Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1329, (26 January - 1 February 2017)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1329, (26 January - 1 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Moment of decision

Libya’s political forces — particularly in the Tobruk-based House of Representatives — remain dangerously deadlocked over amending the UN-sponsored Skhirat agreement

Security officers at the industrial zone in the oil port of Brega, Libya (photo: Reuters)
Security officers at the industrial zone in the oil port of Brega, Libya (photo: Reuters)

Cairo hosted the 10th conference of Libya’s neighbouring countries Saturday, 21 January to discuss recent developments in the Libyan crisis and bridge points of view between rival Libyan camps. The following day, participants of the Libyan national dialogue began a series of consultative meetings in Tunis to discuss the question of amending portions of the UN-sponsored Libyan Political Accord (LPA) that was signed in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015. The parties meeting in Tunis hope to agree on provisions pertaining to the Presidency Council, the Government of National Accord (GNA) and other bodies that emanated from the LPA preparatory to a meeting of the Egyptian, Tunisia and Algerian foreign ministers at the end of this month in order to sponsor a new initiative to support the amendments. That meeting will coincide with the African presidential summit in Brazzaville on 25 January to discuss an African Union-sponsored initiative to resolve the Libyan crisis.

The consultative meetings in Tunis this week convened in the absence of members from the Libyan House of Representatives, which is based in Tobruk. Earlier the House of Representatives announced that it had dismissed its negotiating team and that it was in the process of forming a new one. However, it has so far been unable to do so due to mounting demands by regional and tribal contingents in the body, especially from eastern and southern Libya, to be more equitably represented in the political dialogue.

Nevertheless, in a press statement, House of Representatives Spokesman Abdullah Bulaihak stressed that the House would choose its team to take part in negotiations over amendments to the LPA which, he said, would begin in earnest in February. The consultative meeting in Tunis was attended by all other parties to the Libyan national dialogue apart from representatives from the house.

The meeting was being held so that participant parties could “present their visions on how to remedy the current political impasse in the country,” House of Representatives first Deputy Speaker Imhemed Shoeib was cited as saying by Libyan news sources. Shoeib had previously encouraged house deputies to form political blocs so that they could contribute ideas that might help the House overcome the internal impasse that has been plaguing the legislative body since its term officially ended in October 2015, according to the provisions of the Constitutional Declaration of August 2011.

Another reason why the house is having difficulty in choosing its negotiating team lays in differences over the selection mechanism. While some hold that the negotiating team should consist of representatives from the 13 constituencies that make up the body, others favour a more general consensual process to choose a four-member team.

The previous team consisted of Shoeib representing western Libyan, Abu Bakr Bueira representing eastern Libya, and Saleh Huma representing southern Libya. These are the three house deputies that signed the LPA even though Speaker Aguila Saleh had dismissed that team on the eve of the signatory ceremony on 17 December 2015, a step mirrored by the rival parliament, the self-resurrected General National Congress (GNC).

On 5 September 2016, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) rejected the expanded committee delegated by Saleh for the consultative meetings held in Tunisia to discuss the obstacles impeding the implementation of the LPA and to assess the performance of the Presidency Council. UNSMIL sources informed Al-Ahram Weekly at the time that the house team consisted of 13 members, which was larger than the permitted number. House sources said that the speaker had wanted to include a representative from each of the representative constituencies in the house. The step was criticised as a bid to waste time.

In his statement to the press Sunday, House Spokesman Abdullah Bulaihak acknowledged that differences over the negotiating team selection process persisted in spite of intensive meetings between deputies and blocs to reach a solution. He attributed the source of the dispute to the demands by some blocs to be represented in the team. He added that the speaker proposed that each of the 13 constituencies should nominate a candidate and that four individuals would be elected from these nominees. These four would make up the official delegation while the others would be present as a support team. In spite of this recommendation, the signs are that the house will not be able to overcome this impasse soon.

Meanwhile, in the consultative meeting in Tunis, participants agreed on the principle of amending the LPA even though differences remain over the mechanism for making the amendments as well as over the composition of the Presidency Council and the members of the Government of National Accord (GNA). Also, although the parties agreed on the need for amendments, they continue to disagree on the reason why. Some hold that the Presidency Council was unable to perform its duties due to a “deficiency” in the mechanisms for implementing the LPA. Others held that the problem was not with the Presidency Council but with the very basis of the agreement.

Prior to the Tunisia meeting, a consultative meeting was held in Ghadames Airport’s guest lounge on 11 January. According to the leader of the Libyan Justice and Construction Party Mohamed Sowan, participants at the Ghadames meeting agreed on the need to amend the LPA, to restructure the Presidency Council to provide for only a president and two vice-presidents, and to separate the Presidency Council from the GNA by choosing a different leader to head the latter instead of the head of the Presidency Council as is currently the case. Participants at that meeting also discussed the need for a mechanism to resolve the problem of the supreme command of the Libyan Army, the question of incorporating Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar into new arrangements, and the restructuring of the Supreme Council of State.

A number of Libyan figures have been conducting intense communications with regional powers, especially Egypt and Algeria, to secure support for their inclusion in any new settlement concerning the LPA. Some Libyan sources predict that the change will extend to replacing the current head of the Presidency Council and other members of that body. A number of names have already been mooted, such as Libya’s former ambassador to the UN Abdel-Rahman Shalgham who has been tipped as the most likely replacement for Al-Sarraj, Al-Arraf Al-Naed who is said to be close to the UAE and former prime minister Ali Zeidan who is supported by the powerful Awaqir tribe in Benghazi and who has been lobbying for support in Cairo for a political comeback in Libya.

The reopening of the LPA for negotiation and amendment has stirred widespread concerns over the prospect of a destabilising breakup of currently existing alliances as the negotiations over the agreement approach, especially in light of unresolved differences over the amendment mechanisms. The High Council of State, which is based in Tripoli, insists that the amendment process should proceed in accordance with the provisions of the LPA which stipulate that the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the Council of State in Tripoli should form a joint committee, headed by a member of the Supreme Court, to draw up the amendments. However, for this mechanism to be legitimately put into effect the LPA must be incorporated into the Constitutional Declaration, a step that has been obstructed by the continued rejection on the part of the House of Representative speaker and his supporters of the LPA as it currently stands.

Some regional powers have made considerable progress moving closer in their positions on the Libyan crisis. The progress is particularly evident in the case of Libya’s larger neighbours, Egypt and Algeria. Nevertheless, the reopening of negotiations over the LPA has stirred grave concerns over the spectre of renewed warfare triggered by tensions and discord over the amendments. These fears are heightened by the belief that Haftar is still convinced that a military solution is the only way to remedy deteriorating conditions in Libya.

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