After consultations under UN auspices, members of the Libyan national dialogue today agreed that Wednesday 16 December was the target date for signing the political agreement they have been working on for the past 14 months.
The UN is pushing forward peace talks, which stalled in October, but a number of dialogue members have launched a parallel negotiation and risk derailing the UN-led process.
Imhamed Shueib – first deputy president of the House of Representatives, Libya’s internationally recognized parliament, and Saleh al-Makhzum, vice president of the General National Congress, Libya’s rival legislature, announced the decision on the signature target date on Friday afternoon in a joint press conference in Tunis. Shueib called on all dialogue members to embrace the proposal, adding that there was “no turning around”. On his part, Makhzum said the UN-led dialogue was the best option.
Members of Libya’s two rival legislatures, as well as participants of the broader dialogue, including political party leaders and municipal council members, had come together in the Tunisian capital on Thursday to discuss the steps needed to conclude the dialogue and form a national unity government.
The two-day meeting was also attended by numerous foreign diplomats, including Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Taïeb Baccouche, underscoring the urgency of the situation given the humanitarian and security crisis in Libya and the aggressive expansion of the Islamic State Group, which on Thursday seized parts of a western Libyan town near the Tunisian border.
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler, who officially hosted the Libyan talks for the first time since he took over from his predecessor Bernardino Leon last month, was cautiously optimistic. “I felt a big consensus; I felt that there is urgency and that the clock is ticking for the sake of peace, security and prosperity in Libya”, Kobler told the press. “There was a wide consensus that only through rapid signature of Libyan political agreement the country can be brought back to unity”, he had said earlier on Thursday.
Kobler’s first major decision as new UN Special Envoy had been to resume talks where Leon had left them and to refuse any amendments to the draft agreement that Leon presented on 8 October. “If you start opening it then it will be Pandora’s box”, Kobler has justified this decision. On Thursday, dialogue members were distributed the text of this proposal because there was some confusion regarding the text, according to Kobler.
On Sunday, Libyan delegates are expected to attend the MED 2015 Conference ”Mediterranean Dialogues’’ in Rome, which is co-chaired by Italy and the US and attended by senior government members from around the region. The last day of the three-day conference will be dedicated to the Libyan conflict.
In spite of the encouraging statements the Tunis meeting was overshadowed by fears that the UN-led process might be derailed by a parallel dialogue process launched by a group of HoR and GNC members, which led to the signing of a Declaration of Principles last weekend. Proponents of this so-called “Libyan Libyan Dialogue” reject international mediation and want to reach a power-sharing agreement between the HoR and the GNC based on the mutual acceptance of Libya’s former Constitution, which slain dictator Moammar Gaddafi suspended in 1969.
Ironically both groups of negotiators met in the same hotel in Tunis only days apart.
On Tuesday, Imhamed Shueib held a press conference dismissing the “Libyan Libyan Dialogue” as insignificant and accusing its authors of wanting to sabotage the main dialogue track in pursuit of their political interests. Many other HoR members have joined his position.
But the move was well received in the GNC, whose presidency on Thursday published a list of 82 signatures of GNC members supporting the initiative. This announcement came as a surprise, as observers had previously assumed that the Wifaq Block within the GNC, which is headed by Abulgassem Gzit and supposedly has about 70 members, would stick to the UN-led process. Gzit himself attended the UN-led talks, alongside several other GNC members, including Mohamed Maazab and Nizar Kawan.
To complicate matters further, several members of the GNC’s dialogue team have “defected” to the other dialogue, leaving the GNC without official representation at the UN-led talks. It is also not clear whether the HoR has an official representation at the talks since October, when influential dialogue member Abubakr Buera withdrew in protest against not having been nominated to the national unity government and parliament members decided to elect a new team of negotiators. But the internal vote never took place, leaving the acting dialogue team in a legal limbo. In any case, Kobler appears to be willing to move ahead regardless of formal incongruences.
“There cannot be a team represented by only one person [Imhamed Shueib]”, said political analyst Aissa Abdelgayum on Libya Channel’s 9pmDebate on Thursday evening, adding “and on the other side some GNC members are taking part in both dialogues!”. For Abdelgayum this reflects the growing political fractionalization. “We no longer have a GNC and HoR but rivaling political blocks”, he concluded.
Speaking from Tunis, Ashraf al-Shah, who advises the GNC dialogue team, claimed that in the two political camps “the majority wants a solution through the UN-led dialogue” while “a minority is trying to steal the show”. “Those from the GNC who signed the [Libyan-Libyan] Tunis Declaration are [GNC President Nuri] Abusahmain’s delegation – a small group of hardliners who want to stay in power by all means”, he argued, adding that the GNC participation in the Thursday/Friday meeting had not been authorized by the GNC presidency.
“What was signed earlier this week in Tunis is not an agreement and not something we can build on”, Al-Shah said on the subject of the Declaration of Principles, dismissing the “so-called agreement that claims to solve the Libyan conflict on one page and a half”.
But even if there is support from a sufficient number of GNC members, it is not guaranteed that the HoR will play along. According to HoR member Saad al-Marimi, there are still have a few “fundamental issues” left to solve. The HoR is deeply divided and has not held a plenary session in a month and a half, according to Marimi. Just like Makhzum, Shueib came to Tunis without the formal endorsement of his colleagues, so Marimi.