Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1208, (7 - 13 August 2014)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1208, (7 - 13 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Libyan parliament convenes

Libya’s new parliament began its work this week against the background of continuing violence, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Libya’s new Chamber of Deputies began work in the eastern city of Tobruk on 4 August against a backdrop of confusion and violence. The country remains unstable three years after the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime.

Bloody clashes in Benghazi and Tripoli between former allies in the war against the former Gaddafi regime are now in their third week.

The new parliament is the outcome of the elections held on 25 June 2014, the results of which were announced nearly a month later on 21 July. It takes over from the General National Congress (GNC) as the country’s highest political body.

Addressing the opening session of the new parliament, Abu Bakr Baeera, the most senior MP, noted that 170 members of the 200-member assembly were present. In addition to the 18 members absent, 12 seats remain vacant because the balloting could not proceed in certain districts due to the security situation, or because of a boycot of the elections by Libya’s Amazigh minority.

Baeera represents Benghazi and supports the eastern federalist movement. He noted that representatives from the Arab League, the Islamic Cooperation Organisation, the African Union, the EU and other diplomatic missions were present as observers at the opening session. He added that the session was purely procedural, intending solely to elect the assembly’s chairman and vice-chairman.

Also on hand at the opening session were the caretaker prime minister, Abdullah Al-Thinni, several ministers in the interim government, the GNC’s first deputy chairman, Ezz Al-Din Al-Awami, and a number of other GNC members. Noticeably absent were GNC Chairman Nouri Abu Sahmain and the second deputy chairman, as well as a number of other GNC members.

The session opened with the recitation of Qur’anic verses followed by the national anthem and a speech by Al-Awami. He congratulated the representatives for the confidence shown to them by the Libyan electorate and wished them success in carrying out the will of the Libyan people by building a modern state governed by the rule of law.

 “The fact that this session of the Chamber of Deputies is being held in Tobruk at this particular time, when the sound of guns has grown louder, represents a victory for the nation. We, the people of all parts of Libya, wish you all the best as you set out on your mission and we pray to God that you succeed,” he said.

Baeera said that mutual support among citizens and persistent work would lead the country to safer shores. “We will show the entire world that Libya is not a failed state and that it will soon emerge as a model state justly governed by its people,” he said.

The current government was represented by Minister of Justice Salah Al-Marghani, who called on the Libyan people and their representatives to continue in the construction of the state.

He was followed by Ambassador Fadel Mohammed Jawad of the Arab League, who stressed the importance the League placed on safeguarding Libya’s territorial unity, sovereignty and independence. Representing the Islamic Cooperation Organisation, Ambassador Abdel-Tawab Youssef said that the inaugural session, in which the GNC had handed over power to the new parliament, was a positive step forward on the path to building a new state.

After further speeches by a representative of the Constituent Assembly charged with drafting Libya’s new constitution, a representative of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and a representative of the municipal council of Tobruk, the formalities of the handover of power were completed. Baeera then took to the podium to act as chairman, followed by the youngest member who served as rapporteur.

Baeera adjourned the official opening session, thanking the regional and international guests and envoys for their attendance, demonstrating their support for Libya in spite of the current security situation. After a half-hour recess, the deputies returned to take the oath of office administered by a representative of the Libyan Supreme Court.

Tensions had been high in advance of the opening session of the new parliament due to a controversy over its venue. GNC officials had wanted the handover to take place in Tripoli, the Libyan capital and the location of the GNC’s headquarters. The committee organising the investiture of the new representatives, based in Benghazi, insisted that the ceremony take place in that city, which was the parliament’s headquarters.

Due to the fighting in both Tripoli and Benghazi, Baeera called for an urgent meeting in Tobruk so that the parliament could be sworn in and get to work.

Speaking to the Weekly by phone from Tobruk, Salah Al-Sohbi, a Tripoli MP, said that Tobruk had surfaced as an alternative for holding the inaugural session after the interior ministry ruled out both Benghazi or Tripoli due to the violent clashes between warring militias in those cities.

Members were informed that the sessions would held in Tobruk until conditions in Benghazi are more.

According to Tareq Al-Ashtar, an MP from Tripoli, the members who met in Tobruk on 2 August recommended sending a delegation of MPs to Tripoli for the handover ceremonies, after which they would return to Tobruk.

Another representative from Tripoli, Mosab Al-Abed, who, at 22, is the youngest MP and therefore served as rapporteur during the opening session, told the Weekly that a group of five MPs had proposed the initiative. However, the group withdrew after a consultative meeting on Sunday in Tobruk, when it became clear that the initiative would not be approved by the other members.

According to informed sources in Libya, the new parliament will devote itself to remedying the deteriorating security situation. It will ask the international community to help it implement the measures it resolves to take and it will appeal to fellow Libyans for their support in steering Libya out of crisis.

Meanwhile, that crisis continues to rage. In the east the so-called Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, including the Ansar Al-Sharia, the Libyan Shield 1, the 17 February Brigade and the Rafallah Al-Sahati Brigade, has taken control of the main camp of the Special Forces of the Bouatani district in Benghazi,.

They are made up of the remnants of the old Libyan army, which had come out in support of “Operation Dignity”, the anti-terrorist military campaign that was launched by retired general Khalifa Haftar several months ago, the fate of which now appears uncertain.

In Tripoli, clashes between militias from Zintan and Misrata, fighting for control over the capital city, have entered their third week. Life for the inhabitants is increasingly grim. Many are reminded of the Tripolitanian civil war in the late eighteenth century, when the supporters of the deposed ruler of Tripolitania, Hamet Kahramanli, based in the coastal city of Misrata, fought Bedouin forces from the desert.

Although Misrata militia forces are reportedly gaining ground against the Zintan forces in the so-called Libyan Dawn Operation that began in Tripoli on 23 July, the fighting is likely to spread. The animosity between the two former allies is intense and both sides are persisting in their attempts to rally backing and mobilise support.

The collapse of the alliances forged during the 17 February Revolution now appears final, turning into a conflict between urbanites and Bedouin.

Meanwhile, the Libyan government is as helpless as ever. Without the capacity to bring the situation under control, it can only issue statements to the press. These now come at the rate of one per day, recapitulating developments in the fighting in the capital.

Members of the government headed eastward to attend the opening ceremonies of the new parliament. Afterwards, Prime Minister Al-Thinni set off for the US to attend the African-American Summit. He was also expected to meet with the US ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, at a military base near Washington to discuss the security situation and possible means for resolving the conflict.

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