A group of members of Libya’s two rival legislatures on Saturday signed a joint declaration of principles, which they say will pave the way for a full political agreement and a unity government to end the Libyan conflict.
The two delegations from the House of Representatives (HoR) and the General National Congress (GNC) sparked confusion in Libya and abroad when they issued a joint statement on Saturday evening suggesting a roadmap for the formation of a national unity government.
“We declared out mutual understanding and we ask the HoR, the GNC and the UN Secretary General to support this Libyan agreement that we reached without any foreign interference,” HoR team leader Ibrahim Amish said at a press conference in Tunis. “I call on the HoR to accept this solution, which I consider a historic opportunity,” added Deputy GNC President Awad Adessadeq, who headed the GNC delegation at the talks.
For the proposal – agreed to following closed-door meetings – to translate into action, it will require the approval of both houses, which is far from guaranteed. The document received a mixed response in Libya. Some representatives of the internationally recognized parliament dismissed it as insignificant and warning it could jeopardize the ongoing United Nations led dialogue.
The main pillar of the Tunis proposal is reverting to the Constitution used during the era of the monarchy as legal basis for the interim period and preparing for parliamentary elections within two years.
According to the text, a 10-member committee – five members from each of the rival legislatures – would be appointed and given two weeks to agree on a prime minister and two deputies, one representing the GNC and the another the HoR. This presidential council would then form a government. The executive would have wide-ranging powers during the interim phase, GNC member Amna Matir explained on Libya Channel. The proposal does not specify what the interim legislature shall look like.
Bringing back the Constitution is key to the political deal, Ibrahim Amish said when interviewed on Libya Channel’s 9pm Debate, adding that “the constitutional void is the only obstacle to reaching a final agreement”. “The Constituent Assembly has been working for a year and reached nothing”, he said.
While the Tunis proposal does not elaborate on whether this means reactivating the 1951 Constitution or its amended version of 1963, signatories explained that it was the 1963 version – which abolished the prior federal system of government – that would be taken as its basis. According to the proposal a panel of ten parliamentarians – five from each the HoR and the GNC – shall adapt the constitutional text to present-day requirements. It is unclear how they are meant to deal with the fact that the Constitution was created for a constitutional monarchy.
Sunday evening the Libyan delegations were received by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, who welcomed their initiative but urged them to maintain contact with the UN.
While all eyes have been on the Tunis talks, the UN’s new Special Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler, has been rallying support for a continuation of peace talks in eastern Libya calling them the “only way forward for peace and unity”. On Saturday he met with HoR President Agila Saleh Gweider in the eastern Libyan town of Shahat. On Monday, he was set to meet with HoR members in Tobruk, but instead he rushed to Tunis to speak with the signatories of the proposal. “Candid talks w[ith] HoR & GNC delegations today in Tunis, listened carefully, urged them to join majority of Libyans & endorse UN-facilitated LPA [Libyan Political Agreement]”, he later commented on Twitter.
The only party to welcome the Tunis proposal without reservations was the GNC presidency. “We have communicated with revolutionaries and municipal councils, activists and dignitaries, who all bless the agreement”, it said in a statement on Sunday, calling on all parties to work toward its implementation.
In Tobruk, on the other hand, the news was not so well received. HoR spokesman Faraj Abuhashim denied the HoR delegation had been mandated by the house and called the initiative a “childish attempt to get out of signing the real peace deal” in an interview with AP. Several HoR members spoke out to complain they had not been consulted, and observers questioned the usefulness of a proposal elaborated in a few meetings that does not address key controversial issues such as the role of the army.
Proponents of the proposal argued that it was good to “shake up” the stalled UN-led talks with new ideas, and that key constituencies in Libya were using this “parallel track” to voice their opposition against what they perceive as a foreign-imposed deal resulting in a weak unity government that will bend to international demands.
On 9pmDebate on Sunday, Ibrahim Amish said he and fellow signatories felt compelled to act because for the past year ex-UN envoy Bernardino Leon had been “unable to bring Libyans together”. HoR and GNC representatives never sat face to face during the Skhirat Talks, he claimed, dismissing presenter Mohamed Alhooni’s objections.
Asked for a response to HoR members who criticize his initiative, Amish became defensive, accusing media of creating “fitna” – division – rather than promoting unity. Amish insisted that the HoR members who signed the Tunis agreement did not act singlehandedly but consulted with colleagues in Tobruk, and claimed the team had been mandated by the HoR presidency. He reminded that this was merely a declaration of principles: “We have not taken any sensitive decisions yet. We are suggesting a plan and if they do not want a solution they can reject it.”
Reacting to Ibrahim Amish’s claims, Muftah Duma, HoR member from Sebha, who called into the debate from Tobruk, said that his colleague did not have the mandate to negotiate on behalf of the HoR and that parliamentarians were “not standing behind this proposal”.
“The committee for justice and reconciliation [which is headed by Amish] is not the official dialogue team that the HoR elected,” he reminded viewers, asking how there could be a direct appointment if the HoR has not held sessions in the last week. “We support peace efforts as long as they do not does obstruct the political dialogue that has been conducted for the past year,” Duma said. He then questioned the motives of his colleagues who had gone to Tunis. “Why does this agreement come at this point of time? It is an attempt to make the political dialogue fail,” he told.
Critical voices also emerged from within the GNC. “This agreement does not represent the GNC,” GNC member Abulgasem Gzit told Alhooni on the 9pmDebate. “GNC members were not informed about this initiative and found out through the media. ”A lot of issues need to be clarified before either of the houses can make a decision, Gzit continued. Nevertheless, he said that the proposal should be taken seriously like any other peace efforts. “If the Skhirat Talks fail and the situation deteriorates further nobody will reject this initiative,” he said.
The Tunis proposal clearly reflects the increasing skepticism amongst Libyans regarding the role of the International community and recent calls from various constituencies that Libyans should regain the hand over the peace process. However, rejection of so-called “Skhirat Talks” has very different motives across Libya. Some are against the international community playing a larger role in Libyan politics and possibly authorizing a foreign intervention against the Islamic State Group in Libya, others are – on the contrary – angry that the international community is not giving full support to the Libyan army in its war against extremist groups.
It is highly unlikely that the signatories of the Tunis initiative will be able to bridge the divide between hardline supporters in each of the two political camps.