Is there still a place for national reconciliation in Libya?

Amal Obeidi considers the proliferation of weapons, armed groups and parallel security and military institutions major reasons that obstruct any significant progress in Libyan reconciliation.
Saturday 07/09/2019
Hopes and fears. Libyan activist Amal Obeidi. (Al Arab)
Hopes and fears. Libyan activist Amal Obeidi. (Al Arab)

Libyan activist Amal Obeidi said she believes in the importance of national reconciliation to move Libya out of its crisis but she also said that continuing political and ideological rivalries will defeat any reconciliation project.

In an interview with The Arab Weekly, Obeidi spoke of obstacles impeding attempts to bring the Libyans together, pointing out that reconciliation is a national approach that contributes to the enhancement of security and peace because the alternative is war, destruction and instability.

Obeidi, a professor of political science at Benghazi University and visiting professor at Bayreuth University in Germany, was a member of Libya’s Committee for the Preparation of the 2018 Comprehensive National Reconciliation Project and Conference. She said she withdrew from the committee because it was unable even to meet, much less achieve results.

Perhaps rethinking the collective history, especially looking for commonalities and for what makes Libyans who they are and what binds them together, is of vital importance. The search for positive aspects of that history by focusing on the symbols, events and personalities that played a crucial role in the country will enhance feelings of pride and belonging and may help to create common ground and interests to achieve the moral dimension of reconciliation.

Obeidi said the most important stage of the reconciliation process would be eliminating the fear of taking the initiative, followed by confidence-building between the various parties and creating a spirit of empathy with others. She noted that the Libyan national reconciliation would require a thorough review of all legislation issued since 2011. She said there can be no national reconciliation unless it is based on transitional justice.

Obeidi said it would be possible to take advantage of Libya’s local experience in reconciliation efforts. She added that local reconciliation is one of the pillars of national reconciliation. Very often, local reconciliation follows traditional patterns through the involvement of actors who are figures of traditional leadership, such as tribal leaders or community elders.

National reconciliation, however, is a process of national consensus to build effective civil, political and security institutions to achieve justice, reparation and stability and in which tribal and regional dimensions are absent.

Obeidi said she considered the proliferation of weapons, armed groups and parallel security and military institutions major impediments to achieving progress in reconciliation in Libya. She pointed out the existence of obstacles, such as numerous conflicting interests and the absence of a common vision of state-building. The situation was worsened by existing political polarisation and schisms, by the emergence of new political bodies following the political agreement of December 2015 and the intervention of international parties.

She explained that the democratic transition in Libya has been very costly. Objective conditions for democratic transition were not met for many of the reasons, the most important of which was the absence of a strong and independent civil society supported by freedom of expression and access to information.

There has been no social consensus on the foundation of democratic transition, the peaceful transfer of power and on accepting the mechanisms of that transfer, such as accepting election results and the emphasis on competition and active participation in decision-making.

Obeidi also mentioned the militarisation of the Libyan revolution from the early days, even though some positive experiences came out of that first stage, such as the democratic and free elections of 2012 and 2014 whose integrity was recognised by international observers.

Obeidi said that what is happening in Libya is a political crisis in which various parties are fighting for power and wealth. She said it will not be resolved except through political means one of the rival parties monopolising power. However, it does not appear any of the warring parties could to do so in the foreseeable future.

There is also too much meddling by foreign forces and interests in Libya. This is why Obeidi said that, regardless of justifications offered for not negotiating, the Libyan crisis can be solved only through negotiations and dialogue. Rival parties must come together, agree to end the transition period and call for parliamentary and presidential elections.

Obeidi said drafting a constitution is an important part of the process and a strong factor for achieving stability. However, the proposed Libyan Constitution was prepared under conditions of societal divisions on the most important issues.

This is why some in Libya consider the draft constitution submitted to the House of Representatives flawed, especially in controversial aspects, for example, not agreeing on the country’s flag and national anthem, not recognising the diversity of the national languages, not adopting overall decentralisation, not specifying the composition of the Senate or the source of the country’s legislation and a host of other shortcomings that have made the constitution unacceptable to various parts of Libyan society.

Still, despite the controversies raised by the drafting of the constitution, Obeidi said a bad version of the constitution would be better than no constitution at all.