Tripoli/Tunis, 17 December 2015:
To enthusiastic applause in a packed Moroccan hotel and after more than a year of negotiations, the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) which establishes the Government of National Accord (GNA) was signed today. Officially signing it on behalf of both the House of Representatives (HoR) and the rival Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) were the two bodies’ respective deputy presidents, Emhemed Shouaib and Salah Makhzoum. The ceremony was attended by some 80 members of the House of Representatives (HoR) and another 27 from the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) as well as Libyan mayors and municipal representatives, political party leaders and members of civil society organisations and women groups.
Significantly, none of Libya’s militia leaders, on whom a peace plan will rest, attended.
The UN and the international community sees the signing as giving legitimacy to the GNA which is to be run by a nine-member presidency. However, it leaves more questions than answers over whether a third governing structure can bring peace.
With neither the HoR nor the GNC having formally voted to accept the plan, UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler had hoped to have a majority of members from both the HoR and the GNC at the signing to theoretically give it their endorsement. The failure to achieve that goal is likely to make implementing the LPA more difficult. The signing was later rejected by HoR president Ageela Saleh.
Casting aside the difficulties, Kobler said that Libya was restarting its political transition.“Today participants in the Libya political dialogue have turned a page in the history of Libya”.
He added, in an apparent recognition that the signatories to today’s deal might have put themselves out on a limb: “This agreement was signed by many courageous men and women who risk a lot, I admire their dedication, I admire their courage”.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to approve the deal at a meeting in New York next week, followed by diplomatic recognition by key world states. Then the presidential council led by prime minister Faiez Sarraj will choose a cabinet.
Its full membership, with three representatives from each of Libya’s traditional areas, was announced earlier. It comprises:
At the ceremony were the foreign ministers of Italy, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia, Turkey and Spain together with assorted diplomats from other countries and the agreement was almost immediately welcomed by several foreign governments and international organisations, among them Egypt which said it would work with the new government. US Secretary of State, who co-chaired Sunday’s Rome conference on Libya, welcomed the agreement, also stating that he saluted “these courageous Libyans who stand ready to rebuild a united Libya and who are determined to move the country forward”.
Also welcoming the signing, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reiterated Sunday’s Rome communiqué that the Europeans would no longer have official contacts with individuals claiming to be part of institutions not under the authority of the new government. She also repeated that there was an immediate aid package worth €100 million.
The international refusal to have any dealings with any Libyan official not woking with the Serraj government should give it control of more than $100 billion in overseas assets, together with oil and gas revenues.
The immediate task for the nine-member presidency council is to name within 40 days the other members of the new government. It is supposed to then be endorsed by the HoR, but with HoR president Saleh seemingly committed to defying the LPA, it is unclear whether that can happen.
Both he and both Nuri Abu Sahmain, president of the GNC met earlier this week in Malta to demand that today’s signing be postponed until a consensus was found in support of any deal.
If the HoR and GNC continue to officially refuse to recognise the new government, Libya may be heading for a further constitutional crisis, with three, rather than the present two competing governments.
The immediate challenge will be security and getting into Tripoli. The latter appears extremely unlikly at present and there was no mention of it in Skhirat. However, if the government is not in Tripoli, with minister running their ministries, it will not be able to operate, no matter how much money it has at its disposal. As for security and the re-establishment of official army and police forces, the militias in the capital and elsewhere will continue to pose a problem unless they are incorporated with special status into those forces. Those militias not incorporated into the armed forces will be ordered to disband but will certainly resist.
Deciding the post of armed forces command will also present a challenge, with Tobruk army commander general Khalifa Hafter enjoying both strong support and vitriolic opposition from sections of Libyan society. Kobler was in Marj yesterday with his Italian security adviser General Paolo Serra, for talks with Hafter.
The UN says there will be no public referendum on whether to accept the new government. It hopes that the constitutional assembly, elected in February last year, will produce a new constitution, paving the way for fresh elections at an unspecified time in the future.
Mr Kobler insisted he was optimistic, saying: “The agreement puts in place a single set of legitimate institutions.”