Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Libya’s fourth phase

While the Libyan power-sharing agreement signed in December is being implemented on the ground, it is too early to tell whether it will bring stability to the country, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Libya has entered what is now its fourth interim phase, this time in accordance with the power-sharing agreement signed between the Libyan factions in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015.

However, the signs on the ground are that this stage will run aground like its predecessors. The fate of the UN-sponsored accord that sought to bring an end to the conflict between the warring political and militia factions, which is being fuelled by regional powers, is still up in the air.

Aqila Saleh, speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives, which has not convened since October last year, still opposes the agreement. He is backed by military leader Khalifa Hiftar, who aspires to take power with the support of regional powers that want to see a central government strong enough to end the anarchy that has prevailed in Libya since the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

Under the Skhirat Accord, Libya is supposed to have a bicameral legislature made up of the House, currently based in Tobruk in the east of the country and endowed with full legislative powers, and the Supreme Council of State (SCS) consisting for the most part of members of the General National Congress (GNC).

The members of the GNC who have come out in favour of the accord have announced that the GNC has held its last meeting and that the first session of the SCS will be held after the amendment of the country’s Constitutional Declaration to include a provision incorporating the accord and officially beginning the fourth interim phase.

However, like his counterpart in Tobruk, Nouri Abu Sahmein, speaker of the GNC in Tripoli, also opposes the Skhirat Accord in its present form. Many members of the GNC have joined their counterparts in the House to denounce the way the speakers have monopolised the agenda of their respective parliaments and impeded a free vote of confidence on the cabinet members submitted by Fayez Al-Sarraj, prime minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA).

To increase the pressure on the Libyan factions to approve the accord and allow MPs in Tobruk and Tripoli to vote on it, the EU in March approved a French proposal to impose sanctions against Speaker of the House Aqila Saleh, GNC speaker Nouri Abu Sahmein and Prime Minister Khalifa Al-Ghaweil of the National Salvation Government, which is currently running Tripoli.

Tobruk MPs who support the accord and the GNA, headed by Al-Sarraj, have accused Saleh, a minority of MPs who support Hiftar and various tribal or secessionist elements of obstructing the activities of the House since October 2015 because of their opposition to the accord.

Although the opponents to the accord represent only a minority of opinion in the House, they have not only managed to prevent it from convening to hold a vote of confidence, but have also issued threats against MPs who support the new government, much to the outrage of public opinion.

A key figure in the dispute is Hiftar, reinstated in the army command after he launched Operation Dignity in May 2014 to recapture Benghazi from his Islamist adversaries, a goal which he has failed to reach despite the support of regional and Western powers including France and the UK.

These have furnished combat training to Hiftar’s armed groups, which include a mixture of civilians, military men and tribal forces, all competing over Benghazi.

Hiftar, who took part with Gaddafi in the overthrow of the Libyan monarchy in 1969, hopes to use his control of Benghazi in order to strengthen his position during the interim period and to leverage himself into a dominant position in government. This is so even though his aspirations clash with legal, social and political obstacles, despite the support for him in the media.

Speaker of the House Saleh depends heavily on Hiftar’s backing to strengthen his position against the accord and the new government, as Hiftar represented the military wing in Saleh’s contest against his adversaries in Tripoli and the West.

However, the controversy over the Skhirat Accord and the GNA has begun to home in on the personality of Saleh and his management of the House, to the degree that many MPs have begun to consider pushing for a new speaker once the accord is approved and the GNA assumes executive powers.

The Presidential Council formed in accordance with the Skhirat Accord has arrived in Tripoli to exercise its functions from the Libyan capital. The move was widely cheered among the general public in Libya, even if it triggered diverse reactions among the political factions, depending on their stance on the accord and the GNA.

Some parties, especially opponents of the accord, had anticipated violent skirmishes in the capital on the entry of the Presidential Council. However, its members entered by sea and established themselves at the Tripoli Naval Base in the Abu Sitta district of the capital.

They enjoy the protection of Libyan naval forces under the command of the main Libyan military, as opposed to the parallel army. The parallel army is under the control of the Provisional Security Arrangements Committee formed by the Presidential Council in January and commanded by Abdel-Rahman Al-Tawil, former commander of the Southern Zone based in Sebha.

The council’s successful move has embarrassed its detractors, who had warned of the dangers of moving it to Tripoli because they believed that all the security forces there were under the command of militias serving the political factions in control of the capital.

No sooner was the Presidential Council installed in the capital than it began its work, meeting with government institutions such as the Libyan Central Bank, National Petroleum Authority, Bureau for Administrative Control and national audit department.

It also met with representatives of municipal and local councils in southern and western Libya. Many social and regional organisations have declared their support for the Presidential Council and GNA. These are all important signs that the national executive body has begun to assert its control over the country’s economic institutions and is strengthening its position in general.

Elsewhere in Tripoli, the GNC members who support the Skhirat Accord and the GNA have declared that they have amended the Constitutional Declaration and convened the first session of the SCS. The meeting took place at the Rixos Hotel, which is controlled by Nouri Abu Sahmein and anti-Skhirat GNC members.

Second Deputy GNC Speaker Saleh Makhzoum presided at the meeting, which elected GNC member Abdel-Rahman Al-Saweihli as SCS chairman. Al-Saweihli is also a member of the group of House of Representative members who have been boycotting the assembly since it began to convene in Tobruk.

The meeting was reminiscent of the first session of the newly elected House of Representatives on 4 August 2014, when the “Group of 94”, headed by Ezz Al-Din Al-Awami, at the time first deputy speaker of the outgoing GNC, called for the handover of authority to the newly elected House.

But the development could have a negative impact on the situation in Libya in view of the vehement assault on the part of the adversaries of the GNC for having convened the SCS before the Constitutional Declaration was amended and the accord approved by the House in Tobruk.

As part of efforts to prod the Libyan House of Representatives back into action, Cairo hosted a meeting of the House leadership recently that included, in addition to Saleh, first and second deputy speakers Emhommed Shoeib and Ahmeid Homa. The idea was to help to bridge their positions and enable the House to reconvene in order to amend the Constitutional Declaration and ratify the accord.

At a press conference in Cairo on Saturday, Shoeib said that communications were in progress to hold a meeting of the Libyan national dialogue committee on Thursday to discuss breaches of the Skhirat Accord. Pointing to the meeting of the SCS in Tripoli and the election of an SCS chairman, he described the meeting as “marred by legal and political anomalies”.

Homa stated that MPs are currently engaged in consultations to convene a session of the House to hold a vote of confidence in the GNA. “If the consultations succeed, the session will be held this Thursday or Saturday, or else on the coming Tuesday,” he said.

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