consisting of the GNC together with the “government” of Khalifa Ghwell and the Libya Dawn militias, as well as a small grouping of regular army officers, supporting it.
Going ahead with the initialling without the GNC followed by the selection of the prime minister and government negates that original idea.
Moreover, a Government of National Accord will not be able to go to Tripoli as planned because the militias there, which are the real masters of the city, will not allow it. Libya will therefore continue with rival structures: the GNC and its government in Tripoli and the Government of National Accord replacing the Thinni administration elsewhere, possibly again Beida.
Libya will remain divided.
However, the reasons for the initialling are far more complex — one might even say crafty.
For the international community, notably the United States and European states, the prime concerns in Libya are the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) and, to lesser extent, illegal migration.
In a bid to push the Libyan parties to agree on a Government of National Accord, states such as the United States and the United Kingdom have constantly said that they would provide support to Libya, particularly military support to fight terrorism (but not stating what form that support might take), only when a such a government is in place. But now, with the growing presence of ISIS in Libya, their concerns have become urgent.
The initialling of the agreement, albeit without the GNC, brings the Government of National Accord and with it tough action against ISIS much closer.
That, according to one ambassador at the initialling ceremony, was the reason why it was decided to go ahead without the GNC.
With the cracks in the Libya Dawn edifice growing wider and the divide between Misrata and other west Libyan towns and the House of Representatives diminishing, it may well be that Congress changes its mind and allows delegates to return to Morocco to join the discussions on who should be in the new government.
They could easily do so in response to Leon’s offer to them that “in the weeks ahead we will… address the outstanding concerns” — although the House of Representatives have made it plain that the text of the draft is final and there can be no changes.
The decision to initial it, in the presence, moreover, of the mayors of cities and towns previously solid supporters of Libya Dawn — Misrata, Zliten, Emselata and, most striking of all, central Tripoli — certainly provided a stark demonstration of the GNC’s declining position and its growing isolation.
There are those in the capital who oppose both the Dialogue and who have the power to prevent the GNC delegates going to Morocco.
But the GNC may decide it has no choice but to rejoin.
Leon and the delegates in Morocco are certainly banking on it.