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The roots of the Libyan crisis

When it comes to analysing the Libyan crisis, it is useful to consider a briefing by the Special Representative and Head of the UN Special Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to the Security Council on the 10th March. Tarek Mitri made note of the depth of the political crisis and the steep divide between two of the country’s largest interested parties, the National Congress (parliament) and the current government.


The alliance of national forces, led by Mahmoud Jibreel, seeks to implement a plan that will overthrow the National Congress without reassuring the Libyan people that there are suitable alternatives. Other aspects of this plan seek to interrupt the drafting of a new constitution despite the elections that took place in late February last year, as well as to prolong the transitional phase and to repeal the law allowing political isolation, which is an obstacle when it comes to nominating a new presidential candidate from the national alliance.

It is not within the interests of the coalition forces for Libya to short towards a permanent constitution and legitimate institutions as if this were a natural process, because this would mean closing the door on the transitional period forever. We cannot forget that the national alliance stood in the way of adopting a consensus with regards to linguistic decisions concerning cultural groups in Libya, which prompted the Berber people to boycott the parliamentary elections.

The alliance rushed to support the commission’s early proposal in February, which was set up by six members from inside congress and nine from outside. This was done in order to support changes to the constitutional declaration, which will provide guidelines on how to conduct the presidential and parliamentary elections in the event that the congress is not formed within a two-month period and thus prevents the drafting of a permanent constitution.

What is surprising in regards to this constitution is that a committee of 15 members were unable to agree on 50 amendments to the draft within a period of ten days so it is expected that a committee of 60 members elected over the course of four months will be similarly unable to make progress. However, any initial sense of confusion disappeared when it was confirmed that a national coalition was formed via televised media platforms and through social media networks which were launched to wage a devastating media war against the congress. In fact, coalition leader Mahmoud Jibreel announced in an interview with the Libyan-based Arabic Sky News, that it would be impossible to draft a constitution under the current circumstances.

The proposed constitutional amendments upset the supposed balance of power that existed between the executive branch as it is embodied by the presidency and the legislative branch as it is embodied by the house of representatives. This is especially true if the house of representatives chooses to impose the laws it passes on the president, which reminds us of what happened with the now dissolved Egyptian parliament and how it was replaced with the military junta under the leadership of now-retired Field Marshall Tantawi, who did not consider any of the parliament’s decisions, especially those that were influenced by public opinion.

Although the relationship between the three governmental powers is governed by the notion of a separation of powers, this new chapter is based on a more critical and effective notion, one of mutual understanding and cooperation. This is precisely what is missing from the constitution, which will be re-written from scratch and take into consideration all that has happened since February as opposed to the two previous periods.

The information that has been released suggests that the changes that will occur will merely be amendments and not a cancellation of the current constitution. Yet, this claim is not consistent with legal declarations and texts that have come out in regards to the constitution and it certainly does not reflect the changes that were discussed in February in terms of general provisions regarding basic rights and freedoms during the transitional period.

The fate of the law against political isolation seems grim in light of the February meeting and new amendments suggest that the parliament and the president will enjoy new political and civil rights whereas the duration of a presidential term has yet to be confirmed. We currently stand before a new constitutional text that will completely redefine our understanding of laws in terms of class and power. This reality will ultimately place the Supreme Court in a state of crisis should anyone attempt to file a lawsuit against the amendments.

Furthermore, the future of political isolation looks just as grim when it comes to the Supreme Court. Despite the fact that this law was poorly drafted by the National Congress and regardless of the political consequences that ensued as a result of it, it functions as a barrier between the revolution and the rise of the former regime once again, whether it is in regards to the former regime’s people, institutions or programmes.

Even though the Supreme Court issued a statement in which it announced its intentions to distance itself from interfering in any political affairs, perhaps its recent actions can be explained as an attempt to alleviate the pressure it has been receiving from the youth and political factions after it chose to annul the political isolation law last April and May. In reality, we have seen some members of the public in Egypt question the constitutionality of some Egyptian laws, especially those regarding political isolation, and this did not stop thousands of people from protesting and demanding the dissolution of the parliament and ruling certain laws unconstitutional, especially those that had links to the former regime.

The law regarding political isolation [in Libya] particularly intersects with the interests of the current national coalition and the affiliates of the former regime, who seek to cancel and abort this law. In doing so, they can then infiltrate the country’s various departments and direct all political decisions to their liking.

For this reason, we do not admire the coalition formed by numerous media outlets, which are ultimately funded by influential people and businessmen affiliated with the former regime, who seek to distort the political isolation law in the eyes of Libyan public opinion. These individuals also seek to distort the reality of all political trends that are currently defending the law.

The practices of the national coalition within the National Congress cannot deny its agenda which seeks to ignite a counter-revolution in Libya. It’s members also cannot deny their cooperation with the Emirati, Saudi and Egyptian efforts to bring down the February 17 Revolution and any of the institutions or legitimate initiatives that were born as a result of it in an effort to break ties with the former regime.

In reality, the national coalition is taking advantage of the gaps within Libyan political factions, especially the Justice and Development Party. The gaps are assessed in terms of political instability and social and economic voids born out of the February revolution and the inability to form a national consensus and shared vision on critical political and security issues.

The February revolution’s youth are unable to fathom the depths of the political plot that has been waged internally and externally on the revolution in Libya. Moreover, each young revolutionary believes that he can solve these issues via a unilateral vision that is based mostly on bearing arms. The youth of the revolution are unable to formulate a coherent and unified vision to address the severe political divisions in the country. Thus, they are unable to reduce the negative effects of economic and societal concerns. Many of the youth suffer from a psychological complex that prevents them from consulting or negotiating with the Justice and Development Party. Furthermore, the party has failed to maintain a steady flow of communication between political factions and the youth.

The popular belief that there is a balance of power between revolutionary forces and counter-revolutionary forces is not reflected within the current Libyan political reality. Forces affiliated with the presidential office and the former regime played a significant role in countering the revolution, especially in Benghazi. These forces were involved directly in initiatives led by intelligence agencies and were ultimately responsible for the death of a number of demonstrators outside intelligence headquarters last June. In November, forces from the Misrata area that were stationed in Tripoli fell into the same trap, forcing both sides to withdraw from their positions and, as a result, they developed a poor reputation in the eyes of the Libyan public.

Thus, counter-revolutionary forces are able to disrupt the balance of power in virtually every way possible. As a result of this, revolutionaries will be forced into tight corners due pressure placed on them by the media. This is coupled with the public’s underestimation of the revolutionary force’s abilities, which was prompted by their decision to hand over power to those they believed were more politically experienced than them.

There remains the issue of negative Gulf interference in Libyan affairs, specifically Saudi and Emirati intervention, which poses a great concern in Libyan society after witnessing the success of their support for the Egyptian coup last July. Perhaps Saudi-UAE intervention in Libyan affairs can be confirmed by the Saudi and UAE-based news channel Al-Arabiya’s announcement of its support for retired General Khalifa Haftar and the constitution’s suspension as well as the freezing of the national congress. Both countries have intermediaries who are interacting with some Libyan tribes by bribing them with money and weapons in exchange for countering revolutionary efforts. By spreading the message of the revolution’s failure, they have been successful in igniting a sense of despair within the hearts of the Libyan people by confirming their fear that they will never achieve an independent and sovereign state.

Moreover, the recent event in which oil was stolen from the port in Sidra via a North Korean-flagged tanker suggests the Gulf’s negative role in Libyan affairs. This incident indicates that Gulf countries have been pumping money into the hands of separatist militias who seek exclusive oil marketing and sale rights for petroleum resources in the Cyrenaica region.

The idea of stealing Libyan oil cannot have been implemented were it not for the involvement of certain countries that are concerned with such matters. Oil is not a normal product and an average individual would not have the proper expertise needed to produce, market and sell it to outside buyers. Evidence suggests that the tanker in question belonged to a prominent Saudi businessman, despite the Saudi Arabian ambassador’s denial of the claim that his country had anything to do with it.

The international reaction to the oil theft was not expected. For example, countries such as Italy, France and the United States of America could have intercepted the tanker carrying Libyan oil in international waters; however, they failed to do so, which raises questions about international complicity. This may confirm an active Gulf-Saudi-UAE role in aiding the theft of Libyan oil.

The oil issue clearly seeks to raise funds for separatist militias in Libya. As a result, these actions will not only promote the illegal sale of Libyan oil but also foster a sense of political instability as the institutions born out of the February revolution continue to fail. These institutions are Libya’s only hope for economic stability. It seems obvious that Prime Minister Ali Zeidan would give his blessing for such operations because they may keep him at the head of the government until the National Congress collapses, allowing him to dictate fully the direction of the political scene in Libya. Chief of Staff General Abdel-Salam Jad Al-Obeidi announced recently that Prime Minister Zeidan asked him not to intercept the tanker containing the oil because of an agreement established between Zeidan and Ibrahim Jadran, Commander of the Guard in Libya’s central region.

Translated from al Jazeera net 15 March, 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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