Libya’s contentious path to settlement
Tunis - A bit of Libyan history was made in Morocco on December 17th with an agreement meant to usher in a national unity government called the Government of National Accord (GNA) and an interim but highly complex power-sharing system.
After more than a year of UN-mediated negotiations, delegates to the Libya dialogue, members of the Libya’s parliament in Tobruk, the House of Representatives (HoR) together with some of its rivals in Tripoli, the General National Congress, were joined by a number of mayors and political party delegates in approving the Libya political agreement (LPA).
The arrangement calls for a nine-member presidency council to head the government and there will be a record five deputy prime ministers plus ministers for important areas of public life. The other ministers are to be chosen by the presidency council by January 16th and it is expected there will be many of them. In Libya’s present divide, having representatives from all the competing factions, towns and tribes on board is as important as having competent individuals to run the ministries.
Legislative powers are in the hands of the HoR and a state council comprising most of the members of the old Congress — again, incorporating all the rival players into the system has been the aim.
It has been a bumpy ride getting to the agreement. As with many deals, the devil has been in the details.
Despite constant declarations from Bernardino Leon, the UN special envoy who directed the dialogue for virtually all the negotiations, and from his successor Martin Kobler that there could be no further alterations, there were constant changes to the text right up to the signing. These were to meet objections from either the representatives from the GNC or the HoR, much of the argument being about the powers of the advisory (in other words, largely powerless) state council, the successor to the GNC.
The signing of the agreement does not mean that Libya will have a government that will bring its crisis to a close, even though the United Nations, Western and Arab states have committed themselves to actively supporting it.
GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain and his supporters say it should be the only legislature in the future. It has effectively not been part of the dialogue process and Abu Sahmain has rejected signing the agreement. A majority of GNC members are said to support him and he will not allow a vote on the matter.
There is opposition to the agreement also in the HoR, notably among some members from eastern Libya, mainly federalists, and including others who want more power for themselves or who fear losing power. Among them are HoR President Ageela Saleh and Abu Bakr Baira, who resigned from the dialogue negotiations, piqued, it is claimed by his opponents, at not being made a deputy prime minister.
A further degree of resentment across the country was reinforced by Leon’s list of names proposed for inclusion in the GNA. Disgruntled voices pointed out that it was not for him to name government ministers but for the presidency council. People started talking of a “UN-imposed” government, as if Libya were no longer independent, and of the need for an internal “Libya-Libya” dialogue to find an internal solution to the crisis.
At the end of November, a group of east Libyan members from both parliaments gathered unofficially in Tunis and called on Abu Sahmain and Saleh to meet. Just more than a week later, an official GNC delegation and an HoR team agreed there should be a joint committee from both parliaments to appoint a separate national unity government and amend the 1963 constitution.
Since then, Abu Sahmain and Saleh have met and the country now has two “dialogues”, just as it has had two parliaments, two governments, two military chiefs of staff, two central bank heads and two of so much else.
However, the Tripoli “government” led by Khalifa Ghwell and by the GNC and the local militias has no intention of resigning and making way for Faiez al-Serraj and his national unity government. Unless forces are deployed to alter the situation, the Serraj government will not be able to operate in the capital. If force is to be used it would have to be foreign; the Misratan forces the United Nations was hoping would provide security for the new government are not strong enough.
But if the Serraj government cannot get its hands on the levers of power in the Tripoli-based ministries, it cannot function. That would mean, among other disasters for the people of Libya — notably an approaching economic collapse — that there would continue to be a power vacuum in which the Islamic State from its power base in Sirte can grow and enrich itself.