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Op-Ed: Libyan HoR may meet in desert town of Al-Jufra

The meeting is discussed in a recent article in Digital Journal. Descriptions of what happened vary. At first the reason for not voting was said to be because there was lack of a quorum. However, later, 100 members of the HoR signed a document indicating they supported the GNA. Many reports then came out claiming that there was a quorum but about 10 spoilers described as Cyrenaican/Federalists disrupted the meeting and hence there was no vote.

The meeting was postponed until next week. There were also suggestions that the venue of the meeting be changed to avoid disruptions. Mohammed Al-Read, a member of the HoR, said on TV that a group of members of the HoR had gathered and proposed that the next meeting be held in the desert oasis town of Al-Jufra or Kufra. He claimed the members who endorsed the GNA are willing to hold a session in the town. Al-Jufra is an oasis town far in the south-east of Libya, probably best known as a stopping place for immigrants on route to the coast and then Europe. There is an airport at Al-Jufra so a plane could be chartered to fly the pro-GNA members there. It is not clear why the opponents could not do the same but perhaps there is some arrangement to prevent this. Who knows?

In a recent news release, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) Martin Kobler doesn’t even explicitly mention a vote of confidence in the HoR — instead there is vague phraseology. After welcoming the statement of support for the GNA signed by 100 members Kobler says: Martin Kobler welcomes this development that demonstrates the strong determination of the people of Libya and the overwhelming support by the majority within the HoR for the proposed GNA. In view of this public statement by the majority of parliamentarians, Mr. Kobler calls on the leadership of the HoR to take immediate steps to formalise this endorsement. While to formalize the endorsement could mean having a vote of confidence, perhaps the way is left open to get around the vote and use some other means. He could just gather together all those who favor the GNA in Kufra, have them vote approval and call that the vote of confidence. He used a similar stratagem to pass the Libya Political Agreement (LPA) on December 17 in Skhirat. Neither parliament ever approved the LPA. Skhirat was a gathering convened by Kobler of members of the Political Dialogue who approved the LPA. Of course, the meeting in Kufra would not be organized directly by Kobler, but by the prime minister-designate of the GNA, Faiez Serraj, with members of the HoR.

Al-Reaid’s explanation of the disruption attributes it solely to demands for a better share of ministerial jobs: “I feel so disappointed with the riot and chaos that took place on Tuesday as the President of the HoR, Aqilah Saleh, was prevented from chairing the session and kick-starting it due to some MPs’ demands of ministerial posts for their own.” Other reasons given for opposition are that the Presidency Council is two large at nine and should be reduced to the original three. Also, some of the particular choices for cabinet positions are objected to. The official stories are suspicious. The lack of a quorum story contradicts the now prominent story of the spoilers preventing a vote together with the appearance of the letter with 100 signatures supporting the GNA. The latter story claims there was a quorum.

The letter signed by 100 HoR members provides a convenient device to bring in the cheerleaders. The international choir intones amen to approval of the GNA: The ambassadors – from the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the US and the UK – called on HoR President Ageela Salah “to acknowledge the approval by a majority of MPs” of the GNA and its programme.
We seem to be evolving towards a similar situation that happened before the Skhirat signing.

Back in October 2015 the UN Special Envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon said in a press release:
As you know there has been a position announced by the Speaker of the House of Representatives followed by a statement signed by what seems to be a majority of the members insisting that there was no proper vote and that was no proper decision taken by the House of Representatives on the agreement. This has created some confusion and I am coming here today, first of all, to insist that the process goes on, that there is no chance for small groups or personalities to hijack this process, that a majority of the Libyans want a political solution, they don’t want any more confrontations. The Libyan people are the ones suffering the consequences of these confrontations and the responsibility of the Libyan actors involved in this process and the international community and the United Nations that are supporting them is mainly to respond to these Libyans that are suffering. A majority of the HoR were then also said to be in favor of the LPA but with the proviso that Haftar keep his job a requirement inconsistent with the GNA. The appended video is from Iranian Press TV at the time.

The HoR never did pass the GNA and Leon’s term ended. Kobler carried on with the same Leon LPA draft allowing no changes. As mentioned, he did a run around the two parliaments, by having those favoring the LPA sign an agreement in Skihirat on December 17, but now is faced with the same problem as he needs the approval of the HoR before the GNA term can start. As with Leon, there is this narrative of the majority wanting the GNA as they did the LPA, but being stopped by some spoilers. This time though, the issue of the status of Haftar has been expunged from the story altogether. Perhaps the situation is evolving as Jason Pack describes recently :In an attempt to save the situation, UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler travelled hurriedly to Tubruq to meet with HoR President Ageela Salah as well as Fayez Serraj on 21 February, to push for a majority vote and immediate endorsement of both the LPA and the proposed GNA. Despite international pleas to save this process, PM-designate Serraj left Tubruq for Cairo, a day before the all crucial vote on the GNA Gov list. It is very evident from these developments that Haftar continues to enjoy widespread support in the East, especially now as the offensive to retake Benghazi has so far succeeded more than any other before it. The meaning of these developments is that a pro-Egypt or pro-UAE solution is materializing with International/Western plans for a GNA largely stymied. This solution could undo the gains of the UN negotiations making it easier for the Islamist-aligned groups (such as various militias in Misrata and Tripoli) to support ISIS and other jihadis against Haftar and the anti-Islamist forces. This reassertion of the binary blocs is a very dangerous place for Libya as the country teeters on the verge of an international intervention.

Pack ignores that other jihadist groups such as the Shura Council in Derna are having fierce fights with the Islamic State. The bombing by the Americans in Sabratha was applauded by the rival Tripoli-based General National Council(GNC) and condemned by the HoR. In Sabratha jihadists loyal to the GNC are fighting the Islamic State. The relation ot IS to the two competing governments in complex. The problem is that the Haftar does not distinguish between the Islamic State and other jihadist groups as his Operation Dignity intends to defeat them all. However, the GNC has links to many jihadist groups that Haftar is fighting.

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