But the process faces daunting obstacles amid increasing divisions. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya, headed by German Martin Kobler, seeks to bolster the Libya Political Agreement, which has garnered widespread international and regional support. Kobler often visits neighbouring countries as well as Libya and also travels back and forth to meet European officials.
On one of these trips, Kobler met Council of Deputies President Aguila Saleh in the city of Shahhat in eastern Libya on January 5. Saleh says Kobler’s visit aimed at expediting GNA formation but he stressed that the council could not be hurried. “No one can oblige us to make a quick decision to approve the GNA,” said Saleh, adding that it aims to ensure “a consensual government that satisfies the CoD and Libyans.”
Kobler, who received a traditional Libyan cap called Shennah as a gift from Saleh, said they had agreed on the need to form a Tripoli-based GNA. For his part, Saleh said the GNA should be protected by the army and the police.
Kobler again stressed that the country’s deep-seated problems can only be solved once the government is formed. The Saleh-Kobler meeting was the first following the Council of Deputies‘ endorsement of the LPA in December.
But approving the Libya Political Agreement, signed in Morocco in December, has failed to unite political rivals in Libya. Council of deputies Media Consultant to CoD President Fathi Mariami argues that the CoD was entitled to revoke Article 8 because the quorum was present with 114 deputies. However, members of the General National Congress (GNC), currently ruling western Libya, objected to the nullification, including head of the GNC’s dialogue team Saleh Makhzoum.
In a press statement, Makhzoum said Article 60 prevented all parties from taking any action that contradicted the items of the LPA, meaning that abolishing any article would threaten the whole agreement.
In his statement following the Council of Deputies session, Kobler welcomed the endorsement of the LPA, but maintained that changing any item should be decided with a broad consensus.
The Presidential Council (PC), headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, has set its sights on impartiality. The spokesman for al-Sarraj, Fathi Ben Issa, says it is not within Presidential Council remits to amend the LPA. “The PC only has an executive role,” he said.
Since the LPA was signed on December 17, 2015, al-Sarraj has only come to Libya twice. Firstly, to offer condolences to the families of the victims of an explosion in western Libya on January 7 that was claimed by IS. Secondly, he traveled to the city of Marj to meet the commander of the armed forces General Khalifa Haftar, loyal to the CoD, a visit which fuelled a new split within the PC.
Haftar and al-Sarraj
Fathi Bashagha, a LPA supporter and a Misrata deputy, has boycotted the CoD and denounced al-Sarraj’s visit to Haftar. That meeting sparked a deep rift.
Al-Sarraj’s deputy Muhammad Ammari suspended his PC membership to protest the visit, although he softened his stance after an invitation from Kobler. Others also seek to exclude Haftar from military and political spheres of power, including GNC member Abdurrahman Sewehli. However, some CoD members who argue against anti-army prejudice in the LPA have praised the visit.
“The meeting discussed a number of issues, including the need for a practical solution to the ongoing war in Benghazi,” read a statement by al-Sarraj’s Media Office. “The visit was part of a series of visits in which al-Sarraj is seeking to inform himself about Libyan actors’ visions towards peaceful solutions in accordance with the LPA.”
The CoD seems to have become more coherent following the adoption of the LPA. Nine boycotting deputies have returned to attend its sessions and four of them were sworn in. Having deposed 12 members due to continued absence from its sessions, the GNC, only a few days later, dismissed another eight because they signed the LPA.
The return of boycotting members to the CoD was condemned by GNC President Nour Abusahmain who severely criticized them in a televised speech, calling their joining the CoD as illegal and backing a legal probe into the issue.
He also demanded that lawyers and the UN‘s operation in Libya should clarify “what is being fabricated by the UNSMIL to reach an agreement,” implying that the UN‘s operation in Libya is striking bargains to convince boycotting members of returning to the CoD. “Since the majority agrees on the LPA, why are security arrangements being made in Tripoli?” he asked.
Abusahmain doubted whether the government would be able to work in Tripoli, criticizing Kobler’s statements about a militia-controlled Tripoli.
Abusahmain also praised the Libyan-Libyan dialogue that was conducted without the UNSMIL and led to the meeting of the two presidents of the GNC and CoD as the only and strategic option. “We assure all rebels and civil society organizations that we will not approve anything jeopardizing Islamic Sharia and national sovereignty,” said Abusahmain.
Criticism of the GNC
Abusahmain’s statements and policy in opposition to the LPA caused some of his supporters to criticize him, including Sewehli, who said he held consultations with political actors and rebel leaders and said that the GNC was no longer able to represent them given “the fake initiatives and dictatorial and illegal practices of its president.”
Sewehli urged people to recognise “the failure of GNC president and the few who support him to provide viable and practical alternatives.”
Sewehli held Abusahmain responsible for threatening to use force, fuelling the problems in the region. Although Sewehli once opposed the LPA, he now sees it as practical solution, albeit imperfect. He stresses that no party will have all its demands met, which is evidenced in “the CoD’s failure attempt to revoke Article 8.”
In spite of all these political shifts and conflicts, the work of the expected government after formation from inside Libya still depends on a number of factors, not least because a number of CoD members call for a softening of prejudices towards the army.
The Misrata Military Council, in a press statement, supported the LPA, provided it did not support controversial figures, in an indirect reference to Haftar. These two actors constitute the most powerful military force in the country. The various armed groups that form the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR) and other groups affiliated with IS, which is fighting against the army in Benghazi, have warned of the LPA and described the GNA as a dependent government.
These groups have not participated in any political process and they are not affiliated with any political body in the country. The military majority in Tripoli supports the GNC, which currently opposes the LPA, while the other unsupportive groups have kept quiet, meaning that the road to agreement remains long.<