The stakes are high that the round of dialogue to be hosted by Cairo this week, bringing together Libyan delegations of the House of Representatives (HoR) and the High Council of State (HCS) will offer a new opportunity for a settlement of the disagreement arisen over the provisional constitutional rule since the approval of the 12th constitutional amendment by the Parliament (on 10 February 2022), which comprised a new transitional road map developed after failing to deliver the elections on 24 December 2021. Aguila Issa, Speaker of the HoR, pre-empted the meeting by setting up a committee comprising 12 parliamentarians to review and amend the controversial articles of the Draft Permanent Constitution. On the other hand, the HCS will set out its vision on the constitutional rule, towards reaching a consensual solution that would put an end to the current political deadlock in Libya. Such consensus would bring a halt to the various initiatives introduced by Libyan actors, as well as the UN initiative of Stephanie Williams, Adviser of the UN Secretary-General on Libya.
Arguably, this step is looked at with cautious optimism. The meeting will be the first of its kind to bring together representatives of the HoR and HSC, which could prove to be a positive step on the path to overcoming the divergence of visions between the two groups. However, accomplishing this step requires leaving behind proactive stances and building confidence, along with the necessary expertise needed for the constitutional rule-making process. Holding this dialogue under the aegis of Cairo will perhaps contribute to bringing views of the two parties closer, particularly in view of the precedent of the Constitutional Committee meeting in Hurghada last summer, which can be built upon in developing dialogue to reach the desired phase of accomplishing this step and establishing the implementation mechanisms and timetable.
Overall, the Libyan scene seems to be heading towards more tensions that are feared to lead the situation to spiral out of control amid the unity’s government existence as an actor in the political scene and its refusal to hand power over to the government of Fathi Bashagha, commissioned by the HoR and which continues to adhere to restraint and de-escalation. The situation has been further complicated by the military commanders announcing suspending their participation in the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission for the continuing abuses of the unity government. Further, they called on halting oil exports and closing the coastal road, holding Abdul-Hamid Dbeibeh accountable for the current situation due to his policies. Meeting these demands would take the Libyan scene back to square one and threaten the security that Libya has been enjoying since reaching the ceasefire in October 2020.
As such, if the thaw between the HoR and HSC continues and an agreement is reached on the constitutional rule, this would lead to a breakthrough not only in the Libyan scene which is thirsty for an accomplishment that would lighten the atmosphere and prove Egypt’s basic tenet that the political dialogue remains the best means that is in the interest of Libya and plays into the hands of all parties, a country that is afflicted by the current stalemate due to practices of the political elite, against which the Libyan people expressed their desire to bring about stability and go to the ballot boxes rather than gunpowder boxes. While the opportunity of elections have been missed, the Libyan elite don’t seem to have the luxury of missing more opportunities; so, the different actors have to make concessions that allow for reaching a consensus that ends the political impasse.
External pressure on the Libyans to accelerate holding the elections poses another challenge. Here, a distinction should be made between providing international advice and expertise that support the Libyans in ending the transition and exerting pressure on them to complete the elections just as a mere formality even if this step may mean a return to the worst scenario when it is supposed to bring stability to the country, an outcome that requires the maturation of a nationally engineered consensual process without external interference or pressure. Engineering of the road map should be exclusively the job of the Libyan national forces not foreign forces. Notably, the UN initiative is not based on this principle. It violates the right of Libyans to determine their own political future. The role of the United Nations Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL) is supposed to be limited to providing support to the Libyan actors. External forces should draw on the previous lessons, particularly all of their pressures come against the background of Western demands of stability of Libyan oil exports, and perhaps increasing these exports given the repercussions of the Ukraine crisis that may, in the near term, cause these demands to double. Overall, these pressures can lead to negative setbacks that will not be in the interest of the national and foreign parties.
Limits of Wagering on the Constitutional Path
The Cairo meeting may be the last opportunity to establish constitutional rule within the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement. However, if this step falters, it will not be necessarily the end of all. Cairo has previously invited delegations of the HoR and HCS and Mohamed Al-Menfi, Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, has visited Cairo before, two steps that were aspired to end the political stalemate. On several occasions, it was suggested that the Presidential Council has the power to issue a constitutional basis decree. So, Cairo worked to offer Libyan actors a new opportunity before this impasse is reached which would prompt the Presidential Council to impose the constitutional rule to save the political process and put an end to the tensions that this deadlock may give rise to. Libyan actors should capitalize on the Cairo meeting to establish constitutional rule, paving the way for the completion of other entitlements, primarily the referendum on the constitutional rule, upon which the electorate will decide.
In short, establishing constitutional rule may serve as a tactical step towards settling one of the complications of the Libyan crisis, resolving of which would ease tensions and pressure on other outstanding issues in the Libyan scene. The political failure and pressure will no longer benefit the Libyan crisis. Libyan actors need to avoid hardening of positions and monopoly on the political decision, particularly on the crucial issues on which the future of the country will be determined and stop favoring private interests over the national project, i.e. recovery of the Libyan state that has been exhausted for more than a decade in armed and political settlement battles, the outcomes of which led to negative setbacks that deepened the protracted crisis.