Eighty Libyan parliamentary representatives spent three days in Cairo this week. In addition to a visit to parliament and a meeting at the Arab League, on the third day of their visit some of them took part in a conference held under the title “The Future of Libya: Opportunities and Challenges in Building the Nation State”.
The conference was organised by the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS). Speakers and panelists included Members of parliament (MPs) Mohamed Al Abani, Hassan Al Shafie, Tarek Al Goroushi, Mohamed Leeno, Gebreel Oheeda and Idris Omran. According to participants the purpose of the event was to reinstate the Libyan parliament as the legitimate elected legislative authority in Libya, the body naturally charged with the task of devising a roadmap for resolving the Libyan crisis.
In hosting the conference Egypt hoped to help resolve the Libyan crisis rather than intervene in Libya’s domestic affairs. Egypt is keen to furnish a climate and logistical support conducive to a fruitful dialogue for a number of reasons, foremost of which is Libya’s importance to Egypt as a neighbour with which it must share a common future. The national security of the two countries is indivisible.
The Libyan-Libyan dialogue at the ECSS addressed several fundamental issues related to security deterioration and the concomitant rise in violence and terrorism, porous borders, the proliferation of weapons, illegal migration and drug smuggling — the “five challenges”, as one participant put it. All are exacerbated by foreign intervention which aims to prolong the crisis.
Participants agreed that the security breakdown that set in eight years ago and the successive rounds of instability and flare-ups in violence derive impetus from outside meddling in Libya’s domestic affairs. NATO military intervention in 2011 paved the way for subsequent foreign meddling that fuelled the conflict and continues to do so. As one of the speakers pointed out, the NATO operation which was ostensibly launched to help the revolution in Libya instead left the country in ruins. As the international community stepped back other outside parties stepped in, each seeking to win the greatest piece of the Libyan pie.
A chief motive behind the foreign interventions is the Libyan petroleum sector and other natural resources.
“There is a high demand for Libyan oil. Libyan Brent Crude is reputed for its quality,” said one of the parliamentary representatives.
“Then there are the country’s natural gas resources and precious minerals, such as gold. All these are reasons for the foreign scramble over Libya.”
In her opinion, if Libyans are to end the cycle of conflict they need to stop relying on the international community to solve the crisis and rely, instead, on internal dialogue within the framework of a national agenda that activates mechanisms of transitional justice, a general amnesty and awareness-raising among the public.
“Foreign intervention, especially on the part of Qatar and Turkey, is one of the main causes of the current situation in Libya. We had a nascent political process going but because of them it floundered and collapsed,” said another participant.
A number of domestic factors have been instrumental to the perpetuation of the cycle of instability and anarchy in Libya. Conference attendees underscored the role played by long entrenched corruption which has acquired extremely dangerous proportions as a result of the fragile political and security conditions. “Corruption is the root of the problems in Libya. Libyan money is being extorted and the largest thefts occur in the petroleum sector,” said one participant, adding that the Libyan parliament has asked Transparency International to investigate the matter.
The MP continued, “when we looked closer, we were stunned to discover that there are two governments in reality. We found that $750 million had been spent by a single bank, supervised by the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, to cover credits for 54 companies that have never filed a document in Libya. Parliament has been unable to identify these companies. Now here’s the question. Who benefits from this? It follows that if we can halt any benefiting we will win in this confrontation. Lack of oversight is the cause of this crisis which is likely to continue as long as there are beneficiaries with an interest in keeping it alive.”
The problem of illegal migration is another concern. As one of the speakers pointed out, “Libya could tackle the problem of illegal migration if security is restored. But there are beneficiaries who want to maintain the status quo.” He pointed out that the Libyan National Army (LNA) has succeeded in curbing illegal migration in the areas under its control. “From Salloum to Brega there hasn’t been a single case of human trafficking since the army asserted its control there.”
In the opinion of another MP, illegal migration is not being handled properly and is likely to get worse before getting better. She pointed out that the Tripoli-based Presidency Council of the GNA signed deals and agreements on the issue without referring them to parliament, the legislative body that is presumably responsible. She added, “this issue has diverse dimensions that aggravate the Libyan crisis. Above all, it is connected with the mercenaries involved in the conflict. When the battles subside they lose their source of income and turn to crime. They are also sought out by terrorist organisations because of their links with organised crime.”
One of the main objectives of the Libyan delegation’s visit to Cairo was to enable the Libyan House of Representatives to resume its role in helping steer Libya out of the current crisis. As a participant noted, the responsibility for the failure of the settlement process lies with the agency that directed it, namely the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), headed by UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salamé.
“Not only has UNSMIL deliberately snubbed the parliament popularly elected by the Libyan people, it also tried to mar its image as it focused its attention on other political forces and traditional leaders. It is high time the Libyan parliament assumed the reins again,” he said.
“As long as parliament represents legitimacy its focus should be trained on priorities such as drafting the constitution and amending the electoral law. The country has no elected president. It is essential to promulgate a law for the election of a president of the republic and open the window to an injection of new faces.”
Another MP agreed, observing that the process of drafting a new constitution could mark the beginning of the solution to Libya’s protracted crisis. He noted that Egypt and Tunisia, neighbours which also endured the pangs of the Arab Spring, have experienced a stability that has remained out of reach for Libya because of a fragile political and security situation aggravated by foreign interventions. “The repercussions of this situation are apparent in political division on the ground and in the ongoing economic deterioration,” he said.
Stressing that security and stability are prerequisites for a solution, one speaker noted how security has been restored in eastern and southern Libya thanks to the efforts of the LNA. "If the Skhirat agreement had backed the army the situation in the country as a whole would have been different,” she said.
The UN brokered Libyan accord, signed in Skhirat, Morocco, in December 2015, initiated a political process that has encountered countless obstacles. One of the participants suggested that, after 42 years under the idiosyncratic regime of colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libyans were ill-prepared for what would come after the regime fell.
Many of the contributions stressed that the Libyan House of Representatives should be the body charged with designing any roadmap out of the current crisis.
“What we should be thinking about now, after thoroughly diagnosing the problems that Libya is facing, is how to escape the crisis. A security solution is in process at one level, but there are parties that want to turn it from a domestic problem into a regional conflict. A political solution is in operation at another level but it needs fresh inputs. But a political solution could prevail if we look to the House of Representatives to draw up a roadmap for the future of Libya.”