Yes, Libya Can Still Be Saved

The Constitutional Chamber of the Libyan Supreme Court ruled on November 6 the invalidity of the seventh amendment of the Constitutional Declaration, containing what is known as the February Commission’s proposals, which was approved by General National Congress on March 11, 2014. This amendment has provided the basis for the election of the House of Representatives last June. The court’s ruling dissolved the House of Representatives and invalidated the seventh amendment. This provision and the consequent rejection of the House of Representatives of the ruling both exacerbated the security situation and increased the polarization between all parties.

The political challenge facing Libya today requires careful planning to deal with the political and military fallout. Among these challenges:
1)      the refusal by some members of parliament and the government to accept the court’s ruling,
2)      the return of the revived General National Congress to the political scene, and
3)      the continuing war in Benghazi and some western and southern regions of the country.

The next phase deeply needs political consensus around which all parties can rally to restore relative stability to Libya until it can adopt a new constitution and conduct general elections. But reaching that elusive consensus remains a seemingly insurmountable feat. A number of options could contribute to resolving the current crisis, which could avoid a catastrophic civil war and the potential fragmentation of Libya. The options provided below aim to form a national unity government that all relevant parties in Libya could support. The proposed unity government would lead Libya’s transition until the completion of the constitution and general elections. It would have limited objectives and powers to deal with the issues directly related to stability, security, basic services, and oversee the constitutional referendum and general elections. 

There are five potential ways in which the situation could unfold:

  1. Assuming that the General National Congress (GNC) remains the legislative authority in the country and that the House of Representatives is dissolved, the GNC shall choose a national unity government involving the different competing political parties. The GNC would then remain on mandatory recess until it hands over power to the new legislative institution as determined by the constitution.
  2. Assuming no legislative institution in the country—a scenario in which both the GNC and the House are dissolved—the United Nations should take a leading role. If this emerges as the case, the political vacuum could greatly destabilize Libya; for the first time since the revolution, the country would have no legislative body. The international community under the auspices of the United Nations should immediately convene a meeting between the military and political actors in Libya to agree on forming a national unity government and to commit to support it. This may take time and disagreement over participants in this meeting will arise, particularly given the current state of open political violence. 
  3. Members of the House of Representatives, elected in fairly and retaining public confidence, could form an entity consisting of three to five members from each of the thirteen electoral districts. These members would be chosen based on the highest number of votes received in their district. This entity would be tasked solely with choosing the members of a national unity government, retain no legislative powers, and receive full international support to conduct its work.
  4. Assuming the continuance of both the GNC and the House of Representatives, considered two legislative chambers with equal powers, both bodies would forego their legislative authority and limit their role to the selection of a national unity government to be approved by both chambers in a simple majority vote. The executive teams from both chambers would negotiate the formation and selection of the government before submitting it for approval, after which both bodies would go on mandatory recess.
  5. Alternatively, if both the GNC and the House of Representatives no longer retain their legitimacy, the Supreme Court or the High Judicial Commission could be chosen to form the national unity government.

For any of these scenarios to have chance of success, it would require immense support from the international community under the leadership of the United Nations and the major disputing factions in Libya. Regardless of which scenario unfolds, the key stakeholders should convene a meeting between the major Libyan political and military actors to undertake a roadmap with the following steps:

A.   Form a National Unity Government
B.   Hold a national dialogue between different factions under the leadership of the UN to:

  • determine how best to support the National Unity Government and not interfere in its work
  • agree on a permanent ceasefire to demilitarize Tripoli and Benghazi and secure the country’s key installations, including oil ports and airports . This critical step should ideally be undertaken with support from the international community under UN leadership.
  • discuss the integration of Libyan Shields and other militias to form the basis for a Libyan National Guard

C.   Complete the draft of the constitution and conduct a public referendum for its adoption.
D.   Carry out general elections under the provisions of the newly-adopted post-revolution constitution.

The way forward for Libya requires compromises and sacrifices from all parties because none will be able to settle the situation with the use of force. Libyans are tired of the endless carnage, bloodshed, and destruction that is taking place over the last four years. It is time for all Libyans to step up and forgo their differences and come together to save their country before it is too late. 

Mustafa A.G. Abushagur is the former interim deputy prime minister of Libya and a member of Libya’s House of Representatives.

Karim Mezran is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East with a focus on the politics and economics of North Africa.

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Image: Judge Kamal Bashir Dahan (C), head of Libya's Supreme Court, meets with members of the Constitutional Chamber in Tripoli November 6, 2014. Libya's Supreme Court declared the country's internationally-recognized parliament as unconstitutional on Thursday, state news agency LANA said, deepening a rift between rival power centres in the oil producer. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny