Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Libya extends interim phase

New popular outcry follows a provisional vote to extend Libya’s transitional phase, in particular the tenure of the country’s interim parliament widely criticised as ineffective, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) moved last week to extend the interim phase originally scheduled to end 14 February to the end of 2014. The announcement was made in a press conference held Wednesday last week by the chairman of the GNC’s roadmap committee, Salem Jinnat, and official GNC spokesman Omar Hamdan.

The roadmap committee subsequently released a report detailing its opinions on the initiatives that had been submitted to it by various groups and bodies with regard to the transitional roadmap. The 11-page report noted that it had received initiatives from several political parties and civil society organisations, as well as from the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), and that it studied them and classified them in terms of their approach to how the country should be managed during the interim phase.

According to this report, a copy of which Al-Ahram Weekly received, the committee concluded that all the initiatives focused on three central issues: the timeframe, the constitutional framework governing the transitional period and the institutional framework governing the bodies that would replace the GNC. Also, all the initiatives proceeded from the assumption that the GNC would cease its operations as of 7 February 2014, an assumption the committee regarded as an attempt to interpret the governing constitutional declaration, in the formulation of which legislators did not stipulate “explicitly” the duration of the term of the GNC.

Elsewhere in this document, the committee discussed “the difficulties that might arise unless specific measures are taken to emerge from the current crisis and to promote stability”. These steps it summed up as a political process as represented in the GNC’s internal bylaws and agendas, the non-separation between parliamentary and political party activity, and the systems of political blocs and follow-up committees.

The GNC had asked the roadmap committee to produce this report following the controversy sparked by the parliamentary body’s decision to extend the GNC’s term until 24 December 2014. The extension was approved by 102 members of the 126 that were present at the session.

GNC spokesman Hamdan told the Weekly that the proposal to extend the interim period, and hence the term of the GNC, had been submitted by the roadmap committee after it studied all the initiatives submitted to it by various political bodies. However, he added that the vote in favour of extending the transitional period was taken in the context of a vote on the idea in principle and should not be understood as a final decision. “The subject needs further discussion and refinement so that the congress can produce a consensual formula satisfactory to all parties.”

The announcement by the chairman of the GNC roadmap committee regarding this committee’s findings from its study of the initiatives submitted to it triggered an immediate outcry among the Libyan public. Many protested that the GNC had to end its term on the date specified in the constitutional declaration, especially in view of its weak performance since it was elected July 2012. Some political forces charged that the roadmap committee had bowed to the political interests of certain political forces in the GNC.

On Thursday, the day after Jinnat and Hamdan’s press conference, dozens of demonstrators took to the streets to protest the vote in favour of extending the GNC’s term to the end of 2014. Many accused the roadmap committee of rewriting its report while the chairman of that committee, Jinnat, was absent due to illness. Speaking to the Weekly, Jinnat denied that any changes had been made to the report during his illness. He stressed that he had personally overseen every detail of the report, in his capacity as the roadmap committee chairman, before submitting it to GNC Speaker Nouri Abu Sahmein.

As tempers flared over the question of the extension of the interim phase, the controversy over the current government grew more heated, as this government  like the GNC  has also been charged with incompetence in handling Libya’s political, security and economic crises. This past week, therefore, also occasioned angry demonstrations, calling on the GNC to dismiss the government headed by Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who has repeatedly stated that he would never resign under pressure in view of the deteriorating conditions in the country at all levels. Zeidan insists that his government came into power through a vote of confidence granted by the GNC in 2012 after the former premier, Mustafa Abu Shaqour, failed to form a coalition government accepted by all parties. To remove the Zeidan government would require the approval of 120 of the GNC’s 200 members. Such a majority is difficult to imagine at this time in view of the wavering and confusion that have come to characterise the GNC’s performance.

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the leader of the National Forces Alliance, the largest political bloc in Libya, announced recently that he “apologised” to the Libyan people for the fact that his party had supported the current prime minister. Mahmoud Jibril said that his party had realised that this had been a mistake as Zeidan has since shown himself to be an autocrat. In an interview aired on several privately owned Libyan satellite news stations, Jibril said that Zeidan does not consult with local political entities with respect to the decisions he takes, whereas he does consult with foreign parties about which the Libyan people know nothing. He stressed that the National Forces Alliance “does not approve or support his practices” and that “we differ with him frequently”.

In this interview, Jibril, who receives support from the Gulf, levelled harsh criticisms against the Zeidan government. It is remiss in rewarding the revolutionaries who overthrew Gaddafi, he said. He also charged that, “The current government has squandered public monies while it has produced no tangible progress on the ground.”

Commenting on this interview, Libyan political analyst Mohamed Al-Ubeidi wondered whether Jibril, in the course of campaigning for the fall of the Zeidan government, was promoting himself as the next prime minister. The fall of the Zeidan government seemed to be Jibril’s pet project, he said.

Before the Jibril interview, the chairman of the higher steering committee of the National Forces Alliance, Abdel Majid Malyaqta, also lashed out against the Zeidan premiership. “Zeidan is no longer capable of administering this phase and he should go,” he said. Many Libyans are surprised by this sudden reversal in the alliance’s attitude towards Zeidan. The alliance had helped Zeidan to power and just until recently it had remained one of his staunchest backers.

As political squabbles rage, the security situation in Libya remains fraught. A booby-trapped car driven by a suicide bomber exploded at the Barsis security checkpoint in eastern Benghazi killing at least 14 soldiers of the Libyan military, which is in the process of being reconstituted. Political parties accused extremists in the framework of the confrontation between the army and Ansar Al-Sharia in Benghazi.

Meanwhile, to the west, Libyan authorities released four American soldiers who had been detained for several hours following their arrest in an area 60 kilometres west of Tripoli.

The soldiers had been marking out a road to use to help evacuate US nationals from Libya in the event of an emergency, according to a statement by State Department officials in Washington Saturday. According to Libyan authorities, the US soldiers were arrested by Libyan security officers whose suspicions were aroused because the soldiers were carrying arms.

The authorities added that the soldiers were handed over to the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs as soon as the security officers learned that the persons they had arrested were connected with the US embassy.

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