Libya Herald Managing Editor met a number of House of Representatives (HoR) members in Tunis yesterday on their way back from signing the Libyan Political Agreement in Skhirat, Morocco.
In a relieved mood after over a year of hard work and pressure, HoR members were able to give some insights into both the months of negotiations and events behind the scene at Skhirat.
The HoR members stressed that while they had no issue with talking on the record, however, they preferred to allow the dust to settle a day after the signing of the agreement. One member told Libya Herald that they wanted to allow the ‘’losers’’ (the minority dissenters) in the HoR to get over their loss.
Representatives revealed that the UN Special Representative, Martin Kobler, had the option to reopen the whole deal reached under his predecessor Bernardino Leon for renegotiations and start from zero.
However, HoR members felt that he was of the view that the deal put in place by his predecessor was substantial and worth continuing with. Kobler also felt that those who had wanted changes to the agreement were requesting too many changes.
They also felt that there was a certain urgency transmitted by Kobler who was keen to bring the long going negotiations to an end.
It was understood that no negotiated and compromised agreement would ever be perfect or fully satisfy all sides. However, they reported that Kobler felt that the present agreement gave something to all sides.
Representatives also said that Kobler decided to go with the overwhelming majority of HoR and General National Congress (GNC) members who had expressed their support for the agreement, as well as the wide support it had received over the year from a broad section of Libyan society, including NGOs, Municipalities, political parties, tribal leaders, military councils etc.
Despite the attempts by the dissenting minority to paint the UN-brokered agreement as a foreign imposed agreement, Kobler was satisfied that the wide cross section of Libyan participation over the previous year made it a Libyan-Libyan agreement.
Moreover, contrary to reports by the opponents of Skhirat that it was the international community that was pushing for early agreement and that they had chosen 16 December as the signing date, HoR members said that it was the HoR’s Shuieb and the GNC’s Makhzoum who chose the date and pushed for quick signatures.
Equally, it was stressed that it was the Libyans not the international community that came up with the three new names added to the GNA at Skhirat.
HoR members noted that Kobler allowed and encouraged both sides to meet face-to-face at Skhirat – including a meeting with the GNA Prime Minister-elect Faiez Serraj.
HoR members also understood that both Qatar and Turkey were in support of the Skhirat agreement.
Whilst members were relieved that an agreement had been signed bringing an end to the negotiations stage of the political settlement, they were very aware it was also the beginning of an even harder stage of real implementation on the ground.
It was also confirmed beyond doubt that the Tripoli administration had refused to grant landing permission to Kobler to land in Mitiga – a fact that has not gone down well with the UN. The UN is believed to be planning to apply regularly for landing permissions in Tripoli from now on in order to start work on the ground in the capital.
The HoR members were in no doubt that the international community are determined that the Serraj-led GNA will be based in Tripoli. They confirmed that the UN had been in contact with militias – which it classifies into two groups: cooperative and uncooperative.
However, no detailed discussions were conducted with militias yet. There is at present no definitive plan of how and when Tripoli will be entered and who exactly will provide security for the GNA.
The HoR members expect that there will be a Security Council resolution on Monday which will legitimize the GNA as the sole legitimate government of Libya. This will mean that the international community will cease contact with all other institutions – including the Tobruk-based HoR and its Al-Beida-based Abdullah Thinni government.
Whilst sanctions are being prepared and considered, HoR members believed that Kobler was in fact in favour of reconciliation with the dissenters. However, they will be given a short window of opportunity to come round after which sanctions will be introduced.
The Federalists are opportunists
With regards to the Cyrenaica (Barqa) Federalists in the HoR, one Tripoli HoR member was scathing. The Federalists are political opportunists. Their only real bargaining power and leverage is that the HoR is based in the east.
‘‘They know we cannot go home (to Tripoli). We, personally and the HoR, are their prisoners. Once the future HoR or government or power is located in Tripoli, they will lose their only power’’.
‘’I do not think that Benghazi will be safe anytime soon in 2016 for a government or parliament to be located there’’, the Tripoli member added.
We don’t like Hafter
On Hafter the Tripoli member was brutally honest and realistic. ‘‘We don’t like Hafter. We don’t support him. But the east like him, He is their man. To them, he saved them from crime and assassinations. He represents the police, the army, the state and stability to them’’.
‘‘Therefore, he is fait-accompli’’, he continued. ‘’We had to accept him and incorporate him into the agreement’’. However, the member added ‘’we will deal with Hafter at the right time’’.
Was it worth splitting Libya into two?
The HoR members relayed the hardship they and their families have had to endure since Tripoli was invaded by opposing militias in July 2014 forcing the HoR to hastily seek refuge in Tobruk.
‘‘It has been the toughest year and a half of my life. I have been forced to leave Tripoli and my home, and I have had to relocate my family to another city. But it was worth it. We could not accept the GNC and their militias rejecting the 2014 HoR elections just because they lost. We had to make a stand”.
The HoR-GNC dissenting minority
Asked about the stance of the minority dissenters, the Tripoli representative said that they were ‘’not principled. They are just opportunists. They have no ground to stand on. They just want power and influence, no more than that’’. Their alliance with each other (the HoR-GNC Libyan-Libyan alternative to the UN-brokered Skhirat agreement) is proof of their lack of a position based on a principle, he explained.
The fate of HoR President Ageela Salah?
Asked what would be the next move by the 90-odd HoR members who had signed a declaration supporting the Skhirat agreement, the Tripoli HoR member said that Salah would be voted out.
‘‘Next week we will meet in Tobruk and we will vote (HoR President Ageela) Salah out. We have 120 votes and his replacement is ready’’, he claimed.
‘‘It has been ready for weeks. Ageela Salah has lost’’, he added adamantly. ‘‘He was sold out by his ally: Hafter.’’
‘’Hafter – for whatever reason, and there are many possible reasons for his change of mind – has come on board the (UN-brokered) agreement. Ageela Salah has been left exposed politically and I do not see how he can survive. Events have overtaken him’’.
Asked if there was a danger that Ageela Salah and the minority dissenters could do a GNC and refuse to physically handover power and try to forcefully occupy the HoR in Tobruk, the Tripoli member said it would not.
He said that the people in Tobruk did not sympathise with the federalists and that the federalists would not be able to attack the HoR in Tobruk as Libya Dawn had done in Tripoli.