Since early September, diplomatic talks on Libya gained momentum, which encouraged local rivals to return to the negotiating table under the auspices of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), which sponsored at least five meetings between 6 September and 13 October beginning in the city of Bouznika in Morocco and ending in the Egyptian coastal city of Hurghada.
Also, in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, which has once again returned to the helm of steering the Libyan process in a demonstration that Egypt is adamant in its support of its neighbour while its unity is under threat due to increasing foreign interference in the crisis.
Direct talks and preparatory meetings were held among Libyan players under UNSMIL auspices, which said it received “constructive political and critical assistance” from international players and Libya’s neighbours ahead of holding a forum for political dialogue slated for November in Tunisia. The dialogue comes on the heels of direct and preliminary talks to choose participants once again, since the political track launched in February in Geneva faltered and was boycotted by most invitees. In response, then UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame resigned.
Meetings in Bouznika between members of the Tobruk parliament and the Supreme State Council (SSC) in Tripoli revealed serious challenges that need focused solutions, including the meeting’s agenda, participants, commitment guarantees, safeguarding the decisions of the political forum and how they will be applied on the ground.
These challenges are facing UNSMIL, which is still operating according to its previous structure while waiting for the appointment of new leadership and a UN special envoy who will work from the outside, while a UNSMIL coordinator will be responsible for daily operations inside Libya. The multiple meetings over the past four weeks reveal efforts are underway from top to bottom and vice versa.
Meetings in Bouznika and the Swiss city of Montreux demonstrate a double-track strategy by UNSMIL and the international community to break the political stalemate. The Bouznika meetings focused on efforts to reach consensus between parliament and the SSC to appoint the heads of key institutions. Meanwhile, at Montreux talks focused on restructuring the executive power by downsizing the Presidential Council to three members and separating it from the cabinet.
Over the past month, negotiators from the Tobruk parliament and SSC held two official rounds of talks to discuss the criteria and standards in choosing seven key appointments, as stated in Article 15 of the Libyan Political Agreement; namely, governor of the Libyan Central Bank; director of the Administrative Oversight Authority; head of the Audit Bureau; the chief justice; prosecutor general; chairman of the Supreme National Elections Commission and chairman of the Anti-Corruption Authority.
Meanwhile, the final communique of the Bouznika meetings only stated that the two sides reached “comprehensive understandings about the standards, mechanisms and criteria for choosing the leaders of key institutions”.
Libyan sources revealed details about discussions on this selection process which relies on “competence and fair geographic distribution of candidates from the three regions in the country”. The Bouznika talks focused on picking the governor and board of the Central Bank, announcing in the media the criteria and standards for applicants and the deadline for submitting their CVs.
This will be followed by asking the IMF and World Bank to form an international committee to evaluate and choose those who meet the criteria. The committee will finalise a list of eligible candidates to present to parliament, which will choose seven and refer them to the SSC. The SSC will eliminate four and return their three choices to parliament to choose. The governor’s deputy will be chosen in reverse order, meaning the SSC will have the final word.
According to Libyan sources, a full quorum parliament will choose the Governor of the Central Bank from Barqa and three board members (two from Fezzan and one from Barqa). The SSC will choose the deputy governor from Tripoli and four board members (two from Tripoli, one from Fezzan and one from Barqa).
The two sides also agreed that parliament will pick the director of the Administrative Oversight Authority from Barqa, and the deputy of the Audit Bureau and head of Anti-Corruption Authority from Fezzan. Parliament will also appoint three members of the board of the Supreme National Elections Commission, taking into consideration balanced geographic distribution. Meanwhile, the SSC will choose the deputy director of the Administrative Oversight Authority and prosecutor general from Tripoli; the chief justice from Fezzan; and three board members of the Elections Commission.
Contrary to previous reports that state institutions will be relocated outside the capital Tripoli, the two sides agreed that these offices will remain where they are. The two sides will later decide on drafting and issuing legislation on regulating governorates and local government.
Although Article 15 only mentions the appointment of the governor of the Central Bank, the two sides added the appointment of the Central Bank’s board but did not specify who will submit the request to the IMF and World Bank to form a committee to oversee the choice of candidates.
These procedures will first require legislative bodies divided between Tripoli and Tobruk to come together, because the criteria stipulate that these steps are taken with full quorum of both bodies. This means these understandings are limited to the signatories, at a time when the legitimacy of the negotiators is constantly challenged by members in the two camps in Tripoli and Tobruk who are not participating in talks.
In Montreux, talks focused on outlining the fifth transitional phase which participants agreed begins by forming a new Presidential Council composed of a chairman, two deputies and a separate cabinet. The members of the Presidential Council and the prime minister would be chosen by the Political Dialogue Committee. Participants, who represent key Libyan figures, political and social forces, cities and regions, agreed that the transitional phase should last for 18 months beginning with a vote of confidence on the new cabinet, either by parliament or the Political Dialogue Committee under UN auspices if parliament fails.
Earlier this week, UNSMIL officially announced the restart of the comprehensive dialogue process which began by holding another meeting of parliament and SSC representatives, sponsored by the Egyptian government and UNSMIL, which vowed to “facilitate holding consultations” between the two sides regarding “constitutional matters”. The two sides discussed “legal and constitutional options that could be presented to the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to facilitate deliberations on moving forward on constitutional arrangements”.
UNSMIL announced the National Forum for Political Dialogue will meet in early November in Tunisia after direct meetings between Libyan players and preliminary online meetings with various Libyan actors on 26 October, who will reach recommendations for the Political Dialogue Forum.
UNSMIL said it will continue to work on “ensuring broad and transparent consultations based on rights during all phases of the process led and controlled by Libyans”. The UN also said that participants in the dialogue “meet in good faith and with a sense of cooperation and solidary for the benefit of the country”.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly