A series of consultative meetings that kicked off Saturday in the Omani city of Salalah has stirred tensions among members of Libya’s Constitution Drafting Assembly, who are currently debating a draft text of the constitution presented last month.
Hosted by the Sultan of Oman under the auspices of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, the meetings are are expected to carry on for another week. 32 representatives – little more than half the CDA – have been attending so far, deliberating on controversial items with input from foreign legal advisors in order to prepare the ground for the next plenary sessions and eventually the vote on the final text.
The Assembly – elected in February 2014, before Libya’s civil war erupted, and based in Bayda, eastern Libya – was initially given four months to draft the national charter, as per the 2011 Constitutional Declaration. But as chaos unfolded across the country, repeated extensions have been granted. A committee set up by the CDA last year in an attempt to speed up decision-making – the so-called Working Group – presented a second and supposedly final draft at the start of February.
Discussions in Salalah have mainly been over local administration, as well as womens’ rights and the status of minorities, CDA members told Libya Channel. “Members agreed on criteria to divide [Libya into] administrative units and on their competencies, as well as on the Supreme Council for Local Government”, a CDA member told Al-Wasat news outlet.
Another legal change that was reportedly discussed is the right of citizenship for children born to Libyan women married to foreigners. So far it is only possible for Libyan men to pass on their citizenship.
The Salalah sessions are also a renewed attempt to reach an agreement with representatives of Libya’s minorities, who are boycotting the CDA. But discussions with the Tebu and Tuareg representatives appear to have been little successful so far. A number of attendees consider the minority claims pertaining to national identity and cultural rights “excessive” and reflecting an “exclusionary attitude”, one attendee told Libya Channel. Among the demands is allegedly to remove the reference to Libya’s “Arab identity” in the Constitution.
Libya’s three “cultural components”, as the Amazigh, Tebu and Tuareg are officially referred to, are all currently boycotting the CDA, alleging that they are marginalized through the CDA’s internal proceedings. The Amazigh seats on the CDA have been vacant since the beginning, while the Tebu and Tuareg representatives only decided last August to suspend their membership in the Assembly.
In a press conference in Salalah on Saturday, Martin Kobler told CDA members that the draft constitution drawn up by the working group was “very good”, stressing that the CDA needed to provide a clear vision for the future of the country. “The outcome of the initiative should be a consensual draft that the CDA can vote on back in Libya”, Kobler said, reminding also that the final Constitution will be put to a national referendum.
But holding consultative sessions abroad is somewhat controversial, especially because the CDA did not vote on the issue. CDA Spokesman Sadiq al-Drissi told Libya Channel that it was an “individual initiative” and that decisions made in Oman would therefore be considered non binding.
It is unclear whether more CDA members will still join their colleagues in Salalah, and nine have already declared a boycott. In a statement on Sunday they rejected “any interference in Libya’s constitutional process” and the “involvement by any foreign party”. Boycotters called on the international community and UNSMIL not to get involved in the CDA’s affairs or to support one side but to stick to technical assistance as requested. “The existing disagreements…pertain to the building of the Libyan state and are not technical issues that would require the involvement of foreign advisors”. They would continue their boycott, the nine Assembly members said, until the CDA returned to the “constitutional path” and “agreed upon principles”.
Salem Kashlaf, one of the nine boycotters, called the Oman sessions “illegal” and accused the UN of “blatant meddling” in the constitution drafting process in “violation of Libya’s sovereignty” and of “reopening the discussion on issues already settled”. “In Oman they are not discussing controversial items but the UN’s agenda”, he told Libyan media. Kashlaf also claimed that one of the objectives of the Oman sessions was to “force the Assembly to accept the demands of the ‘cultural components’”, which he said would result in the resignation of (non-minority) representatives of the southern region, in particular if (stateless or non-Libyan) Tebu were granted citizenship.
A group of elders from the south issued a statement ten days ago, condemning the UN’s “interference” in the constitution drafting process and attempts to move the CDA outside of the country.
In an attempt to calm critics, CDA member Ibrahim al-Baba, who attended the Salala meetings assured that none of what was being discussed in Salala was binding and that no decisions would be taken outside Libya. “The reason for our presence here is to bring different viewpoints closer together”, he said on Libya Channel’s Newsroom program on Sunday. According to CDA internal regulations official sessions can indeed only take place inside Libya, but the Oman meetings are only consultative, Assembly members explained.
But the issue of moving CDA sessions out of Bayda for good has been in discussion for a while, not least because the town’s municipal council has previously threatened to evict the Assembly if it does not complete its mission by March 24, the latest of many deadlines set by UNSMIL.
CDA members are clearly divided over the issue, with many fearing that relocating abroad would expose them to more foreign pressures. Finding neutral territory in the region is moreover a challenge, although Oman is little associated with any of Libya’s political factions.
“Being located in a quiet and peaceful place would give the Assembly more chances of success” argued Nadia Omran on the Newsroom program Sunday. “We moved locations because a number of Assembly members were refusing to return to Bayda”, she claimed in another Newsroom debate on Monday. “The Sultanate of Oman doesn’t have any influence on the Assembly. Nobody is imposing anything on us”, she protested, insisting – like Ibrahim al-Baba – that these sessions were purely consultative in nature.
“We are not against holding consultative meetings in Oman, but this decision came as a surprise and was not presented to the Assembly or voted on”, claimed Mohamed Tumi – one of the CDA boycotters of the Salala sessions who was also a guest on the show. “We are more than 12 members [boycotting] and we represent large constituencies”, he warned.
“Assembly members are determined to end the matter in a few days and then return to Bayda to follow the course stipulated by the Constitutional Declaration”, insisted CDA member Abdallah Sifat.
Earlier this month, the draft constitution was subject of a symposium organized by the Libya Institute for Advanced Studies in Tunis. Attendees included several GNA members, tribal elders, legal experts, academics and civil society actors.