A royal solution to Libya’s chaos

Over the past year Bernardino León, the U.N. Special Envoy to Libya, has been mediating between the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tobruk and the rival Islamist-dominated General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli.

The Libyan government fled to Tobruk when an alliance of militias known as Libya Dawn seized Tripoli and installed the GNC as a rival government, after the Islamists did poorly in the free elections for parliament (known as the House of Representatives, or HoR) last summer.

León is to be replaced in the coming weeks, but he says his latest draft agreement is final and should be signed off and a “government of national accord” installed by October 20 when the mandate of the legitimate parliament expires. But this is the seventh draft, with each of the previous versions having been announced by León as final and about to be signed off by both sides.

The prevailing political chaos is the source of ISIS’ apparent strength, not any significant support from the Libyan people.

Abdallah Schleifer

This latest draft emerged from negotiations León had been mediating in Morocco, and he had said there will be no more amendments. But it was amended because the GNC delegation withdrew from the talks in Morocco – and León had to accept amendments that strengthened the GNC’s role in the projected unity government. The executives of a unity government – a Prime Minister and two deputy Prime Ministers, have still to be negotiated. The Tobruk government suspected the GNC was dragging its feet on this last procedure, because if the HoR parliament loses its original mandate, then the Tobruk government would theoretically have no more legitimacy than the GNC in Tripoli. So the legitimate parliament on Monday voted to extend its term of office beyond October 20, without fixing any limit.

ISIS in Libya

Meanwhile more bodies keep washing up on the Libyan shoreline because Libya’s ports – the departure point for the hundreds of thousands of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Italy, are controlled by the GNC or ISIS. After nearly four years of increasing chaos and the growing strength of the Libyan affiliate of ISIS, more and more Libyans are fed up with what they perceive as a hopeless track to a stable and democratic country.

The problems of governing Libya are not limited to the obvious rival political authorities. There are three very distinct rival regions – western, eastern and southern Libya. And on top of that there is the authority still exercised by the dozens of tribes in Libya, which with the collapse of Qaddafi’s highly centralized rule, have regained their strength as rival sources of potential conflict as well as a viable, comforting sense of identity and mutual aid.

The third aspect in this political and security vacuum is of course ISIS. The prevailing political chaos is the source of ISIS’ apparent strength, not any significant support from the Libyan people. And indeed a significant percentage of ISIS fighters are foreigners, Salafi-jihadists coming from Libya’s many Arab and African Muslim neighboring countries.

A growing sentiment – which has even been characterized as a grassroots movement – calls for the restoration of Libya’s 1951 constitution.

Abdallah Schleifer

1951 constitution

There is a countercurrent to this political standoff. A growing sentiment – which has even been characterized as a grassroots movement – calls for the restoration of Libya’s 1951 constitution, which established the shape of then newly independent Libya as a constitutional monarchy, tied to a parliamentary system that was based on universal suffrage. Calls to restore the constitution have been heard in debates and conferences in Tripoli and Benghazi, and a growing number of advocates on social media. Libya’s royal family, deposed by Qaddafi in 1968, are the Senussi – leaders of the resistance to Italian colonialism.

In June leaders of Libya’s 40 tribes convened in Bayda, to pray for peace and unity, and to agree on measures the tribes can undertake in opposition to ISIS. It is widely believed that the inspiration of the gathering came from the self-claimed Crown Prince of Libya, Mohammed el-Senussi, who is the great-nephew – and disputed heir apparent – of King Idris, Libya’s first and only king.

There is strong argument for federalism in Libya, which is a system that would recognize the three distinct regions. And the 1951 Constitution devolved significant authority to regional assemblies. But most importantly, a monarch transcends regional, partisan and ideological rivalries. A monarch becomes more than a symbol of unity, but a source driving unity – something Libya so desperately needs.

Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) for the New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.