Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Libyan government delayed

There have been further delays in the ratification of a national-accord government in Libya, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

In a further extension of the crisis over the formation of a national-accord government in Libya, the Libyan House of Representatives advised the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Martin Kobler, on Saturday that it would not meet on Monday as scheduled to approve the proposed cabinet headed by Prime Minister-designate Fayez Al-Sarraj.

The decision to postpone the session coincided with an announcement by Khalifa Hiftar, the parliament’s appointee as commander of the Libyan armed forces, that Monday would mark the day on which the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi would be declared “free of terrorists”.

The developments may jeopardise the fragile UN-brokered accord signed in Skhirat in Morocco in December, especially as Hiftar, a highly controversial figure, appears to be using his military muscle to retain a say in political developments.

Since the country’s UN-backed Presidential Council handed the House a revised and smaller lineup for the national-accord government, it has been torn between supporters and opponents of the proposed cabinet.

Last week, the debate erupted into angry squabbling, with rival camps hurling accusations of treason and other insults at each other. Aqila Saleh, speaker of the House, adjourned the session and claimed that the necessary quorum did not exist. The move drove 100 MPs to sign a declaration stating that they were in favour of the proposed government. The required quorum is 89 MPs.

The opposing camp, consisting primarily of MPs from the eastern region known historically as Cyrenaica, campaigned vociferously against the proposed government, with some insisting that the slate of ministers needed to be totally revised.

Some members of the camp called for the creation of a military council to steer the country through the interim phase, as occurred in Egypt following the 25 January Revolution. The suggestion was roundly opposed by others, one of whom declared, “The army belongs to the state not the other way around.” The friction within the camp is another sign of the ongoing splintering in Libya, even within the same camps.

Hiftar is known to be a vehement opponent of the Skhirat Accord, signed on 17 December. The accord calls for his exclusion, which has not occurred. As the international sponsors of the accord have repeatedly stated that it is a “single package,” the failure to fulfill the provision regarding Hiftar could signal the unravelling of the whole agreement, sending the parties back to square one in the negotiating process.

Hiftar, who is fighting to secure control over Benghazi, together with a loose coalition of Bedouin tribes from the east, aims to gain a firmer foothold from where he can manoeuvre against his adversaries, including the Islamists in control of the capital Tripoli. This may lay the foundations for the effective partition of Libya, and is hardly a move in the direction of stability.

While Hiftar enjoys the support of Egypt, the US and Jordan, the strength of his allegiance with local allies varies. Bedouin tribes may contest his claims to control Benghazi, and there are also advocates of a federal system that would grant Cyrenaica full autonomy.

To them, Hiftar, who has spent many years in the West, is simply a stepping stone to freeing the eastern capital from the grip of the central government in Tripoli. The Bedouin tribes see Hiftar as the key to reviving what they believe is their historic claim to Benghazi, dating to the former Ottoman Empire, when they were granted title over it as a “mutasarrifiya,” or semi-autonomous administrative district.

Such fault lines in the Hiftar alliance are an ominous sign that his victory over Benghazi may mark only the beginning of a new phase in the conflict, not unlike that which Tripoli experienced between the rival militias from Zintan and Misrata that were allies during the war against former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

But the problems are deeper and more complex in the east, especially given the ongoing friction over arrangements to overcome the general anarchy that now reigns in the country. The east of Libya, which had long complained of marginalisation under Gaddafi, is now the seat of the internationally recognised government and parliament, but has yet to prove itself as a constructive geopolitical centre.

The problems are epitomised in the discord in the House of Representatives that led the 100 MPs to sign a letter declaring their approval of the proposed cabinet and send it to UNSMIL head Martin Kobler. The rejectionists denounced this step as a political “deception,” which made the situation awkward for Kobler and the Western powers that had approved the letter and had asked Saleh to legitimise their approval through a vote in the House.

Nevertheless, in spite of their stated determination to promote the implementation of the Skhirat Accord and their sustained pressure on MPs and other political figures to support the national-accord government, the Western powers have yet to take firmer measures against the parties in the east that are obstructing progress. This contrasts with their repeated threats of sanctions against various factions in the east and specifically those in Tripoli.

In Tripoli, General National Congress (GNC) member Abul-Qassem Qazit stated that GNC members who support the UN-sponsored accord had convened two preparatory meetings last week for the State Assembly, the second chamber in the Libyan legislature under the accord. Kobler hailed the meetings as “a step forward”.

According to Qazit, 30 GNC members held two consultative meetings in Tripoli chaired by Abdel-Rahman Al-Shater in his capacity as the most senior GNC member. During the meetings, the participants created a committee to draw up the assembly’s bylaws. On the committee were Abdel-Salam Al-Safrani, Shaaban Abu Sitta, Magda Al-Fallah and Lamia Al-Sherif.

Qazit added that the GNC members had sent a joint letter to Kobler stating that the assembly should be allowed to exercise its authority as stipulated under the accord in keeping with Article 67, which states that its provisions are effective as of the date it was signed.

He noted that the GNC members who met in Tripoli and who supported the accord had encountered no form of harassment from its opponents. He added that the media would be receiving invitations to attend the official opening of the assembly within the next few days.

Qazit, who comes from the coastal town of Misrata, urged that a vote of confidence be held in the national-accord government. The solutions that the Libyan people sought would come from this government, he said, and urged the Presidential Council and the national-accord government under Al-Sarraj to operate from the country’s capital Tripoli.

With regard to recent military developments, a special deterrent force in Tripoli this week launched a series of raids that led to the capture of Islamic State (IS) group commanders in the city. The raids followed the US Special Forces operation that killed 41 members of the terrorist organisation. Most of the dead were said to be from Tunisia.

In addition, the military council of Sabratha, 70 km to the west of Tripoli, launched an operation against IS elements on the outskirts of the city this week, where they had previously occupied vital locations, including the security directorate, until they were forced to withdraw.

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