The Malta Independent 20 May 2024, Monday
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Libya: A new approach

Mohamed Mufti Sunday, 19 July 2015, 10:45 Last update: about 10 years ago

Since the fall of the Gaddafi dictatorship, and due to the widespread dispersal of his huge arsenal, power in Libya has been in the grip of armed groups of various descriptions and names. For the last four years, Libya has been torn by civil war and, as a result, it is divided into multiple city-states, but nominally with two parliaments and two governments. The country is now also a failed state sustained only by its diminished oil royalties. Besides, Libya has become a training ground for militant Islamists and is unable to stop the flow of illegal immigrants.


A failed marathon

A few months ago, Western powers initiated a reconciliation effort under the auspices of the United Nations and negotiations have been held in various capitals. Now, despite hopes of a positive conclusion expressed by UN Envoy Bernardino Leon, the process has stalled. Both parliaments are refusing to initial the negotiated accord. Indeed, the two main delegations are retreating on points and compromises that they seemed to accept a week earlier.

Personally, and throughout the reconciliation effort, I have been sceptical as to the likely prognosis, and I wrote several articles to that effect. The intentions may have been good and genuine on the part of the UN team. But the same set of facts can be viewed in a different perspective. Being familiar with the prevalent suspicions and feuds as well as the moods of entrenchment in Libyan factions, I have from the beginning doubted the efficacy of the approach employed.

For a start, the UN mediators have opted to talk solely to civilian politicians who despite their titles and nominal positions are subservient to the commanders of the armed groups. Admittedly, it is embarrassing to talk to somebody whom you call a terrorist, although history is replete with examples to the contrary. World powers anyhow do tend to develop their own interpretations that fit their world outlook, but which do not necessarily represent reality!



1.                There are other explanations for the current implosion of the Reconciliation Talks. Libyans are, for one, over-sensitive to external intervention, due to a combination of pride, historical experience and a streak of xenophobia. Rejection of foreign intrusion is palpable in the streets, and frequently uttered on the media.

2.                But, to be honest, the UN approach may be to blame. Mr Leon did ignore the “militia” commanders and addressed the weak parliaments, both the outcome of flawed elections. Even his sample of “Independents” was biased towards media celebrities. More seriously, the mediating team virtually excluded many peaceful, large, social and cultural groupings such as the Amazigs, Tuareg, Magarha, Warfalla, Baraasa and so on).



On the output side, the UN advisers put together a Political Accord, in reality a tome of labyrinthine details of no urgency considering the current inflammable situation.

But they did worse by creating unelected state bodies such as the so called State Council, supposedly advisory but with binding opinion on legislative matters. Then there is the bizarre persistence of the Dialogue Committee to interpret and rule!!

The most lethal prescription is the adoption of the so-called consensus democracy which does away with voting. It is a misnomer for a nonviable chimera, which in fact was invented by none other than Gaddafi, whose regime was “designed not to work”, according to the judgement of one international expert at the time. In reality, consensus democracy perpetuates regional, factional and tribal divisions, since its means of power sharing is apportioning ministries. Furthermore, consensus democracy is paralyzing as it renders decision-making an impossible exercise in market haggling.


A simpler approach

The Libyan scene is undoubtedly complex. But the UN approach has unfortunately been bogged down in constitutional detail at the expense of working out national reconciliation. Such an approach should convene leaders of major armed groups to implement a ceasefire, freeze both parliaments and appoint a head of a steering government.

The new government’s brief should be restricted to declaration of a general amnesty, the release of political prisoners, and the return of displaced populations to their original abode. Other tasks include re-activating the economy including oil production and repair of ports and airports, initiating reconstruction schemes in war-devastated areas and reopening schools and so on.

Under supervision of an international authority, local elections are to be held. Delegates (numbers from each local council according to population) are to form a National Congress that will act as a Constitutional Assembly

This simple approach and road map may sound undemocratic, but it is practical and should prove more fruitful as it makes use of traditional channels and local means of persuasion, pressure, pledges and guarantees. It therefore requires individuals with credibility, as well as familiarity with the socio-political geography of Libya.


Mr Mufti is a Libyan author and commentator now resident in Malta

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