Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1289, (31 March - 6 April 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1289, (31 March - 6 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Libyan parliament fails to meet, again

Libya’s formal political sphere appears deadlocked despite the recent formation of a national accord government, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Monday, and for the fifth time, the Libyan House of Representatives postponed a meeting scheduled to consider a motion of confidence in the national accord government, submitted by the Presidential Council led by Fayez Al-Sarraj. Although more than 50 representatives were present, they did not constitute a quorum, a demonstration of the inefficacy of a parliament now more divided than ever.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Council is preparing to operate from Tripoli. It was reported that several members of the council arrived in the capital a few days ago and are waiting for the remaining members before taking up the council’s responsibilities.

Members of Libya’s parliament, which completed its constitutional term last October and derives its legitimacy from the political accord signed by parties to the national dialogue in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015, say that the house is even more divided now, between supporters of the UN-brokered political agreement and opponents loyal to General Khalifa Hiftar.

The agreement provides for a bicameral legislature, composed of the House of Representatives, which has convened in Tobruk since late 2014, and the High State Council, largely constituted by members of the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli. The GNC began meeting again in light of the division in the country, after General Hiftar, who enjoys regional and international support, launched his Operation Dignity military campaign to take Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city and the biggest city in eastern Libya.

The online Libyan newsite Al-Wasat reported that Representative Sultana Al-Mismari said that members of the house are apprehensive. She added that supporters of the national accord government are waiting for the government to enter the capital, while dissenters are hoping for the opposite, to prove that security measures are inadequate and the political agreement flawed, and hence must be reconsidered.

Since the Presidential Council announced the amended makeup of the national accord government a month ago, the House of Representatives has been unable to convene. Leadership of the house has fallen under the control of General Hiftar supporters and representatives who are advocates of a federal state in the eastern part of the country.

General Hiftar fears being eclipsed from the scene under the political agreement, Article 8 of which states that all high state leadership positions shall devolve to the Presidential Council. The general, who has ambitions to rule the country, does not recognise the agreement. His candidate on the Presidential Council, Ali Al-Qatrani, and Omar Al-Aswad, a representative for Zintan, are working to impede the council’s move to the capital, in cooperation with the Islamists who reject the accord and have controlled Tripoli since mid-2014.

Although parties obstructing the internationally recognised national accord government have their own reasons for doing so, they are united by their rejection. Many of them represent the position of regional forces more than a national stance. In Tripoli, leaders of the GNC and its government have dug in their heels, having repeatedly announced the closure of airspace and their refusal to allow the plane carrying the UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, to land.

Previously they obstructed Al-Sarraj’s motorcade on his return from a funeral ceremony for the victims of a terrorist bombing in Zliten, east of Tripoli.

Despite persistent objections from parties opposed to the national accord government and the political agreement as a whole, the Presidential Council, led by Fayez Al-Sarraj, is preparing to work from Tripoli in the coming days. Marking the return of a new internationally recognised, legitimate government to the capital, the move could end the institutional polarisation that has exacerbated administrative corruption due to the division of the country between two governments, one in the east and the other in the west, both supported by regional and international parties.

In this context, the Presidential Council announced the completion of the security arrangements that would allow the national accord government to operate from Tripoli, adding that the government has begun the move to the capital to take up its responsibilities.

Members of the Presidential Council are scheduled to arrive in Tripoli from Tunis on Sunday, but this will depend on readiness of the security precautions announced by the council Monday.

In a statement issued on Monday, the council accused the head of the national accord government in Tripoli, Khalifa Al-Ghweil, of “alarming the public and impeding the accord government’s exercise of its responsibilities”. The council said it was concerned for the blood of Libyans and intended to carry out its work in Tripoli in peace and security.

“A minority of obstructers, first and foremost Khalifa Al-Ghweil, are alarming the public in Tripoli, throwing up barriers and obstacles to the national accord government’s exercise of its responsibilities, shutting down air traffic, and causing humanitarian crises for numerous disabled Libyans in airports, the sick and injured, and children and the elderly,” the council said in a statement published on its Facebook page. The Presidential Council considered this “a flagrant assault on citizens’ most basic rights and a violation of international agreements and norms”.

In its statement to the Libyan people and the international community, the Presidential Council called for “a rejection of the conduct of these obstructers and their attempts to stand in the way of the national accord and Libyans’ wishes, to avoid the spectre of fighting and bloodshed in our beloved capital”.

The plane carrying the president and members of the Presidential Council was forced to return to Tunis early Monday morning after it was denied airspace to land at the Mitiga Airport in Tripoli as scheduled. This coincided with heavy firing of surface-to-air missiles in the various spots in the capital, despite security precautions taken to allow the council to enter the city.

A few days ago, the European Union levelled sanctions against Khalifa Al-Ghweil, Nouri Abu Sahmein and Aqila Saleh for obstructing the operation of the internationally recognised national accord government.

At the same time, militias and the municipal council in Misrata declared their support for the national accord government and formed a temporary operations room that will disband when the government reaches Tripoli and assumes leadership of state institutions. But the fear of more fighting in the capital is not encouraging for parties supporting the accord government, who fear further developments that may be difficult to contain.

On the ground, chaos continues to reign as Libyans are increasingly angry, having seen their living conditions deteriorate in light of ongoing political and security crises in the country, the stifling of liberties, increasing cases of identity-based kidnappings, and General Khalifa Hiftar’s opposition in the east.

Conditions in Benghazi also remain unsettled, despite covert international support from Britain, France and regional powers for General Hiftar, who seeks to control the city and rule Libya.

But the general has not been able to resolve the battle for Benghazi, although he has repeatedly declared he is close to taking it. Figures close to Hiftar have also been accused of abducting federal activists who criticise him for exploiting the war in Benghazi to further his own ambitions.

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