Former deputy prime minister Mustafa A.G. Abushagur is a member both of the House of Representatives and of the Libyan Political Dialogue as well as a co-signer of the Skhirat Agreement. He warns of efforts to restore military rule in the country and destroy the revolution that so many died for. He also calls on the international community to take action against those countries in violation of the UN embargo on Libya and which are supplying the forces linked to Khalifa Hafter with weapons and strategic support.
The February 17th revolution was ignited by peaceful demonstrations that turned into an armed revolution to bring Qaddafi’s totalitarian era to an end. Over the course of eight grueling months, the Libyan people made the ultimate sacrifice to gain their freedom and the chance to achieve their dream of building a civil and democratic state. The road to achieving a modern Libya started with the National Transitional Council (NTC) which steered the country through the revolution. After the overthrow of Qaddafi, the NTC formed a transitional government to act as the caretakers of Libya and to uphold the principles of the 17 February Revolution until the Libyan populace voted in what would be the first free election in Libya’s modern history. The historic election of the General National Congress (GNC) on 7 July 2012 was jubilantly celebrated by the Libyan people as their monumental first step on the road to democracy.
The world watched as Libya underwent her first ever, peaceful power transition which took place between the NTC and the newly elected GNC, as well as their respective governments – and the Libyan people rejoiced.
A new era was on the horizon.
This first phase after the free elections was governed by the Constitutional Declaration (CD) drafted by the NTC during the revolution in August 2011. It outlined the guidelines for the GNC. However, the GNC’s term length was not clearly defined by the CD, which later was to become a seriously disputed matter.
The CD assigned a series of tasks to the GNC that would, in theory, lead to a permanent constitution and elections. This series of tasks, with each task assigned a finite time period in the CD, added up to total timeframe of 18 months. Consequently, the majority of Libyans believed the CD implied the GNC had an 18-month mandate, which led to a movement within the country that insisted that the CD had fixed the term of the GNC at 18 months and there should not be an extension. However, GNC members countered that the CD implied that their term would end with the ratification of a permanent constitution and subsequent elections.
This dispute came to a head in the beginning of 2014 when the country saw massive demonstrations after the GNC remained in power beyond the 18 months. It resulted in the GNC amending the CD to allow for parliamentary elections in June 2014.
During this period, there were several key events that further complicated the political scene. In February 2014, a former retired army general named Khalifa Hafter attempted a coup d’état. A few months later, in May 2014, he formed a militia that launched attacks on the city of Benghazi under the banner of fighting terrorism in what was called Operation Dignity. It is still ongoing today.
Hafter’s Operation Dignity has so far resulted in the death of thousands, the displacement of tens of thousands, the destruction of a significant portion of Benghazi, and it continues to devastate eastern Libya.
An equally significant event began in July 2014 when a number of militias in Tripoli, united under the name of Libya Dawn, staged a war to destroy what they claimed was a counter revolution. Ultimately, this war resulted in numerous deaths, civilian displacements and the destruction of Tripoli’s airport, oil depots and other key facilities.
The most significant casualty of both, though, was the faith of the Libyan people in their elected officials. It started to dwindle with the hardships endured under Operation Dignity and Libya Dawn.
Twenty-three months after the GNC was elected to office, the election mandated by the CD was held to elect a parliament. On 25 June 2014, the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) was elected, albeit with a much smaller turnout compared to the 2012 elections.
The HoR has faced serious challenges from its inception and the first issue occurred when it was called to convene in the eastern city of Tobruk. A large number of its members refused to attend because they believed that Tobruk was under the control of General Hafter. To further complicate matters, the GNC refused to hand over power to the newly-elected HoR.
In a controversial decision, the Supreme Court then ruled that the amendment to the CD passed in March 2014 was illegal. The decision was used by the GNC to return to life as a legislative body and, backed by the support of Libya Dawn militias, they took it upon themselves to form a new government in Tripoli. This resulted in two legislative bodies, each with an associated government, one in the west and the other in the east of the country, and each claiming to be the legitimate governing body of Libya.
However, the international community was adamant in its recognition of the HoR as the country’s sole legitimate legislative institution in conjunction with its associated government. It refused to recognise the resurrected GNC. As a result, the nation was inevitability split in two and this triggered most of the sovereign institutions, such as the central bank and national oil company, likewise splitting in two with allegiances to the government either in the east or the west of the country.
Understandably, the inadvertent duplication of the major institutions made them dysfunctional and their common services dwindled. As a result of this rift and the disintegration of the country’s institutions, people started to become disenchanted with democracy and began to lose hope of building a modern state.
In January 2015, the United Nation started an effort to bring the Libyan conflicting parties to Geneva to initiate a political dialogue that would end the divisions within the country. This UN-sponsored dialogue lasted nearly a year and the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was finally signed in the city of Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015. It was conditionally ratified by the HoR on 25 January 2016. The intention of this document was to provide a guiding roadmap for the next several years until a referendum approved a new constitution and subsequent general elections held.
The LPA structured the governing institutions into three branches:
- The Presidential Council that leads the Government of National Accord (GNA) as the executive body;
- The HoR as the legislative body;
- A State Council as the government advisory body.
Despite the overwhelming support for the LPA from the Libyan people as well as the international community, some members of the HoR and its president opposed it. Not only did they vehemently oppose it, they deliberately worked to undermine it.
The HoR president, Ageela Saleh, led this opposition and, as a consequence, he was put on sanction lists of both the US and the EU. Furthermore, Mr Ageela and the group of HoR members opposed to the agreement successfully prevented the HoR from holding a meeting to vote on the proposed GNA government for more than four months. Their undermining efforts were ruthless and they used numerous forms of intimidation and harassment against other members. As a result, the HoR was essentially paralysed and hijacked by Mr Ageela and his collaborators. As a direct result of these bullying tactics, the HoR members were disenfranchised. He denied them the ability to exercise their democratic rights through parliamentary meetings.
Last month, Mr Ageela further derailed the democratic process by appointing the already HoR-appointed Chief of Military Staff, Major-General Abdul Razzaq Al-Nazhuri, as de facto military ruler of the eastern part of the country.
Earlier this month, Major-General Al-Nazhuri dismissed the elected municipal council of Benghazi and replaced it with a military council. Most recently, he assigned military commanders for the western and the central regions of the country and continued replacing other elected municipal councils with military ones.
These actions are in grave violation of all the principles that post-revolution Libya aspires to in its determination to become a civil state based on democratic principles.
The act of assigning military rulers for several zones in the country and military councils in towns and cities within these zones is nothing short of a creeping coup d’état. In essence, this is the first step on the path of restoring military rule in Libya.
These actions are in direct opposition to the desires that resulted in the 17 February Revolution, during which thousands of civilians gave up their lives to overthrow the Qaddafi regime. After experiencing the horrors of more than four decades of being ruled by an iron fist, their dream was to establish a civil democratic state and they were determined that they would never allow military rule to return in Libya.
The recent militarisation of several regions of Libya can also be seen as a continuation of the February 2014 failed coup by Mr Hafter. Mr Ageela, in his capacity as Commander in Chief, is the person who appointed Hafter as the commander of the military. With Major-General Al-Nazhuri reporting directly to Mr Hafter, these recent actions can be perceived as Mr Hafter’s plan to install himself as the new Libyan dictator.
Mr Hafter has claimed to be fighting terrorism in Benghazi for more than two years but to no avail, except for the widescale destruction of the city and the thousands of lives claimed by both sides. Meanwhile, we see the same young people who brought down the Qaddafi regime now battling the terrorism that plagues Libya although successfully defeating terrorism in the city of Sirte, the so-called Islamic State’s largest bastion in Africa.
After the successful elections at national and local levels, these move by Mr Haftar are a significant setback for the democratic process in Libya. The Libyan people have no desire to allow their country to revert to military rule and will do all they can to further the establishment of a nation-state based on the peaceful transfer of power.
To support the will of the Libyan people and end the militarisation of the country, the international community must assume its responsibilities and take action to stop those foreign powers who are violating the UN embargo on Libya and supplying those who want to stage this coup d’état with weapons and strategic support.
The House of Representatives was elected to preserve the vulnerable, young Libyan democracy; however, it has evolved into its own obstacle to this path.
The HoR is currently based in Tobruk where it has become a hostage to local tribal customs and traditions, which in turn has made it dysfunctional and ineffective. In order for the HoR to assume its critical role as outlined by the LPA, from which it takes its legitimacy, a number of steps need to be taken:
- Moving the meetings outside of the city of Tobruk to a city or town with no tribal influence;
- Re-electing a new HoR leadership that is committed to its mission rather than using it for personal gain;
- Reforming its bylaws and procedures to become more like a modern parliamentary institution;
- Adopting Article nos. 16 and 17 of the LPA to restructure the HoR.
These steps are essential and will ensure that the parliament is able to perform its democratic role.
Libya’s rare opportunity to become a modern and prosperous democratic state is at risk. The Libyan people have already sacrificed and suffered so much for the chance of a brighter future for their children. Now is the time for their political leaders to make a true stand against those who conspire against their noble cause. It is also the time for Libya’s allies, the countries which stood by the Libyan people to help them overthrow a ruthless dictator, to make a stand against those who want to bring an end to Libya’s fledgling democracy.