According to the United Nations brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), signed in Skhirat (Morocco) on December 17, 2015, the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fyez Sarraj is the only legitimate executive; the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR), that was elected in June 2014, is the only legislature in the country; while the High Council of State, HCS, is a consultative body made up of 134 members, the majority of whom came from the former parliament known as General National Congress.
The main duty of the `council of state’ is to offer consultation and advice to the government, proposing laws to the HoR, and help in the select committee that would oversee the next general election among other issues. HCS thus has neither executive nor legislative duties. It can neither pass laws nor implement them. The elected Parliament, and the GNA are alone supposed to function as legislative and executive entities respectively until the country is stable enough to organize general elections.
HCS was created to offer some sort of “inclusive power-sharing mechanism” to keep as many factions and individuals happy as possible in order to bring about some peace and stability to the war-torn country. However, some in the HCS, particularly its chairman Abdulrahman Swehli, want to have more power than they are allowed to under the very accord they had accepted and signed nine months ago.
On September 19, 2016, Swehli chose to try to reset the entire political process to where it was before the LPA was signed. He, along with his deputy at the Council, announced that HCS would be the only legislative body in the country. Swehli justified his `coup’ saying lack of confidence between HoR and GNA which resulted in the latter not getting the required vote of confidence it is supposed to have from the HoR months ago. He also cited misery of Libyans and economic difficulties the country is facing as amongst other factors that had propelled his action. If Swehli is really concerned about the miserable situation of his fellow countrymen, he knows very well what is helpful and what is not.
Whatever be the reasoning behind this latest twist to Libya’s already complex scenario, it will lead to more complications and even divisions in a country that is already far more divided than it has ever been.
HCS’s claim to legislative powers is also illegal since it violates the entire LPA which created it in the first place and set out its duties and terms of reference.
So what motivated Swehli to do what he knows very well to be illegal and violate the LPA in the first place? He being the most powerful figure in the HCS has other motives and reasons to take such a step which is not necessarily shared by the rest of the council members.
Swehli is from Misrata which is like a city-state in western Libya having the most powerful and best armed militias who played a central role in the 2011 revolution that toppled Gaddafi regime with decisive NATO help. Misrata militias have also been the core force that is trying to liberate Sirte from Islamic State (IS).
Swehli appears to believe that his home-town advantage allows him a unique position of power he can easily leverage even if it means reneging on agreement he had accepted.
Swehli and his allies inside HCS and in Misrata are also not happy to see the Libyan Armed forces supported by the Tobruk Parliament and led by Khalifa Hifter take control of the country’s main three oil exporting terminals (on September 11, 2016) and handing them over to Libya’s National Oil Corporation, which started exporting oil few days later. This move which is well appreciated by majority of Libyans, particularly in eastern Libya, seems to have angered others who oppose any role for the Chief of Staff Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter.
If what Swehli & Co did is to be accepted, it means that anyone, be political faction or militia backed politician, could undo whatever has been agreed upon just because he does not like it. And this is exactly what happened just less than one month after Swehli made his move. On October 14, 2016, the former self-claimed government in Tripoli, known as the `government of national salvation’, moved on and took over some government buildings in the capital. These buildings included the HQ of HCS from where Swehli & Co announced their `coup’ just a month earlier. Khalifa Ghweil, the self-styled Prime Minister of that government, appeared on TV claiming the power for exactly the same reasons cited by his Misratan counterpart, Swehli.
HoR was quick to call Ghweil’s move illegal calling upon the foreign countries who had sponsored the LPA in the first place to clarify their positions.
Peter Millett, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Libya, was quick to state implying that what has been announced by Mr. Swehli and company is illegal. In a tweet on September 22, he said that “the house of reps. is the legislative authority of the State”, which is what Article 12 of the LPA clearly states. Making his government’s position clear he again tweeted on the same day that the international community will not “maintain official contact with parallel institutions that claim to be the legitimate authority” outside of the LPA.
United States, UK, and France, among others, as the main backers of GNA and supportive of the LPA, should not allow any Libyan party to renegade on the commitments made to the international community, UN, and above all the Libyan people whose lives have been all but complete mess over the past five years.
Whatever comes out of this bitter power struggle in Libya, it points clearly to the political vacuum the country is suffering from and the potential for powerful militias to jeopardize any political agreement killing any hope for peace and stability.
GNA’s failure so far to exercise any real power on the ground and its miserable performance will only help adventurers eager to grab power since no one seems to be in a position to really stop their mis-adventures.
HoR too is partly to blame since it has so far failed to pass a `vote of confidence’ in the GNA, and thereby ratify the LPA. HoR was a party to the negotiations and signing of the LPA.
Is there a way out? Well, there is indeed. And that is UN playing a more active role in ending Libya’s chaos which it helped create when it authorized the use of force against Libya in 2011.
(Mustafa Fetouri is an independent Libyan academic, researcher and award winning journalist. The above is author’s personal opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CAAPR)