Libyan lawmakers gathered last week in Tunis to launch an alternative dialogue process as the international community renewed calls on Libyan negotiators to sign a proposed agreement and the new UN envoy tries to breathe new life into stalled UN-led talks.
A group of 13 members of the country’s internationally-recognized parliament, the House of Representatives, met with 14 of their rivals from the General National Congress on Thursday and Friday last week in the Tunisian capital. Presenting themselves as the “Barqa [east Libya] Bloc” they aimed to launch a “truly Libyan dialogue”, calling for a broader meeting between the two institutions to identify points of discord and pave the way for a political solution.
Rejecting the proposals made by ex-UN Envoy Bernardino Leon in October, the 27 participants of the Tunis meeting made a number of suggestions, including merging the HoR and the GNC into one single body, as well as dividing current HoR and GNC members into age groups to set up a bicameral system with a parliament and an elders council, according to Benghazi MP Aisha al-Tabalgi, who took part in the meeting. Yet another suggestion was to increase the size of the future presidency council to nine members, three for each region.
The initiative came as recently-appointed UN envoy Martin Kobler pushed forward with a new fast-paced strategy. Since assuming his duties on 17 November, Kobler has met with a variety of Libyan stakeholders in Tobruk, Tripoli and abroad, as well as meeting foreign diplomats and attending a regional conference in Algiers earlier this week. On Tuesday he announced that “in the coming days” he was to present a roadmap for a rapid conclusion of the process and the signing of the Libyan political agreement.
Last week the international community renewed calls on Libyan dialogue parties to endorse the latest draft of the agreement presented at the start of October, hoping for a positive momentum following a statement recently made by 92 members of the House of Representatives, Libya’s internationally recognized parliament, to this effect.
Since October, the dialogue has been at a standstill, with no clear position taken by either of the two institutions represented in the dialogue. The General National Congress in Tripoli has criticized the UN mediation on various occasions, most recently this Monday, when 32 GNC members issued a statement renewing their rejection of the October proposal, which they said was “drafted under suspicious circumstances”, referencing to media leaks implicating former UN Envoy Leon.
In Tobruk, the House of Representatives, which has equally been critical of the UN approach, has gathered numerous times since October for the purpose of making a decision regarding Leon’s proposal, but time and again failed hold a proper vote due to internal disagreements. The latest session took place this Tuesday but was again postponed for not reaching the quorum needed to hold a vote.
Frustrated with the repeated delays and HoR President Agila Saleh Gweider’s apparent unwillingness to hold a vote, 92 HoR members signed a joint declaration on 24 November, endorsing the so-called Fezzan Initiative and, in principle, the political agreement and the proposed unity government.
The Fezzan Initiative, which was brought forth by a group of HoR members from southwest Libya at the start of November, backs the draft agreement of 8 October and the proposed government but under the condition that the makeup of the presidency council be reviewed to include another member for eastern Libya and for southwest Libya to ensure equal representation of the three provinces, and that candidate suggestions that fall outside the scope of the dialogue, such as for the head of the national security council, be ignored. Most significantly, the Fezzan Initiative demands that the army be excluded from any political bargains.
In the absence of a formal HoR announcement, the international community welcomed the Declaration of 92 as a positive step towards a conclusion of the peace process, hoping that the move would gain traction on both sides of the political divide. In addition to a UN statement on the issue, a number of governments that follow Libyan affairs closely declared their support for the initiative. “The Governments of Algeria, France, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States welcome the statement of support for a Government of National Accord in Libya signed by the majority of House of Representatives (HoR) members on November 24 and note that a majority of General National Congress (GNC) members in Tripoli also stand firmly in support of a Government of National Accord”, they said in a joint statement on 27 November.
But given the blockages in the dialogue process and Leon’s controversial legacy trust in the UN-led initiative has dwindled in Libya. It does not come as a surprise that some groups are exploring alternative paths, calling for a “Libyan-Libyan dialogue” with no foreign guidance or interference of any sort.
Among the short-term objectives of the Tunis initiative is getting the heads of the HoR and GNC, Agila Saleh Gweider and Nuri Abusahmain, to hold a face-to-face meeting over the coming days. With Jadu recently being discussed as potential venue for “Libyan Libyan” talks, the municipality of the Jebel Nafussa town on Tuesday renewed its invitation to dialogue members.
Back in Tobruk, the Tunis initiative was not well received. “I am surprised about those of my colleagues who call the GNC an expired body and are yet ready to meet with [some of] its members in Tunis”, complained HoR member from Geminis, Ibrahim Zghid, in Libya Channel’s Sijal debate Saturday evening, adding that the outcome of the meeting would be “useless”. He also criticized that the launching meeting of a “Libyan-Libyan dialogue” would take place outside Libya. Benghazi HoR Member, Yunis Fanush, argued that “those who went to Tunis cannot claim they represent eastern Libya because many of us [eastern Libyan MPs] did not agree with this strategy”.
“Meeting with a group from the GNC – whose term has expired – does not mean we are convinced of their political stance”, argued Muftah Kwidir, one of the HoR participants in the meeting, adding “an agreement cannot not be reached except through a Libyan-Libyan dialogue”. Kwidir said the Tunis meeting was therefore “praiseworthy”, although he noted that the GNC counterparts were “influenced by a certain ideology”. For instance, the two sides were again unable to agree on a definition of terrorism owing to GNC representatives maintaining that groups like Ansar al-Sharia are “revolutionaries” rather than “terrorists”.