After tough political bargaining behind closed doors in Tunis, Libya’s Presidency Council announced the Unity Government on Tuesday morning, 48 hours after the UN-set deadline and amid walkouts.
Naming the ministers is a necessary step to finalizing the formation of a joint body which is meant to take seat in the Libyan capital later this month and end the country’s civil war.
But only seven of the Council’s nine members signed off on the cabinet list, as two members walked out in protest on Monday during the negotiations.
Now that it is complete, the Unity Government, or Government of National Accord as it is called officially, needs to be approved by Parliament – the House of Representatives – in order to become functional. But the HoR never endorsed the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement that rival parliamentarians signed in Morocco on December 17. Attempts to convene a plenary session to vote on the matter have failed so far due to internal divisions and the absence of many lawmakers from Tobruk, where the HoR is based.
There are 32 ministers in the new cabinet, contrary to prior plans to form a slim executive body. On Monday GNA media advisor Fathi Bin Aissa told reporters that the Presidency Council had agreed to reduce the number of ministerial portfolios to only ten. Later in the evening, the number was said to be fixed at 24. The Presidency Council needed to take into account the demands of different regional and political constituencies.
The UN “strongly welcomed” Tuesday’s announcement calling it a “significant step forward in the quest to end the political divisions and the armed conflict.”
“This is a sterling opportunity for Libyans to come together to build their country. The formation of the GNA is one important leap on the path to peace and stability in Libya,” UN Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler said.
He called on the HoR to endorse the body as the next step warning that “hard work lies ahead”.
Most of the ministers are little known and have not been previously involved in politics. The defense portfolio went to Mahdi al-Barghathi, the head of Brigade 204, one of the main army units fighting extremists in Benghazi, who was the subject of an assassination plot last November.
The interior ministry went to a westerner, Aref al-Khuja, who was a ministerial advisor in 2013 and already nominated Interior Minister once before, in May 2014, in Ahmed Maiteeg’s short-lived government.
The Justice Minister, Abdessalam al-Jnaidi, is a lawyer from Sebha, southwest Libya.
There are only two women in the government: Local Governance Minister Widad Massud and Culture Minister Asma al-Usta. This is despite calls by UN Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler last week for a 30 per cent quota for women in the joint government.
However, Asma al-Usta told Libyan media outlet El-Kul that she had not been contacted about her candidacy to this position, suggesting that she was selected without her knowledge.
Said al-Marghani, appointed Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, and Saleh al-Janab, appointed Minister of Human Rights & Displaced were given the second positions of state minister, meaning they will also sit on the 9-member Presidency Council replacing the two who walked out on Monday.
The Presidency Council initially comprised of Faiez al-Serraj (Prime Minister) and his five deputies: Ahmed Maiteeg, Fathi al-Majbari, Mussa al-Koni, Abdessalam Kajman and Ali Gitrani, as well as three State Ministers: Mohamed al-Ammari, Ahmed Hamza and Omar al-Aswad.
But Deputy Prime Minister Gitrani on Monday suspended his membership claiming that certain fundamental principles were being neglected by his colleagues, including commitment to the Libyan army and its leadership. He also warned that there was not equal participation of Libya’s three provinces, pointing out that Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) needed to be given at least one third of the ministries, as well as major positions in the diplomatic corps and leadership of state institutions.
Subsequently, State Minister Omar al-Aswad, from Zintan, also handed in his temporary resignation, describing the GNA as nonconsensual and saying that the western region was not well represented in the Presidency Council.
Within its first month, the GNA Presidency Council has already faced a number of challenges to its authority. In its first decision, which it issued on January 13, the Council set up the so-called Temporary Security Committee to implement security arrangements required for the GNA to take its seat in the capital. The Council appointed 18 army officers from around the country to sit on the security committee. While UN Envoy Kobler welcomed the decision and urged all Libyan parties to cooperate with the Security Commitee, Libya’s rival government in Tripoli slammed the move.
Khalifa Ghwell, who heads the self-declared National Salvation Government in Tripoli and is also its acting defense minister, on Thursday warned the officers appointed to the security commitee that they would be investigated and prosecuted. “This decision [1/2016] represents a criminal act in several ways according to the military and civil penal code. It was issued by an illegal entity”, Ghwell said, referring to the GNA’s Presidency Council. “It incites the carrying of weapons and promotes a spirit of disobedience in the ranks of the Libyan army,” he added.