Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Libyan political ban law

The judiciary is undermined by a new law, warns Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The “political isolation law”, which has stirred bouts of heated controversy since it was first approved by the General National Congress (GNC) in January, has moved a step closer to ratification. The bill was up for a vote in the GNC’s session last Tuesday now that Article 6 of the Constitutional Declaration issued by the National Transitional Council in August 2011 has been amended and a new agreement has been reached on the number of votes required for the law to pass.

Article 6 states, “All Libyans are equal before the law. They shall enjoy equal civil and political rights.” Following its amendment on 10 April, the following paragraph was added: “It shall not be deemed a breach of the provisions of this declaration to prohibit some individuals from the assumption of sovereign offices, leadership positions and the management of key administrations in the state for a temporary period, in accordance with a law issued for this purpose.” The extra kicker was tacked on at the end in the form of a provision that prohibited litigation against the political exclusion law on the part of “those concerned”.

In passing this amendment, the GNC sought to immunise the political ban bill against anticipated appeal before the Constitutional Court. But not only is the amendment internally inconsistent, it encroaches on the very authority a judiciary is presumed to enjoy in a democratic country.

Judge Abdel-Karim Bouzeid of the North Benghazi Court described the amendment as “a stain of shame on the 17 July Revolution”. In a state governed by the rule of law, the actions of the legislative authority must be subject to the supervision of the judiciary and those whose interests are affected by any law must have the right to appeal against it, he said. “The immunisation of laws clashes with the right to recourse to the courts. The right to litigation is a supra-constitutional principle that not even a permanent constitution can alienate from the citizen, let alone a temporary constitutional declaration.” He pointed out that as a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which safeguards the right to litigation, Libya is obliged to uphold the principles of these conventions.

“If the amendment is appealed, the Supreme Constitutional Court will rule it unconstitutional,” he said, adding that the GNC knew very well that its actions were unconstitutional.”

On 11 April, the Libyan Human Rights Observatory issued a statement describing the attempt to immunise the political isolation bill from appeal as “an unprecedented violation of the people’s right to recourse to the courts”. The statement charged that the amendment was “nothing but a move to impose certain partisan, political and personal interests” and that “to immunise the political isolation law or to prevent legal appeal against it is, in itself, a crime against humanity that should not be disregarded.” The statement observed that the GNC, as the acting legislative authority in Libya, had “deviated from its course” with this act and threatened to propel Libya into an era that would be no different to the Gaddafi era. “This deviation is only the beginning of a series of violations that will occur in the future,” it warned.

The amendment was approved by 144 out of the GNC’s 200 members. 135 votes had been required for it to pass. The assembly also voted to reduce the number of votes needed for the proposed political isolation law to pass to a simple majority (100 plus one votes) instead of the originally required 120 votes.

The bill is likely to pass in view of the signs coming from the negotiations between the two largest political parties in Libya: the Justice and Construction Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the predominantly liberal National Forces Alliance. According to sources close to the two sides, it looks likely that the parties will agree that those affected by the law will be permitted to establish political parties that could compete in the following elections. If such an agreement is struck the law will go through.

As the bill is currently worded, the first article targets 36 categories of government positions under the Gaddafi regime from September 1960 to October 2011. If passed and implemented it would remove a large number of GNC members and political activists from their posts, most notably the current GNC President Mohamed Megaryef, his deputy Jumaa Attiga, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and Mahmoud Jibril, head of the National Forces Alliance.

While the bill appears to have been successfully immunised against constitutional appeal, there remain two hurdles. The first is the question of exceptions over which it will probably be harder to reach an agreement than the leaks from the Justice and Construction Party and National Forces Alliance suggest. Quite a few members of the GNC, especially Islamists who had taken part in the war against the Gaddafi regime, are adamantly opposed to any exceptions and want the bill passed as is. Many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing share this opinion. On the other hand, as the bill in its current format would affect, among others, current GNC President Mohamed Megaryef, the National Front understandably insists that it be modified to incorporate exceptions.

The second remaining hurdle, which has not been addressed yet, concerns the agency that would be charged with putting the law into effect. It has not yet been determined whether it is to be the Higher Commission for Integrity and Patriotism, which was created by the former National Transitional Council during the revolution. If this commission is identified as the executive authority, it would give rise to demands to review its selection and operational criteria. The commission, which is responsible for vetting officials or candidates for public posts, has already dismissed hundreds of officials, many of whom had been appointed by former prime minister Abdel-Rahim Al-Keib, or by current Prime Minister Ali Zeidan or even the those appointed by the GNC as Libyan ambassadors abroad. If, on the other hand, GNC members decide to dissolve the Higher Commission for Integrity and Patriotism and create another commission to oversee the implementation of the political isolation law, this would necessitate the drafting and passage of another bill specifically designed to regulate the composition, authorities and functions of the new commission.

The prevailing tendency in the GNC is to bring the bill to a vote in its current form, without modifying it to incorporate exemptions. The National Forces Alliance and the National Front, have locked horns over this issue, in particular, with each party submitting proposals while hurling accusations that the other party is merely serving its own interests by attacking its rivals. The Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Justice and Construction Party, have been deliberately vague on the issue, in spite of the fact that they were the first to call for popular demonstrations in front of the GNC premises in support of the political isolation law. (The Muslim Brothers have since denied that they were responsible for the demonstrations).

If the bill as it currently stands is passed, it will most likely heighten tensions in Libya. Not only will it affect figures of the former regime, it will also lead to the elimination of many leaders of the 17 February Revolution who have large popular followings. Foremost among these is the leader of the National Forces Alliance Mahmoud Jibril, who belongs to the Warfa tribe, the largest of Libyan tribes.

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