Libyans take UN-peace deal to the wire
Tunis - After more than a year of mediation between the two main factions in the Libya crisis, the UN special envoy announced the names of the people who would be prime minister and deputy prime ministers in the Libyan national unity government.
The prime minister is to be Faiez al-Serraj, from Tripoli and a member of the internationally recognised House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk. The three deputy PMs are to be Ahmed Maetig, Fathi Majbri and Musa Kuni, representing, respectively, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan.
Apart from regional balance, there is political balance in UN envoy Bernardino Leon’s offering between the HoR and its rival in Tripoli, the General National Congress (GNC).
Maetig is from Misrata, which until recently had been firmly on the GNC side in the Libya divide. He is also the nephew of one the main GNC leaders, Abdurrahman Sewehli. Majbri, from Benghazi, is education minister in the HoR government. Kuni, one of the Libya Dialogue negotiators, is a member of Libya’s Tuareg community.
Leon named Omar Aswad, from the anti-GNC town of Zintan, and Mohamed Ammar, an Islamist member of the GNC and of its negotiating team in the dialogue, as ministers to join the other four men on a presidency council to govern Libya until a new constitution is in place.
Leon proposed a series of names representing different political and geographic constituencies as members of the new government. He suggested that Sewehli be president of the planned State Council and that another Misratan, Fathi Bushagha, be head of the country’s security council,
Leon’s list has united Libyans in opposition to his plan. It is claimed that, while Serraj is an honest politician, he is too weak to be prime minister.
Members of the GNC and the HoR noted that government ministries are not Leon’s to fill. Some of those named, such as former Interior minister Ashour Shuwail, rejected their nomination, as did Sewehli, who pointed out that the State Council presidency should be for its members to decide.
In the east there is bitterness at what is seen as a Misrata-dominated government and lack of sufficient Cyrenaican representation.
While publicly backing him, privately Western diplomats expressed astonishment at Leon’s ministerial suggestions. “He did not need to name them,” said one European ambassador to Libya. “He should not have done so.”
Quite apart from the names, there is strong antipathy within the HoR and the GNC to the supposedly final draft agreement, which appears to still be a work in progress despite the official UN line that it cannot be changed. The latest amendments relate to a definition of sharia and a proposed general amnesty law.
The HoR has clearly decided that if it does agree to the draft agreement, it will do so at the last minute. Recent heated sessions on the proposals ended without decisions.
The parliament scheduled an October 19th session to see if it can come up with a solution. That is one day before the deadline for the government to be approved.
In fact, it may not matter. The deadline of October 20th was set because it is the last day of the HoR mandate. However, the HoR has unilaterally extended that mandate indefinitely.
Leon, who will soon be replaced as UN special envoy by German diplomat Martin Kobler, remains optimistic that both sides will accept the agreement and the names.
So are members of his team and the Western ambassadors who have been part of his support group throughout the negotiations. They point out that Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey fully support the deal and have been putting “intensive pressure” on both sides to accept it.
Although Libyans continue to protest the agreement and the names, there is believed to be a majority in the GNC in favour of accepting one, even though its president, Nuri Abu Sahmain, is opposed.
As for the president of the HoR, Ageela Saleh Gwaider, he is seen as supportive even though he has suggested that negotiations could continue past October 20th. He is said to have told Leon, who apparently intended to appoint an easterner as prime minister, that having both the head of the government and of the HoR from the east would be unacceptable.