Libya: Hour of decision

Kamel Abdallah , Sunday 4 Feb 2018

UN efforts are intensifying to nudge Libyan political factions and players to a last-ditch resolution that would allow a true national unity government to be formed

Fayez Al-Sarraj
Fayez Al-Sarraj, Chairman of Libya’s Presidency Council in a meeting with Tawergha-Misrata committee on January 29, 2018 (Photo: courtesy of Libyan Government of National Accord Facebook page)

Libya’s Presidency Council, chaired by Fayez Al-Sarraj, is in its third week of consultations over a cabinet reshuffle of the Government of National Accord (GNA). At the same time, the Libyan Central Bank in Tripoli is expected to announce major economic measures aimed at overcoming the financial and economic crisis that intensified during 2017 while the UN is expected to launch a new humanitarian response plan for this year.

The public relations office of the chairman of the Presidency Council announced that the anticipated cabinet shuffle of the GNA will bring on board a larger ministerial team. Although no further details were supplied, the announcement stressed that the reshuffle will occur on the basis of a consensus among all effective parties in the country.

Since the beginning of this month, Al-Sarraj has been engaged in a series of meetings with numerous representatives from diverse parts of the country. His purpose is to keep them abreast of the latest political developments and to include them in consultations over the anticipated cabinet reshuffle which, according to Libyan sources, is to take place in conjunction with a breakthrough in the long-stalled political process and an agreement with the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the Supreme Council of State in Tripoli.

According to a source close to the Presidency Council, the House of Representatives and the Supreme Council of State, the number of ministerial portfolios in the new government will rise from 18 to 20 so as to ensure that the diverse political forces and sectors of society are more broadly represented in the next cabinet, which Libyans hope will be a “national unity government.”

Libya has been mired in a political deadlock since 2015 despite hopes raised by the UN-sponsored Libyan Political Accord (LPA) that was signed by the representatives of Libyan factions in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015.

The UN envoy and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Ghassan Salamé has been trying to help Libyans introduce some limited amendments to the accord as a means to overcome the deadlock and end the governmental bifurcation that has existed since 2014.

He hopes that his efforts will be crowned by the creation of a new government that will have a broad base of support so that it can act effectively in remedying the severe economic straits and deteriorating living standards that have worsened during the past year.

The current wording of the LPA impedes the creation of a new government, Ghassan Salamé explained in a meeting with Egyptian journalists on 4 December 2017 that was attended by Al-Ahram Weekly. He hopes to resolve this problem through negotiations between representatives from the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the Supreme Council of State in Tripoli over limited amendments to the LPA.

On 20 September last year, the UN envoy for Libya briefed a high-level meeting that convened on the fringes of the UN General Assembly meetings on a “working plan for Libya” in order to revive the Libyan political process.

Implementation of the three-phase plan began on 26 September 2017 with a meeting of the Joint Drafting Committee, which consists of delegations from the Tobruk and Tripoli parliaments, in order to formulate limited amendments to the LPA. The second stage called for a National Conference in order to pave the way to the third stage: legislative and presidential elections before the end of 2018.

Libyan sources told the Weekly that the general commander of the Libyan Armed Forces in the east, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, through intermediaries, asked for four cabinet seats in the new cabinet in exchange for his recognition of the new government and using his influence to persuade the House of Representatives in Tobruk to ratify the Libyan Political Accord, incorporate it into the August 2011 Constitutional Declaration, and endorse the new government.

The sources added that Haftar wants two sovereign portfolios (the ministries of defence and interior) and two economic portfolios (the ministries of the economy and of finance) in the new government. He also insists on retaining his current position with undiminished powers. According to the sources, the intermediaries were Presidency Council members Ali Al-Qatrani and Fathi Al-Majbari.

UN envoy Salamé met with Al-Qatrani and Al-Majbari in Paris last week in order to discuss the next steps that need to be taken in order to amend the LPA, to restructure the Presidency Council and separate it from the GNA, and to form a new government.

Then, on 25 January 2018, Salamé met with the chairman of the House of Representative’s National Dialogue committee, Abdel-Salam Nasiya, and Nasiya’s counterpart from the Supreme Council of State, in order to discuss how to move forward in the amendment process.

The participants in the meeting stressed the need for both parliamentary bodies to agree on a mechanism for selecting the members of the new Presidency Council and for forming a unified executive authority to assume responsibility for the important tasks that lay ahead.

The UN envoy, who attended the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa this week, hopes to convince the Libyan factions and their allies abroad of the need for a national unity government capable of taking the steps necessary to address the dire economic, financial and standards of living problems in Libya.

He then hopes to turn his attention to the National Conference, the second stage of the plan for Libya, which had been deferred indefinitely following the suspension of the activities of the Joint Drafting Committee in November. Salamé is expected to set a new date for the convention in February.

On the economic front, the dollar declined by nearly a half against the Libyan dinar, dropping from 9.5 to under five dinars to the dollar within less than a week and bringing a welcome decline in prices. It has been reported that the Central Bank in Tripoli intends to unveil a package of new economic measures aimed at stimulating the economy, which has deteriorated sharply against the backdrop of the four-year-long political crisis, as well as rampant corruption.

Meanwhile, the UNSMIL chief has been working to draw international attention to the problem of the erosion of Libya’s frozen assets. In November, and again in January, he warned that “hundreds of millions more are being silently lost due to poor management of Libya’s frozen assets. Freezing the assets is one thing, however, their mismanagement is another.” He called for the creation of an international committee to manage these assets for the sake of future generations of Libyans.

Amidst these efforts to restore peace and stability and to pave the way to economic recovery, violence reared its head again in Libya. The twin bomb attack on the large Bayaat Al-Radwan Mosque in Benghazi’s central Al-Salmani district while worshippers were at prayer on Tuesday last week, claimed dozens of lives. The incident triggered universal condemnation and simultaneously raised the spectre of a resurgence of massacres.

Libyan Army Special Forces Field Commander Mahmoud Al-Warfali has reportedly had 10 people publicly executed at the scene of the terrorist bombing. Around that time, 11 bodies were found shot to death. Their identity cards were on them as well as letters listing their addresses, stating the reason why they were killed and warning against holding funerary ceremonies over the bodies. The bloody act of “retaliation” also elicited international censure.

The US, UK and France, in a joint statement, expressed their condemnation of the recent terrorist attack in Benghazi and, simultaneously, warned of the recent rise in retaliatory mass killings.

The UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Libyan authorities and Field Marshal Haftar to turn Mahmoud Al-Warfali over to the International Criminal Court that had issued a warrant for his arrest in August 2017 on charges related to similar mass executions in the past. They noted that the recent summary executions belied the earlier claim of the army that Warfali was under arrest and that an investigation was in progress into his actions.

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly 

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