Has the U.N. overlooked regionalism in Libyan politics?

A vote among Libya’s warring factions on a list of names for the Government of National Accord has been postponed again

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A vote among Libya’s warring factions on a list of names for the Government of National Accord (GNA) has been postponed again.

The United Nations had hoped for the House of Representatives (HOR) in the east and the General National Council (GNC) in the west to reach an accord before the HOR’s mandate as the internationally recognized government expired on Oct. 20. However, no accord seems within reach in the near future.

“The last modified list of names presented by the United Nations may have unconsciously overlooked the complexity of regionalism in Libya’s society and politics,” the country’s representative to the Arab League, Ashour Burashed, told Al Arabiya News.

“The additions to the list tipped off the balance of all regions’ representation” in the GNA, which may have delayed the vote.
There is an old, ongoing rivalry among Libya’s three regions: Fezzan in the south, Barga in the east and Tripolitania of the west.

It took time and long negotiations for the three regions to unite under King Idris el-Senussi after the Italian occupation. Muammar Qaddafi played on this rivalry during his 40-year rule, exacerbating the problem.

“This has been translated into having two parliaments, two governments and two armies now,” Rabee Shrair, a member of the Libyan National Dialogue Development Committee, told Al Arabiya News.

“There were already reservations about the original list, but this last list added to many parties’ concerns.” For example, “no GNC members are chosen for any of the vice-president positions.”

Intra-regional rivalry

There is also rivalry within each region. “One of the vice presidents on the list, Fathi Elmajebri, is from Benghazi [in the east], but he isn’t from one of the dominant clans in Benghazi,” said Shrair. “Because of regionalism, the east can’t just be represented by anyone.”

Meanwhile, militias in the West are fighting for dominance. This is being translated into competition for political representation between the cities of Misrata and Zintan in the GNA.

“The west is represented through many positions on the list, but Misrata is over-represented,” Breik Swessi, Libya’s ambassador to The Netherlands, told Al Arabiya News. “This infuriated many from the east and also the west, especially Zintan.”

The United Nations is leading the initiative to form the GNA, but despite much negotiation a consensus is still lacking.

“The United Nations has a genuine interest in bringing stability to Libya,” Burashed said. “Its next list of names though has to be more sensitive to Libya’s regionalism and to public opinion.”

Swessi said: “The last list included a few names that don’t necessarily have the cleanest past, before or after” the 2011 revolution that ousted Qaddafi.

Burashed said: “Regionalism is a huge factor to tackle when making political decisions for Libya.”

However, “this doesn’t mean it’s easy to rip Libya’s social fabric apart. It’s hard to find a city, let alone a region, not related to another through blood or matrimony.”