The presidency of Libya’s internationally recognized parliament on Monday rejected a peace deal and national unity government that UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon presented to Libyan dialogue parties ten days ago in the Moroccan town of Skhirat.
The House of Representatives however still needs to vote on the issue as Monday’s plenary session in the eastern Libyan town of Tobruk ended in turmoil.
Initial statements on Monday suggested that the 130 parliamentarians attending the day-long debate session had rejected Leon’s proposal by a simple majority. But speaking to Libya Channel in the course of the evening, a number of parliamentarians – including some who oppose the UN proposal – said there had in fact been no vote and that the rejection came in form of a statement.
“The session today ended at around 9pm with no final decision”, later explained MP Siham Sirgiwa on Libya Channel’s Talkshow Sijal. “The HoR Presidency suggested demanding a return to the fourth draft [a previous version of the agreement] but this was not voted on.”
Another MP, Ziad Daghim, claimed that “a group within the HoR repeatedly refused to vote on the president’s proposal and obstructed the procedure, stirring turmoil”.
In a year-long peace process, the UN Special Envoy has been trying to find common ground between the rival factions in Libya’s civil war, which erupted in the summer of 2014. Back then, armed coalition Libya Dawn seized the capital Tripoli and reinstated the defunct General National Congress, Libya’s first democratically elected legislature following the fall of the Gaddafi regime. It’s designated successor, the newly elected House of Representatives was then forced to move to Tobruk, near the Egyptian border, from where it has been operating since.
Dialogue participants – consisting of a GNC team, and HoR team and a group of independents – have gathered numerous times in Libya and abroad to work out a power-sharing deal, as well as to agree on a national unity government, which would replace the current two rival governments, one of which sits in Tripoli and the other in Bayda, eastern Libya.
But the negotiations have proven tough, as each draft agreement was rejected by either the GNC or the HoR on grounds that it privileged the other side. They key sticking points are the composition and role of the State Council in the future institutional setup, as this body is meant to take in most of the GNC members, as well as the future status of the army leadership, which is held by controversial General Khalifa Haftar. In eastern Libya Haftar is predominantly perceived as savior due to his military campaign against Islamist extremists, while Libya Dawn supporters in the west consider him a war criminal.
In July the HoR team and independent dialogue members already signed an agreement, referred to as the fourth draft, but the GNC rejected, and the deal could not be implemented. The draft that Leon presented on October 8 as “final agreement” contains a number of changes requested by the GNC and many HoR members therefore demand that the already signed agreement be respected.
Views also diverge on the proposed unity government for which Leon appointed a prime minister (Faiez Serraj), three deputy prime ministers (Ahmed Maiteeg, Fathi al-Majbari and Mussa al-Koni) and two ministers (Omar al-Aswad and Mohamed al-Ammari), all of whom will sit on the so-called Presidency Council. Other nominations – of the remaining ministers and two other leading positions – are facultative and will have to be confirmed by the future institutions once the system is in place. Both sides have criticised Leon’s choice of candidates on various grounds but it seems that that agreeing on the names is a minor challenge in comparison to the text of the agreement.
Despite international pressure, the GNC and the HoR did not react immediately to the proposal, instead consulting with their internally divided constituencies. Although it is not yet clear how yesterday’s HoR statement will be interpreted, it seems that neither of the two rival parliaments has yet come to a final decision. On Saturday, the GNC’s political committee held a press conference in Tripoli, in which it bashed the UN and Bernardino Leon for mishandling the peace talks and “almost causing a civil war with his wrong approach in dealing with the Libyan situation”.
The international community has been pushing hard for a peace agreement, with the UN Security and world leaders repeatedly appealing to dialogue parties to overcome their differences for the sake of the country. But numerous UN-imposed deadlines have passed, and hopes that the HoR would agree to the deal before the end of its initial mandate on October 20 are shattered.
It is uncertain how the international community will react and it has been suggested that foreign governments might withdraw their recognition of the HoR as only legitimate Libyan legislature if the date of October 20 passes without a peace deal. “I don’t think the international community will maintain its current stance on the HoR if the latter passes this decision [to reject Leon’s proposal]”, Libya’s UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said on Libya Channel last night.
The GNC and the HoR continue saying that dialogue is the only solution to the conflict and that they are still committed to the peace process, but the built-up frustrations are tangible on both sides. There has been much talk recently about possible scenarios in case the talks fail, the most critical of which would be the declaration of a state of emergency and the takeover of a military council headed by Haftar. This risks triggering a massive backlash in western Libya and exacerbating the war.
Outside the limelight of the Skhirat talks, representatives of Libya’s tribes have recently held a number of meetings – namely in Suluq in eastern Libya and the city of Misrata in western Libya – to explore alternative means of reaching common ground at the national level. These initiatives are in part fuelled by frustration with the UN-led talks and calls for a “Libyan-Libyan” dialogue “away from foreign agendas”. But the tribes are also divided and there is no guarantee that any tribal council has sufficient leverage to make the war stop.