Libyans coming up with alternatives to UN peace deal
Tunis - UN Special Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler has travelled to Middle Eastern and European capitals to encourage governments that have some sway with either the rival administrations of the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk or the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli to apply pressure on them to approve the Libya dialogue agreement and the planned national unity government.
The message Kobler delivered is that, with the Islamic State (ISIS) growing in the Libyan vacuum and ordinary Libyans suffering as never before because of economic collapse, the deal has to be accepted quickly.
On December 1st in Algiers, where Kobler attended a meeting of Libya’s neighbouring countries — Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Egypt — he said he was planning a new tack to make the dialogue agreement happen.
What he did not publicly say, but what others involved in the process and at least one member of the unity government have said privately, is that without a quick agreement, the unity government may never see the light of day. “The momentum is running out,” one European ambassador warned.
The sense that time is short was signified by moves within Libya for a separate, internally produced settlement — a “Libya-Libya” dialogue. There are several suggestions, all based on the notion that the deal announced after talks in Skhirat, Morocco, is dying or ought to be dead.
Firmly opposed to the unity government, which would be led by Faiez al-Serraj, 27 members from both the HoR and the GNC, all but one from eastern Libya, gathered in late November in Tunis and agreed that GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain and HoR President Ageela Seleh Gwaider should start their own dialogue process. The idea received support from some HoR members, who agreed an invitation ought to go to the GNC president.
Plans also are fairly advanced to set up a Higher Council of Municipalities, which would claim the power to take decisions about Libya’s future on the basis that, with the HoR and GNC no longer legitimate, there is no other body to do it.
However, the most serious threat to the unity government and Skhirat deal occurred December 5th when delegations from the HoR and the GNC met in Tunis and agreed that the rival legislatures should set up a committee that, within 20 days, would name a prime minister and two deputy prime ministers. One of the deputies would come from the HoR, the other from the GNC. The committee would also amend the country’s 1963 constitution.
The GNC delegation was official in that it was led by Deputy President Awad Abdul-Sadiq but there was a disagreement among HoR members as to exactly how official its team was.
Many claim the man leading it, Benghazi member Ibrahim Amish who heads the parliament’s national dialogue committee, had no authority to negotiate. However, this was contradicted by reports that Gwaider gave the go-ahead. HoR Deputy President Emhemed Shouaib appears to have confirmed this but also said, at a news conference December 2nd condemning the Tunis agreement as a deliberate attempt to wreck the Skhirat deal, that Amish had gone further than he was supposed to.
Kobler and his UN team, along with international ambassadors and special envoys who have been involved in Libya dialogue, are also convinced that, at least as far as the GNC is concerned, the Tunis agreement was a spoiling tactic and was never intended to work.
They ask: Will the GNC or HoR be the country’s parliament under a revived 1963 constitution? Will nominations for prime minister and deputy prime ministers announced within 20 days by the committee be accepted by both bodies?
Before Shouaib gave his news conference, the ambassadors and representatives of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union, in an uncharacteristically blunt statement, dismissed the Tunis agreement as a blatant attempt to “derail” the Skhirat deal. It would not be allowed to succeed, they warned.
The likelihood is that the HoR will not approve the deal because it gives it far less power than the Skhirat agreement.
Whatever the integrity of the Tunis agreement, Sahmain is nonetheless pleased. Picking up on the earlier proposal that he meet with his HoR counterpart, he announced that he was preparing to do so and hoped that the meeting would be a success.
Seleh has said nothing.
Whether any “Libya-Libya” dialogue leads anywhere remains to be seen. For his part, Kobler was trying to re-energise the UN-led process ahead of an international gathering on Libya in Rome.