First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Ali Shuaib helped plan UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s surprise visit to Tripoli on October 11. Presiding over the Libyan parliament’s second round of talks in a shaky reconciliation process, Ban Ki Moon stressed the international community’s support for the elected parliament.

First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Ali Shuaib helped plan UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s surprise visit to Tripoli on October 11. Presiding over the Libyan parliament’s second round of talks in a shaky reconciliation process, Ban Ki Moon stressed the international community’s support for the elected parliament.

Shuaib is one of the strongest supporters of a national dialogue with the participation of all parties yet he has struggled to bring together MPs who have boycotted the Tobruk parliamentary sessions (the parliament’s official headquarters is in Benghazi but was relocated to Tobruk due to continued clashes) and those who have continued their job in Tobruk.

Speaker Shuib, how was Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Tripoli coordinated and which MPs attended the meeting?

There were 12 MPs who attended the meeting. I was among them, as was Dr. Saad al-Marimi, who is among the members not boycotting the Tobruk sessions. The others were either members who came to Tobruk from the beginning and then returned to their cities, or members who boycotted the parliament sessions from the beginning of its convening in Tobruk.

The idea of the visit came about when we learned that the UN Secretary General was planning to visit both Tunisia and Egypt. Because I was very much aware of the importance of his visit to Libya during his tour, given that it shouldn’t be ignored for its important location in North Africa and its current status, I suggested to Mr. Bernardino Leon, UN envoy to Libya, to include Libya on this visit. He liked the idea and he informed the Secretary General about it. 

The visit provided the authority in Libya, which is elected in free, fair and transparent elections, to meet with the UN Secretary General. However, we had to ensure that he would arrive safely to Libya and we needed also to ensure the safety of the MPs to come and meet with him, because there were fears that they might be exposed to verbal or physical attacks. 

What are the main objectives under the so called Ghadames Dialogue, which gathered MPs who are boycotting as well as those who are not boycotting the Tobruk sessions? 

The main objective of the dialogue is to reach a conclusion that there should be one Parliament which gathers the biggest number of members and which is capable of ending this state of division. 

The legal quorum for the convening of the meetings is the presence of only 96 members.  Our sessions are attended by many more—the least amount of attendees was 115 members.  However, I don’t want to say that we have reached the quorum and that I don’t care for the boycotting members because such a stance does not build a nation. 

We care about the boycotting minority and we are keen to have the largest number of members present in the parliament. I always repeat one sentence and that is” the parliament is the tent of all Libyans and the dome which embraces the whole Libyan family.  My hand is always extended for dialogue, handshake and tolerance.

As for the other issues, we know that there are issues that should be shared by everyone: the revolutionaries, the armed groups and all other parties.  The parliament does not have the capacity to force the parties to the conflicts to sit and discuss their conflicts.  We are a civil and political force and we call on all parties to cease fire.  As for our brothers in Misrata, they have their own political and military weight to convince other parties of the importance of dialogue. 

Did the boycotting MPs set any conditions for their engagement in the dialogue?

There are some proposals and suggestions, such as the place for the convening of the parliament. I hoped that this issue would be left to the constitutional court to decide upon. This suggestion came from Ms. Debra Jones, the US ambassador, who suggested holding the handing over in one of the cities. We immediately accepted this proposal because the constitutional article stipulates that the place for the convening of the parliament is Benghazi but it may be held in any other city. 

Some have accused Tobruk as not being neutral.  The reason is those who did so wanted to politicize the location of the parliament in a way that is against realities. Tobruk is like any other city but we insist that the parliament premises should be here. This is not a key issue and I did not notice that there are any pressures put on the parliament neither by individuals nor by any party or body.  I confirm that I did not and will not accept any such pressure from anybody. 

There is another point and that is the decision-making mechanism in the parliament.  There are those who say that decisions should be taken with the approval of one third of the members. This is not a problem for me personally, because in divided societies, when major and important decisions get a high number of votes, the more the decisions are perceived as right and satisfactory to all. 

For example, we cannot say that the decisions to overthrow the government, the adoption of a budget, or the declaration of a war are voted by half +1. This is not acceptable.  I would like to stress that voting in the parliament is by raising of hands or by secret ballot and thus the one who holds the presidency cannot direct the voting process and he can also not hinder it. 

Not all the parliament members agree on the dialogue.  Some of them you only represent the point of view of the dialogue members.  How do you respond to this?

This is democracy. I cannot say that all MPs are supportive of dialogue and agree on it.  Democracy implies that there are different viewpoints. 

In my opinion, the national dialogue is a national option. There are no other options available for the Libyan people than dialogue. Dialogue means reaching compromises and it means that there should be preparedness to making concessions by all parties because there is a bigger aim which we should reach and that is saving the country from division and civil war.

We will not be able to build our country unless we all sit and talk to each other. What really makes me sad is that we understand this reality when it gets too late. The wound might get deeper and the new generation may feel a lot of disappointment.

Where do you stand regarding Operation Dignity and why didn’t the parliament issue any decision about it?

I have repeatedly said I wish that Mr. Haftar would retire from public life and form a political party or any civil institution. We also wish that those who are with him get engaged in the Chiefs of Staff as part of the Libyan army, because the presence of any organization or armed group not under the control of the state institutions and apparatuses is not acceptable. 

In a modern state, I do not accept the presence of any entity outside the legitimate institutions of the state regardless of who leads such institutions. Nothing can save this country other than this policy.

The emergence of Mr. Haftar, according to me, is similar to the emergence of military councils after the liberation of Libya. Their emergence was spontaneous and independent of the state. It was an attempt to control the situation and to contribute to the imposition of security and the provision of social services. The military councils were an initiative taken by the revolutionaries and the revolutionary military.  They have decided to create a body, and in one way or the other, they were able to control the security situation.  Should we now allow these military councils to continue to exist? It is now time for them to be integrated in the state institutions. 

Do you think the parliament took a right decision when it described the Dawn Revolutionaries as terrorists?

I was out of the country when the parliament voted on the statement. If I was present I would have voted against it with all my respect to the majority that voted for it.  But as I said before, the decisions are not controlled by the council’s presidency. 

The statement was not objective and it lacks political wisdom. I do understand the conditions under which this statement was issued because the groups included in the description are not similar. They are not one political party and I know many young people who joined the operation motivated by their national impulse to protect their cities and to protect the February 17 revolution. 

This does not mean that there is no one among those launching this political operation who has a political agenda in one way or the other. We should not clear those who have political and ideological aims of this description. The Libya Dawn Operation is a result of the deteriorating political conditions characterized by many conflicts and significant distortions. I am against final judgments. Those who assaulted and have had their political purposes are guilty, while other young men are victims of this operation. 

Can the decision taken by the parliament be reviewed?

This may be done in the future and this depends on the positive development of the parliament. Everything can be amended but the difficulty is when this is put as a precondition for dialogue.

In your opinion, what awaits the country in case the national dialogue fails?

The future of the country is open to all possibilities including oil-for-food, division and civil war which will reach everyone. Until now, all countries of the world have shown their intentions to make the national dialogue succeed and not to let Libya become a field for a civil war.   

I advised Prime Minister Abdallah al-Thani that his small government should bring in all parties including the opposition. Societies can’t be built without consensus. We are a society that suffers from many divisions and in democracy there are more chances for success when the biggest numbers of those who are in the opposition are given the opportunity to participate.  

What do you think about the national salvation government formed by the outgoing congress in Tripoli?

What is so unfortunate and what is very painful is that these people did not yet wake up.  This is one of the things which will push the country into the abyss.  It is an illegal and an illegitimate government. Those who support it should be aware of the fact that the world will not acknowledge any power other than that of the elected parliament. 

Is the Security Council or the International Criminal Court planning to soon issue a list of individuals who will be covered by international sanctions?

I do not expect the issuance of any list by the Security Council or the Criminal Court in the near future. All international parties are talking about a peaceful political solution, but the world is full of possibilities and the ball is in our court. It is only we, the Libyans, who can prevent any international military intervention, but if things go wrong, there might be  international military intervention.