Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Battle for legitimacy

International powers express support for Libya’s Government of National Accord, but sore tests remain domestically, particularly on suggestions of foreign military intervention, writes Kamel Abdallah

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Major powers meeting in Vienna Monday to discuss the Libyan crisis affirmed their support for the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj. They underlined that this is the sole legitimate government in Libya, “the sole legitimate recipient of international security assistance and [it] is charged with preserving and protecting Libya’s resources for the benefit of its people”.

The joint communiqué released at the end of the ministerial meeting for Libya, which followed through on the meeting that was hosted in Rome in December 2015, condemned recent oil and arms transactions made outside the scope of the GNA and emphasised the need for all of Libya’s national economic institutions, including the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), “to function under the sole stewardship of the GNA”. It simultaneously reaffirmed “the commitment to upholding the arms embargo and measures concerning illicit oil exports, established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2278 and other relevant resolutions”.

The communiqué, so far the most firmly worded of such joint statements since the UN-brokered political solution to the Libyan crisis was announced in Skhirat, Morocco, in December, underscored the signatory parties’ continued determination to cease all support for and official contact with parallel institutions. The statement thus reflects mounting impatience on the part of international powers towards parties that they believe are obstructing the GNA, which is still a subject of controversy among political factions inside Libya.

In spite of the lack of consensus and reservations concerning the GNA, the Presidency Council authorised members of the cabinet, which is still waiting for a vote of confidence from the Libyan parliament, to begin work in their various government ministries. The mandate announced at the same time that the Vienna meeting was held, indicates that the Presidency Council  a body created in accordance with the Skhirat agreement  is more responsive to developments in Libya than the House of Representatives (the Libyan parliament) that has been unable to convene with the required quorum in order to hold a vote of confidence on the proposed government.

MPs in Tobruk in favour of the political accord have been trying in vain to persuade speaker of the house Agila Saleh to convene a session for a vote, but he persists in his refusal, which he justifies on the grounds of his fears for the welfare of the army its leadership, by which he refers to General Khalifa Haftar, who is opposed to the Skhirat accord.

There are reports of severe tensions between Saleh and his first deputy speaker, Emhammed Shoeib, against the backdrop of this issue. Shoeib is seriously contemplating tendering his resignation, a parliamentary representative told Al-Ahram Weekly. The MP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, related that the two deputy speakers, Shoeib and Ahmed Homa, met with Saleh Saturday, in the latter’s home in the village of Al-Qobba to the west of Tobruk, to discuss the possibility of convening a parliamentary session to address the question of a vote of confidence in the GNA. However, Saleh adamantly refused the notion until his conditions were met.

According to the parliamentary source, the speaker insists on returning to the fourth draft of the national accord, which was initialled by participants in the UN-sponsored Libyan dialogue in July 2015. On this basis, Saleh maintains, all sovereign posts should remain under his authority and all members of the Presidency Council and GNA should attend a session in the House of Representatives in Tobruk to review the proposed slate of ministers for the GNA.

Aqila Saleh has been accused of deliberately dragging his feet in order to prolong the war in Benghazi and secure General Haftar’s continued support for himself. However, even though the speaker has come under US and European sanctions for obstructing the political transition in Libya, he cannot act independently from Haftar and the general’s regional allies. The political process in the east is therefore likely to remain stalled for some time, in spite of international affirmation of support for the GNA and in spite of the sanctions imposed against Saleh.

In Tripoli, by contrast, the political process appears to be moving forward. The Presidency Council has gradually begun to assert itself, in spite of the complicated situation in the capital and the ambiguities in the security situation, which may be resolved soon.

Much of the credit for this progress is due to the role played by supporters of the Skhirat accord who helped pave the way for the Presidency Council and GNA to take up headquarters in Tripoli so as to resume the work of government in the capital. This is a strong indication that the pro-Skhirat political forces in the West are more effective than the counterparts in the east, who appear to be buckling under the pressures of a minority opposed to the agreement and a propaganda campaign against them for supporting the new government.

Public opinion in Libya tends to support the GNA, which has international support and therefore offers promise of recovery from the country’s economic straits. It is also felt among many quarters that the sooner the security challenges are brought under control the easier it will be to secure a consensus among the factions which, in light of the international support for the GNA and assistance to it, would propel towards the realisation of a comprehensive national reconciliation.

On the other hand, Ramadan Bin Taher, political science professor at Omar Al-Mukhtar University in eastern Libya, remarked on what he referred to as a general state of uncertainty regarding international and regional positions towards current developments in Libya. There was a complex interweave of often conflicting positions between international regional stakeholders in the Libyan crisis, each of which hopes to steer the situation in Libya in the direction that best serves their own interests, he said.

He also observed that some European and US writings had begun to speak of geostrategic concerns that have inspired a Western desire to offer support to the Presidency Council in a substantial and concrete way. In this framework, there has been increasing talk of launching military strikes in Libya, although no specifics have been mentioned in terms of timing or method. This raises many questions concerning the Western position, Bin Taher said, adding that, in spite of all the dangers (particularly from terrorists), domestic public opinion in Libya is opposed to strikes by foreign forces as this would constitute an assault against their national sovereignty.

At the same time, the political science professor held that the usual charge levelled by opponents to the GNA, that it is imposed by the West, is “very misleading”. In his opinion, the GNA was the best solution at hand, even if some of its members are controversial or do not enjoy credibility among the Libyan public. He added that the Presidency Council, too, does not enjoy total consensus among the political factions, some of which are determined to promote a solution that they believe better serves their own interests.

Bin Taher believes that international support for the GNA should strive to promote a genuine political settlement between the disputant parties through real guarantees that demonstrate good intentions. In the event that Western powers succeed in their support for the Presidency Council and its international legitimacy, the council will still face a domestic test on the question of direct foreign military intervention. The prevailing national opinion would demand that the council reject any call for intervention, regardless of the justifications, because this would not be in the interests of Libya and it would not promote stability, he said.

On the question of the fight against Daesh (the Islamic State group), Bin Taher held that what was needed was for the nation to rally behind the government in a resolute campaign against the terrorist organisation. Without such national unification of ranks, any international intervention will promote one side against the other, which will aggravate and complicate matters and, perhaps, set the country on the road to partition at the hands of its own people.

In general, he said, outside interventions have tended to have much more negative impacts than positive, because they have favoured one side over another.

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