Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

In search of consensus

Libya’s national-accord government is still awaiting a vote of confidence from the Tobruk House of Representatives, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The national-accord government in Libya is still awaiting a vote of confidence from the House of Representatives in Tobruk, which appears to have grown more hardline than its parliamentary rival, the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli, after the recent progress scored by the forces of Khalifa Hiftar in Benghazi.

Hiftar hopes to turn his progress on the battlefield in a campaign that has lasted two years into a key position on the Libyan political map, which is being redrawn in accordance with the agreement signed between the Libyan factions in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December.

Although Hiftar had declared that 29 February would mark the “liberation of Benghazi” from terrorists, that deadline has now passed, like others before it, while his supporters appear to be indifferent to the mounting toll of victims in the civil war that is being fuelled mostly by those who dominate developments in eastern Libya.

Hiftar’s forces have announced that over the past two weeks they have gained control over more areas of Benghazi than those held by the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR), described by Hiftar and his supporters as an affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) group.

These territorial gains occurred after SCBR fighters were forced from their positions in the Leithi district and other areas of western Benghazi by heavy artillery and missile fire in these urban areas.

SCBR fighters still control the centre of the city and particularly the central Al-Sabiri neighbourhood that has been severely scarred by the missile and artillery fire from Hiftar’s forces. In fact, though, this historic neighbourhood is controlled by its inhabitants, who are ordinary city dwellers who oppose the assault of the Bedouins with whom Hiftar has allied himself in his campaign to gain control over the country’s western capital.

While Hiftar’s supporters celebrated their gains in Benghazi, Hiftar posted a video on Facebook in which he addresses commanders at their combat stations. The progress made in recent days was the result of the “withdrawal of the enemy under heavy gunfire,” he said, and urged his fighters to “hunt down and arrest the terrorists” to prevent them from fleeing the battlefield.

Meanwhile, SCBR fighters in western Benghazi are fighting back against Hiftar’s forces in an attempt to thwart his bid to achieve military and political gains.

Hiftar’s drive extends beyond the battlefield to the House of Representatives, which is subservient to his rule. The House is weak and fragmented, and it seems willing to collude in what Hiftar wants, which is for the combat to drag on indefinitely, something that will happen unless the regional parties stop supporting their local Libyan proxies.

The House, first convened in Tobruk, has long been a fragile entity controlled by tribal affiliations. It has been worse than its competitor in Tripoli, as it has legitimised the actions of Hiftar and officially reinstated him in service.

After the Skhirat Agreement was first initialled, the House was unable to sit for several weeks, after which it was unable to hold a vote of confidence. This is because most MPs do not derive their power domestically, but still reside abroad and address the Libyan people from there with little concern for the hardships they are enduring.

As a vote of confidence in the national-accord government remains pending in the House, representatives of the factions that took part in the UN-sponsored Libyan dialogue, members of the Libyan Presidential Council which proposed the government, and international officials met in Tunisia to examine obstacles standing in the way of implementing the Skhirat Agreement.

Representatives from the parliament in Tobruk presented a document signed by more than 100 MPs declaring their support for the proposed slate of ministers for the new government. They took this step because of the persistence of Hiftar and his supporters in preventing the House from convening to hold a vote of confidence.

The Hiftar camp not only rejects the proposed national-accord government, but now also opposes the Presidential Council, which it argues has too many members even though it was the first to insist on increasing the number of its members. It is now demanding a return to a fourth draft of the Skhirat Agreement.

The House of Representatives sent two delegations to Tunisia. The first was from the dialogue committee, which it has been on the verge of dissolving three times, and the second was from a non-elected committee. As the latter included a number of MPs appointed on an ad hoc basis, they were barred from attending the meeting held in Tunisia last Thursday.

The Presidential Council could not conceal its delight at the declaration signed by the 100 MPs from the Tobruk Parliament, praising the support of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives, the Supreme State Council, the members of the political dialogue committee, and the national and cultural elites in a press statement.

It said the declaration was a “green light” for the national-accord government to begin its work and perform the tasks for which it was formed. The Presidential Council also called on all sovereign institutions and public agencies in Libya, especially financial institutions, to begin communicating with the government in order to draw up arrangements for the handover of authority.

Meanwhile, the EU plans to impose sanctions against House of Representatives speaker Aqila Saleh, government spokesman Nouri Abu Sahmein and head of the national-accord cabinet Khalifa Al-Ghaweil for “obstructing the political accord”. Supporters of Hiftar, the greatest beneficiary of the current fighting, staged protests against the inclusion of Saleh on the sanctions list. Hiftar himself remains safe from such actions even though he opened the floodgates to civil war in the country.

In Tripoli, urgent efforts are being made in order to ward off the spectre of warfare in the capital by persuading the rejectionists to allow the government to return there. Resisting these efforts are those who are bent on sowing dissension, those preparing to rekindle war in the capital, and those who refuse to allow the new government to enter Tripoli regardless of the cost.

Parties in the Presidential Council are trying to obstruct the move into Tripoli on the grounds of the lack of security in the capital. Public opinion in Tripoli and supporters of the government, on the other hand, believe that it is possible for the government to operate in the capital, but only on condition that parties at home and abroad stop fuelling the perpetual discord between political factions that is undermining efforts to bridge opposing views and restore calm and stability in Libya.

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