Libya’s peace process has been in turmoil as warring camps within both rival sides of the civil war have sparred over the United Nations backed Government of National Accord (GNA), that the world hopes will end the conflict and bring the country back together.
The joint body, which includes representatives from both warring factions, was laid out in the Libyan Political Agreement – a December signed UN-authored peace deal. It needs the endorsement of the internationally-recognized parliament in Tobruk, the House of Representatives (HoR), before it can legally continue – and then the support of the rival legislature, the General National Congress, in Tripoli, to effectively function. Both approvals have been a stumbling block to the process.
The last two weeks have seen tumultuous debates erupt within the HoR, followed by a declaration of support for the GNA by around 100 parliamentarians, as well as by 53 members of the rival legislature in Tripoli, amidst attempts to revive the rival “Libyan-Libyan Dialogue”.
Meanwhile, UN Special Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler addressed the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday with an extensive briefing on the Libyan deadlock, in which he made what seems to be a final call on the HoR to endorse the GNA.
“The overwhelming majority of the Libyan people are in favour of the Libyan Political Agreement [and] the formation of a Government of National Accord…and the overwhelming majority want and deserve peace – now,” Kobler told the community of states.
He went on to say that he had not been able to convince the opponents of the December-signed peace deal to put their reservations aside. “Some of those politically responsible on both sides, however, still refuse to listen to the voices of the Libyan people and pursue their own narrow political interests”, he said.
Kobler recalled a parliamentary session on February 22, which had been called in to vote on the second GNA cabinet proposal but which “was interrupted by a minority of parliamentarians who opposed the vote, and resorted to threats and intimidation preventing the majority to freely express its vote.”
During said session, a group of GNA-critics including HoR President Agila Saleh Gweider physically prevented lawmakers from entering the room and threatened them, several MPs have alleged. The MPs said that the group’s goal was to prevent the number of attendees from reaching the quorum required to vote on the government.
“Nonetheless, this majority gathered 100 signatures in support of the endorsement of the new cabinet and its program”, Kobler further said, referencing to the “Declaration of 101” aired by Libya Channel late on Feb 22 after the tumultuous session closed. The pro-GNA lawmakers declared their support for the proposed cabinet and issued a list of 101 HoR signatures, which suggested they represented the majority.
“I am convinced that a positive vote could have taken place on 22 February, had the leadership of the House of Representatives shown the resolve and determination to put the Government of National Accord to a vote,” Kobler said in direct criticism of Agila Saleh.
The UN Special Rep reiterated his demand that the HoR “register the will of the democratic majority, and formalize its endorsement of the GNA”. He had already made this call last week just after the Declaration of 101.
Kobler then warned that “Libyans have to go on” even if GNA-supporters fail to obtain the HoR’s formal endorsement “by early next week”, suggesting that the international community is willing to override the HoR presidency if necessary. “Libya cannot be held hostage by minorities in the House of Representatives and the General National Congress”, Kobler said, adding “In both these forums, there are clear majorities who are in favour of moving ahead quickly with the establishment of a GNA. The country needs to move ahead now, or risk division and collapse.”
Kobler said he intends to reconvene dialogue members to “explore the way forward in line with the LPA”. The LPA states that the GNA needs a “vote of confidence” from the HoR in order to come into office, but the LPA itself was signed without the backing of the two rival legislatures’ presidencies, contrary to prior understanding.
Other foreign representatives have also reacted positively to last week’s developments. A White House communique last week said the US “welcomed” the February 22 “endorsement for the Cabinet of the Government of National Accord, signed by a majority of Libyan House of Representatives members”, lauding signatories as “courageous Libyan leaders”. Representatives of the EU, UK and US moreover issued a joint statement in support of the Declaration of 101, calling it “an important signal that the majority of the members of the HoR are ready to formally endorse the GNA as outlined in the Libya Political Agreement”.
On their part, GNA-supporters from the rival legislature in Tripoli have also moved ahead single-handedly without the backing of the GNC presidency, convening as State Council – a key institution within the LPA – for the first time last week and again this Wednesday.
“We affirm our support for the Unity Government to start working from the capital as soon as possible”, group eldest Abderrahman al-Shater, who chaired the meetings, declared in a statement aired Wednesday evening. “We call upon all states that are in support of the LPA and stability in Libya to exercise pressure on those states that are supporting the conflict parties”, Shater added. “All attempts to stop us from supporting the LPA will fail”.
Among those standing next to Shater during the statement were Belgassem Gzit – LPA signatory and leader of the GNC’s Wifaq Bloc, as well as controversial Misratan congressman Abderrahman Swehli.
The pro-GNA bloc now claims to represent 53 GNC members, up from the 30 to 40 congressmen and -women who gathered in Tripoli last Wednesday and Friday for their first consultations as State Council. Four representatives – Abdessalam al-Safrani, Shaaban Abusitta, Majda al-Fallah and Lamia al-Sharif – have been tasked with drawing up the internal regulations for the State Council.
Kobler reacted to the news from Tripoli, tweeting “I welcome &strongly support 40 GNC meeting [Friday] in Tripoli to prepare 1st mtg of State Council…: right way forward, strengthens SC &LPA”.
As per the LPA, the State Council shall comprise 145 members of the GNC elected on 7 July 2012: 134 members acting at the time of the signing of the LPA and 11 members of those who resigned. GNC president Nuri Abusahmain was meant to submit the list of names, but he opposes the peace deal as such. The general understanding is that the State Council only comes into existence once the HoR has amended the 2011 Constitutional Declaration to include the LPA in the roadmap for Libya’s transition. Indeed, the LPA states that “the State Council shall convene its first meeting within 10 days of the vote on the amendment of the Constitutional Declaration”.
But the GNC’s pro-GNA group have said that in their view the State Council came into existence with the signing of the LPA, invoking Article 67 of the LPA, according to which the agreement “shall enter into force once it is endorsed and adopted in its entirety and signed by parties to the Libyan political dialogue”.
Facing the possibility of the international community going ahead with the GNA formation despite the procedural constraints, opponents of the deal on both sides of the political divide are also making their moves. On Monday, the HoR’s National Sovereignty Bloc came out with a statement centered around the war against the IS Group as rallying point for east and west Libya. The Bloc congratulated the Libyan army for its recent territorial gains in Benghazi, but mentioned also the “heroic youth” in western Libya who are “shedding their blood” to free Sabratha from the grasp of the IS Group.
National Sovereignty Bloc held up their criticism of the GNA – which they want amendment or abrogated – and related their version of recent events in Tobruk in a press conference following their statement. Refuting the claims by GNA-supporters and international representatives that the February 22 voting session had been sabotaged, MP Ziad Daghim claimed that the required of quorum of 99 HoR members had not been reached by midnight and that there were only 93 in the room. He furthermore claimed that GNA-supporters under the lead of the Second Deputy HoR President Ahmid Huma nevertheless tried to hold the vote, calling this a “conspiracy”. The Declaration of 101 was an illegal procedure, he said, just like the signing of LPA itself. Moreover, Daghim said, less than 90 HoR members had really signed the declaration as six of the signatories on paper were “not even in Libya”.
Ali Gitrani, who is also a member of the Sovereignty Bloc, explained that he suspended his membership in the GNA’s Presidency Council because the latter did not have “a clear stance on the army”. “An alternative [to the LPA] is available – the Libyan-Libyan Dialogue”, he said at the press conference.
Members of the National Sovereignty Bloc were part of a 13-member HoR delegation headed by Ibrahim Amish that sat with GNC representatives in Tripoli this week to resume the so-called Libyan-Libyan Dialogue.
The initiative, which rivals the UN-led dialogue process, was launched last year in Tunis and boosted by a meeting between the rival heads of parliament Agila Saleh and Nuri Abusahmain in Malta on December 15, just two days before the signing of the LPA. It led to the formation of the so-called Committee of 21, a joint GNC-HoR group tasked with drafting a “political solution to solve the Libyan crisis”.
In a televised statement on Wednesday, representatives of the Libyan-Libyan Dialogue declared that they had agreed on amending parts of the LPA “to ensure a comprehensive agreement” before forming a new national unity government. The group appealed to the international community to consider them the relevant interlocutors for achieving security and stability in Libya.
These latest developments illustrate the divisions on the Libyan political scene that hinder the implementation of the LPA and have already found their way into the GNA, whose 9-member Presidency Council has faced a number of setbacks since it began its activities at the start of January. The HoR rejected the first cabinet that the Presidency Council put forward on January 15, demanding that the Council reduce the number of ministries, then 32. Council members Ali al-Gitrani and Omar al-Aswad suspended their membership over internal arguments concerning mainly the status of the Libyan army and its leadership under Khalifa Haftar. Another Council member, Mohamed al-Ammari, has also threatened to withdraw over his disagreement with the pro-army faction. On February 14 the Council presented a second cabinet list, but two of the now 18 ministers immediately informed the public that they had not been asked and did not want to be part of the Unity Government. The HoR presidency has repeatedly put off the confidence vote as disagreements threaten to pull the House apart.
Moving the GNA, whose Presidency Council has so far been meeting in Tunis and Skhirat, to Tripoli is seen as an important next step to keep the momentum going. In his speech to the UN Security Council, Kobler emphasized that the GNA “must be allowed to take up its duties in Tripoli as soon as possible”. He also warned that “those who are threatening the Presidency Council and actively preventing it from assuming power in Tripoli should be held accountable on the basis of Security Council resolutions”.
Kobler also spoke of the necessity of broadening the LPA by engaging local actors – primarily municipalities, tribal representatives and civil society organizations – adding that this may later result in the creation of a “Grand Shura” Council.