When accused of overstepping his legislative authority, Mohammed Magariaf, President of the General National Congress (GNC), defended his actions by saying: “Under the Constitutional Declaration, the Congressional President is conferred with sovereign powers, which makes him equal to the head of state.”

When accused of overstepping his legislative authority, Mohammed Magariaf, President of the General National Congress (GNC), defended his actions by saying: “Under the Constitutional Declaration, the Congressional President is conferred with sovereign powers, which makes him equal to the head of state.”

Magariaf has also come under fire because the GNC has been accused of solving problems that should fall within the jurisdiction of the executive authority, i.e. the government the GNC itself has appointed; this has prompted its members of the Joint Action Block (JAB)– comprising more than eighty seats – to boycott the GNC meetings until a decision on the question of the Constitution Constituent Assembly has been accelerated. This issue is considered the GNC’s primary mission pursuant to the Constitutional Declaration.

As if Magariaf did not have enough problems, he and other GNC members faced an assassination attempt in Sabha, in southern Libya, on January 4, 2013.

Congressman Mafariaf, some question the truthfulness of the news about the assassination attempt. They say it was merely a shooting incident near your residence, an anticipated action in Sabha, especially in recent times. What is your response?

This question is still under investigation, and the targeted persons that night were not one or two or three. There were quite a number of GNC members and bodyguards. Furthermore, three persons were also wounded in that incident.

Were your bodyguards among the wounded?

The guards were actually special forces from Sabha, led by Wanis Boukhmada. I do not think that issue is fabricated or exaggerated. It is real, and the bullets targeted our hotel, more specifically the floor where a number of congressmen were present, including me and Dr. Saleh Makhzoum. Why should we exaggerate the subject? For the sake of fame? This issue has an adverse impact because it harms our country, and suggests insecurity in the country.

Was this why the official announcement of the incident was delayed? Did you initially prefer not to release the news?

Yes, we actually preferred to remain silent, but there were more than 20 witnesses, including three wounded persons. We could not conceal it since it is real and true, and I think investigations will, God willing, reveal the identity of the perpetrators.

Your statement on Libyan TV channels that El-Keib government spent five billion Dinars (nearly four million US dollars) on office furniture has created confusion in the street. On his Facebook page, Dr. Mustafa Abushagur denied that such amount had been spent on office furniture only, calling it an exaggeration.

The figure concerns administrative supplies, including furniture. However, that figure is huge and too large for administrative requirements. Perhaps, people might have construed that the amount spent was meant for furniture alone. What I meant is that the number is too huge. Was it necessary to spend a huge amount during that year? It is agitating news, and the issue will be referred to the concerned authorities for investigation to reveal whether or not that spending was justified.

One reason for JAB withdrawal from the GNC was the delayed establishment of the “Constitution Constituent Assembly”. What is the reason behind this delay?

We have been dealing with the issue of the Assembly within the GNC for more than a month, and we have agreed on setting up a committee comprising more than 33 members, including members of the National Forces Alliance. This committee has been assigned to conduct a social dialogue involving civil society organizations, political parties, and citizens in order to identify people’s trends and persuasions, and whether they prefer election or appointment.

But why has setting up the Assembly been delayed until now?

People presume we are late because the Constitutional Declaration has set a one-month period for the appointment of the Assembly. However, the amendment has made it impossible for the “election” to be completed in one month. Consequently, that period is now open-ended, and therefore we are constitutionally not committed to any date. People say this is an essential and important requirement. This is true, but given the legal action brought before the Supreme Court regarding this amendment, we have decided to wait until the Court has issued its verdict, so that we may act in light of it.   

Another thing, which I hope people may understand, is that the issues with which the GNC has been preoccupied and could not be postponed, such as forming the government and excessive insecurity, have not been our choice. I believe people who think we have deliberately postponed that issue of the Assembly are wrong, prejudiced, and unfair.

This brings us to the issue of amending the articles of Constitutional Declaration. Is there a mechanism empowering the GNC to amend them?

Yes, GNC has the power to do so, and I believe we have already done so.

Why have not you then amended that particular article (the article that provides for forming the Constituent Assembly through election rather than appointment)?

Some may believe the issue is easy, but inside the GNC, we do not have consensus; there were divergent views. Some are in favor of election while others favor appointment. Besides, the political conditions and circumstances through which the amendment was made are still present, including, for example, the position adopted by advocates of federalism. They are still there and have demands, which cannot be ignored. Thus, we have said that before adopting any of the two viewpoints, it would be advisable to probe the public opinion. After finishing this task, we will have a clear vision, and we will be confident that we are representing the genuine opinion of the Libyan people.

Why have you not yet approved the by-law governing the GNC activities?

The by-law has been adopted, in principle, and in a hurry.  The issue is big and the by-law is huge. And, because we cannot postpone its adoption indefinitely, we have adopted it in principle so that we may practically uncover the existing flaws and loopholes, and re-draft it for final activation. At present, we practice our activities under an initially approved by-law. The delayed final approval does not mean we are acting at our own discretion. We are complying with the present by-law, but it consists of about 100 articles, which are now under consideration. Last week, the GNC took a decision to make and finally approve necessary amendments to it.

Some believe that your statements exceed your powers, or are sometimes irrelevant; for example, your regrets on behalf of the Libyan people for the crimes committed by Muammar Gaddafi made at your U.N. General Assembly address. Would not it have been more appropriate to dissociate Libya from the crimes committed by Gaddafi, or condemn them instead of apologizing for crimes we are basically not responsible for? Is that apology not considered an implicit recognition of the legal responsibility of the Libyan state for these crimes?

These are individual points of view. A large portion of the speech I delivered, particularly that paragraph, was composed or approved of by the Libyan Foreign Ministry. It was not my own composition. I included certain paragraphs, but not that paragraph. However, it is very important that the international community understands that as Libyans, our sympathy, aspirations, attitudes, and culture are no longer associated with that regime. We dissociate ourselves from it and apologize for what it has done. We, or that regime, kept the world busy for 42 years, harmed thousands of people and even claimed the lives of hundreds of people.

Some GNC members say Dr. Mohammed Magariaf is not entitled to promise the Turkish companies payment of compensation for the losses they sustained during the revolution—without consulting the GNC—and that being the GNC president does not mean he is the head of state.

If the congressional president is not the head of state, then who is? Is the state without a president? This is not true, improper and should not be. A state should not be without a head. And, under the Constitutional Declaration, the congressional president is conferred with sovereign powers, which makes him equal to the head of state. In addition, that statement about the Turkish companies does not involve any financial or legal obligations. Foreign companies dealing with Libya believe they have been wronged, and therefore seek justice. Are we against equity and justice? The question is that if these companies have rights, the injustice will be redressed. I do not have to refer to the GNC for that.

But, recognition of the principle of defending the oppressed is one thing and promising to pay compensation is another.

All I promised was to consider these cases, and if it turns out that these companies have rights, they will of course be fulfilled. This is quite logical.

Did you know about the visit paid by the Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide, Khairat El-Shater? Did you meet him?

I knew neither about his visit nor  have I met him. He has the right to visit Libya, like any other visitor.

Do you think his visit was friendly and personal, or had political implications, connected with the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya?

Even if it was linked to the Libyan Brotherhood, this is normal. Have we issued a declaration, a law, or a decision that prohibits political figures belonging to a particular party to visit Libya and meet whomever they wish? There is no problem as long as the visit was made on a valid visa. This goes in line with the prevailing atmosphere of freedom. It was the habit of the former regime that any visitor to Libya was monitored, pursued, or prevented. This is certainly unacceptable.