Libyans in dialogue: Differences persist

Kamel Abdallah , Thursday 19 Nov 2020

With the first round of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum concluded, progress has been made, but obstacles remain before a national consensus can be cemented

Stephanie Williams
The head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Stephanie Williams

Although the first round of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) ended this week without an agreement over a new unified executive authority to oversee the transition to elections next year, the participants did agree on a roadmap that included the creation of a restructured executive authority, ensuring a minimum of 30 per cent representation of women in leadership positions, and a target of 24 December 2021 as the date for presidential and parliamentary elections.

The LPDF will reconvene in a virtual meeting in about a week, according to acting representative to Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Stephanie Williams. In the meantime, mediating efforts will most likely focus on bridging the differences that have so far impeded a consensus among LPDF participants over the new interim government.

“Ten years of conflict cannot be resolved in one week. We still have a lot of work to do. The participants must soldier on,” Williams said during a press conference on the seventh and closing day of the LPDF in Tunis.

Williams called on Libyan political actors to join the drive for change and to heed the Libyan people’s desire for the political dialogue to continue. Warning of the possibility of sanctions against those who attempt to obstruct progress, she added that political dinosaurs risk extinction if they do not prove themselves relevant.

One point of contention among the 75 Libyan delegates at the LPDF is over a possible ban on those who have held government positions in Libya since 2014 from serving in the next interim government. When a proposal calling for such a ban was put to a vote, the result was 45 in favour and 29 against.

As Williams pointed out, it failed to pass because it obtained only a 61 per cent majority whereas a 75 per cent majority is required. The proposal has been described an attempt to impose an exclusivist ban on a long-stagnant political process.

The final day of activities occasioned heated discussion over the selection of the new three-member Presidency Council and the three-member premiership, as well as over the authorities of the chair and vice-chairs of the Presidency Council and those of the prime minister and deputy prime ministers. Discord over prospective candidates for these posts revealed some of the dynamics of the tensions between and within rival parties.

According to reports from the LPDF, the participants agreed that Cyrenaica would hold the chair of the Presidency Council while Tripolitania would hold the premiership and the post of speaker of parliament would go to a candidate from Fezzan.

The latter post is not expected to occasion much controversy in light of expectations that it will have a lesser role to play in the interim political process, especially given potential rivalry from a new governing body that is expected to arise from the LPDF, the permanent Political Dialogue Forum Committee, which will be endowed with legislative powers should the House of Representatives and the High Council of State (HCS) fail to undertake their designated responsibilities.

With regard to the two other posts, competition over candidates stiffened among rival factions in both Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. Although the current Speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh appears the most likely candidate for the chair of the Presidency Council, he faces several rivals, including two kinsmen: Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals Abdeljawad Faraj, his nephew and current director general of the eastern based Social Security Fund Idris Hafidah Al-Mabrouk, former Libyan ambassador to Switzerland Ali Boukheirallah and current Libyan Ambassador to Jordan Mohamed Al-Barghathi.

The former general intelligence chief Salem Al-Hassi had been mooted as a contender, but last Friday evening he released a statement denying any intention to field himself for that post or any other political position in the future.

To the west, the competition over the premiership of the transitional national unity government is particularly intense between the candidates from Misrata. They include current Minister of Interior of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fathi Bashagha, Deputy Chairman of the current Presidency Council Ahmed Maiteeq, prominent businessman Abdel- Hamid Dabiba, and Ahmed Al-Muntasser, who represented Misrata in the former Transitional Council.

Abdelmajid Seif Al-Nasr, former Libyan ambassador to Morocco, is tipped to represent Fezzan as one of the other members of the Presidency Council. The competition over government posts is not as stiff in the southern Libyan region as it is in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.

The last day of the first round of the LPDF occasioned some angry outbursts when some participants accused others of attempting to purchase votes in support of certain nominees for executive posts. Williams said she would look into the matter and reiterated her caution regarding possible sanctions against those who attempt to obstruct progress.

Some Libyans have charged that the LPDF, as it is being run, appears geared to recycle the same faces that were responsible for corrupting the public domain in recent years. Suleiman Sweikar, House of Representatives member from the eastern town of Al-Marj, believes that it would probably be better for the current executives to reunite the institutions of government and prepare for elections from their current positions as long as they are going to commit to that anyway if they are chosen for the new executive.

This would spare all from acrimonious competition over a new executive that will remain out of reach anyway, given the persistent differences over its constitution.

Despite the permanent ceasefire agreement, the resumption of the stalled peace process and other milestones towards a resolution of the Libyan crisis, the LPDF process still faces hurdles, in part due to its ambitious and complex agenda and in part due the continued rivalries and lack of consensus among both local and regional/international stakeholders.

Another challenge has surfaced in the form of resistance to the UN-sponsored process itself. Last week, political activists and political and military figures in Tripoli rallied beneath the banner “The Movement to Reject the Mandate” in order to proclaim their opposition, in advance, to the outputs of the LPDF and all foreign measures to design an executive authority.

Condemning UNSMIL’s “flagrant intervention” in Libyan affairs, they proclaimed their commitment to the principles of the 17 February Revolution and announced their intention to form a legal and political team to revise the Libyan-UN agreement instituting UNSMIL and to challenge the political arrangements that UNSMIL wants to achieve through the LPDF mechanism. They also vowed to organise an alternative forum in Libya to overcome current problems, finalise a consensual constitution and hold general elections. There is no need for a fifth interim phase, they said.

Quite a few members of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and of the Tripoli based HCS have also begun to question the viability of the LPDF process in view of many office holders’ intransigence, obstructiveness and refusal to hand over powers to others. They also criticised the extent to which UNSMIL is dominating the process of formulating political arrangements.

Stephanie Williams, herself, remains upbeat. In her press statement at the end of the LPDF’s first round she said she was “very pleased with the outcome”. The following day she travelled to Brega to follow up on progress on the military track of the Berlin process.

The “5+5” Joint Military Commission (JMC) met in that town to the east of Sirte to discuss and formulate a conception for the restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG). In addition to the members of the JMC, the meeting was attended by PFG commanders from both eastern and western Libya and by Mustafa Sanalla, chairman of the board of the Libyan National Oil Company.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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