Tripoli’s GNC shifts position, attends Geneva dialogue
TUNIS - In an unexpected turn of events, the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) decided at the last minute to attend the reconvened UN-organised Libya Political Dialogue, having boycotted it for more than a month because of objections to the draft agreement on the country’s future drawn up by UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon.
Due to start August 10th, dialogue sessions were delayed one day to allow the GNC team time to get to Geneva.
The GNC decision came as a surprise because it had been adamant that it would not return unless Leon agreed to changes in the draft. During an August 9th debate on the issue, GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain and hardliners were resolutely opposed to any such move. It was a stormy session with Abu Sahmain reportedly almost coming to blows with one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party.
In the end, however, common sense — or rather self-preservation — appears to have prevailed.
Technically, the GNC said that its return to the dialogue is dependent on amendments to the draft being agreed but its demands appear to be shifting.
Initially, they were over the role of the State Council, the planned body that will act as an upper chamber in the interim, with 90 of the chamber’s 120 members drawn from the GNC. In the latest version of the draft, the council is largely powerless. The GNC wanted a return to a previous version in which the body had significant powers. GNC members suggested that Congress, not the House of Representatives, be accepted in the draft as the country’s parliament.
Faced with the fact that neither Leon nor the rest of the dialogue team would accept such changes, the GNC quietly shifted positions. Its current main demand is that decisions taken by the House from the beginning of August 2014, when it first met, until the point the draft agreement comes into effect be set aside, in particular the appointment of Khalifa Haftar as commander general of the Libyan armed forces.
Yet, this is not a particularly problematical issue. In the draft there is already provision for this. Article 64 says a committee will look into laws and decisions issued by relevant entities from August 2014 “which resulted in legal, financial and administrative commitments to the Libyan state with the aim of finding suitable solutions”. That covers almost all House legislation.
Even if it did not, the addition of 60 or so members who have been boycotting the House proceedings will significantly shift power within it. It is likely that there will be a majority in favour of removing Haftar.
In effect, in changing its position, the GNC is knocking at a door that it knows is already open.
That suggests one of two things, or possibly both.
The first is that it has seen that the GNC cannot block the dialogue. Leon and the other delegates agreed to the draft without the GNC and were ready to decide on a new government and other important annexes to the agreement. The GNC risked being left out in the cold — and possibly being sanctioned by the United Nations. It has had to find a way of getting back on board the process without losing face. Thus the demands about House legislation.
The second suggestion is that the GNC believes that the new government will include a number of fellow ideologues, notably members of the Muslim Brotherhood, but still had to find a way back on board without losing face.
According to Sharif al-Wafi, one of the independent dialogue delegates who decided not to attend the Geneva meeting, Leon had already decided that it should include Islamists.
Whatever the reasoning, the GNC’s return provides reason to hope that the dialogue may be able to achieve the Government of National Accord it has pursued the past nine months.
But whether that government will set foot in Tripoli is another matter. That depends on the militias. Not only have they not been brought into the dialogue, they reject it.