Libyan rivals in gridlock as UN deadline passes

Friday 23/10/2015
A general view shows destroyed buildings in Libya’s eastern coastal city of Benghazi, on October 20th.

Tunis - The political situation in Libya has become even more murky and confus­ing — if that were possible — with the UN deadline for acceptance of a peace accord and a government of national unity passing without agreement.

Although it did not vote on the matter, the House of Representa­tives (HoR) in Tobruk officially said that it would agree only to the draft agreement as approved on July 11th. The rival General National Congress in Tripoli is demanding changes to the October 8th version, which UN envoy Bernardino Leon insists is final.

Leon set October 20th as the date by which the HoR and the GNC had to accept the deal. It was chosen because the mandate of the HoR, recognised internationally as Lib­ya’s democratically elected parlia­ment, expired October 21st.

The HoR indefinitely extended the mandate but, as Leon pointed out October 14th, various members of the international community have said they would not accept a unilateral decision by the HoR on the matter.

The result is, as Leon put it, that Libya was constitutionally in “lim­bo” — at least as far as the interna­tional community was concerned.

UN efforts to resolve the political crisis are not quite the smoulder­ing ruin that they appeared to be in mid-October when the HoR balked at approving the unity government and the peace deal. Leon insisted the process would go on. He also claimed the majority of the Libyan people supported the deal, as did 70 members of both the HoR and of the GNC, a number he viewed as probably constituting a majority in both bodies.

The problem, he said, was that members had not been allowed to vote, indicating, too, that the presi­dents of the entities, Ageela Saleh Gwaider and Nuri Abu Sahmain, re­spectively, might be sanctioned as a result. Those who had used their power to prevent a vote, he said, would be sanctioned if they contin­ued to do so.

His claim that majorities in both bodies support an agreement ap­pears to be somewhat wide of the mark.

The man Leon chose as one of the deputy prime ministers, Mis­ratan businessman Ahmed Maetig, is reported to have told Leon that he could ensure 70 GNC members would back the deal. However, just 25 members put out a statement agreeing to it and 24 of them re­fused to publicly put their names on it for fear of reprisals. Only the group’s leader Abdussalam Igzeit, also from Misrata, did so.

Likewise, although there were reports on social media that 70 HoR members planned to complain that they did not have a vote, far fewer are reported to have done so and not all of them were necessarily in favour of the deal.

Further dialogue meetings are to be convened, Leon has said, and will involve not only Libyans in­volved in the process but others as well.

They will not, however, involve the HoR negotiating team. It is be­ing replaced. Nor will they involve Leon much longer. He is to be re­placed at the end of October by German diplomat Martin Kobler.

In the meantime, the Libyan di­vide remains with the HoR and the GNC operating with the govern­ments they appointed: the HoR’s under Abdullah al-Thinni in Beida and the GNC’s under Khalifa Gh­well in Tripoli.

Both can be counted on to con­tinue to claim they are the legiti­mate government — the HoR by reason of election and then its own vote to extend its mandate; the GNC by reason of November 2014’s controversial Supreme Court ruling that it interprets to mean that the HoR was annulled and it installed in power.

As far as the United Nations is concerned, neither have legitima­cy although both will continue to be part of the discussions because they have de facto power. In reality, Leon has said, the only source of legitimacy in Libya will come from the deal being signed. Once it is, the HoR will again be the legitimate parliament.

The focus may now turn to mu­nicipalities, whose democratic legitimacy is unquestioned. With the UN process looking shaky, plans are in hand by a number of Libyan political figures, acting in­dependently of the United Nations, to launch a bid to come up with a separate political deal.