Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Libyan agreement stalls

A UN-brokered power-sharing agreement aimed at ending Libya’s long-running conflict has been rejected by both sides, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The power-sharing agreement brokered by UN special envoy to Libya and head of the UN Special Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Bernardino Leon appears to have run aground.

Hardliners have rejected the latest version of the draft agreement submitted by the UN envoy and his proposal for a national consensus government.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in response to the stalemate, has now extended Leon’s term, due to expire, by several more weeks.

At the time the Weekly went to press, neither the House of Representatives in Tobruk nor the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli had issued an official statement on the final draft agreement and proposed national consensus government.

Despite the general enthusiasm with which they were welcomed, the voices that have been heard have been shrill rejections by hawks on both sides, holding out for more gains or rewards before they signal their approval of an agreement that seeks to resolve Libya’s intractable crisis.

Nevertheless, it seems that the Tobruk parliament is at odds with itself. Apparently responding to tribal pressure, Speaker of the House Aqila Saleh read out a resolution on Monday essentially stating that the House rejects the power-sharing agreement.

The previous day, Saleh met with representatives of the Federalist Movement and tribal leaders in eastern Libya. The resolution he read out to parliament echoed much of the substance of the statement that followed the previous day’s meeting.

Many MPs were incensed and lashed out against the speaker for attempting to obstruct or delay a final agreement and the creation of a national-unity government. According to some MPs, the majority of the House supports the final draft agreement, the proposed consensus government and presidential council.

At all events, in spite of the speaker incurring the complaints of many MPs who demanded his dismissal, the stipulated term of the House came to an end on 21 October. The House, like the GNC before it, has resolved to extend its term until parliamentary elections can be held in accordance with the new constitution, though the constitutional committee has not completed the drafting of the required amendment to the country’s Constitutional Declaration.

The House has thereby joined its predecessor, the GNC in Tripoli, as an officially defunct but self-resurrected body, which means that these self-extended governing institutions in the country lack constitutional legitimacy, regardless of their claims.

However, one of the consequences of the end of the constitutionally stipulated terms of these bodies is that it gives the sponsors of the Libyan dialogue greater leverage over the rival factions.

With respect to the House, this comes on top of its already existing weakness due to the sharp divisions in its ranks, impeding a unified position on the negotiating process and its stance toward its main adversary, the GNC in Tripoli. The latter is also determined to optimise its gains before approving the power-sharing agreement.

Ever since it was formed, the House of Representatives in Tobruk has been heavily subject to the influence of tribal leaders. It has functioned on the basis of reactions from the tribal environment and has never taken the initiative unless in response to pressure from the tribes inhabiting eastern Libya.

The latest House decision, rejecting the political agreement and proposed government, offers a clear example of such pressures. In the meeting that Saleh held with municipal and tribal leaders known to have pro-federalist outlooks, he was told in no uncertain terms that he should reject the agreement and proposed government.

This led to the controversial statement he read out to the Tobruk parliament on 19 October that reiterated the same demands that appeared in the statement following the meeting. Saleh then immediately left for Cairo.

MPs described the atmosphere in the House when Saleh read the statement as “chaotic” and dominated by hawks from the tribal and Hiftar camps. A number of MPs held that the majority of the House had approved the proposed presidential council and the final version of the draft agreement, stressing that the longer the negotiating process takes, against the backdrop of the ongoing warfare, the wider the factional gap will grow.

They also noted that parties in the UN-sponsored dialogue process do not possess political or even military decision-making power. Therefore, to depend on them to attain what each side wants will only lead to still more divisions and differences.

For the first time since the UN-sponsored process began, both the House of Representatives, whose term ended on 21 October, and the GNC, whose term ended over a year ago, seem to have agreed on something: to reject the political agreement which each side believes does not meet its minimum demands for a power-sharing arrangement.

While both sides have cited justifications, their rejection will have repercussions throughout the country, where the vast majority of the people, including the more rational camps on both sides, are fully aware of the dangerous implications of intransigence.

The GNC appears to be just as divided as the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, the GNC’s position with respect to the international community is stronger than that of the House, now that the latter’s term has also come to an end.

The GNC controls the capital, where the most-established, internally recognised, government institutions are based. The GNC is also allied with more powerful armed groups than those belonging to the Operation Dignity drive, which is under the control of Tobruk.

Moreover, the GNC’s forces have succeeded in keeping the larger portion of the country under their control. The general framework of divisions within the GNC over the political agreement and consensus government is clearer and more defined than that of the House. That said, the longer a political settlement is delayed, the greater the potential risks are for an arena that is constantly changing.

The fact that the delay could lead to still more political players and greater divisions on the ground can only complicate the dialogue process. Meanwhile, the UN envoy has brought on board more participants in this new round in order to ensure a broader base of representation and greater support for the agreement.

Ban Ki-moon has now extended Leon’s term. The special envoy was appointed head of UNSMIL in August 2014 and officially succeeded his predecessor Tareq Mitri on 1 September that year. Leon’s appointment had been due to end on 20 October.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni announced last Thursday that Ki-moon has asked Leon to extend his post in Libya for some more weeks. During a joint hearing of the Italian parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committees, Gentiloni said that Leon hoped to “resume negotiations in the coming days” between the Libyan factions.

Leon is determined to succeed in brokering a political settlement crowned by a national unity government before handing the reins of UNSMIL to his successor, Germany’s Martin Kubler. Ki-moon hopes that the Libya dialogue will reach a point of maturity, such that it will enable Leon’s successor to proceed with the settlement.

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