Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tobruk-based Libyan government rejects Supreme Court decision declaring that it is unconstitutional

The Tobruk-based Libyan parliament formed from representatives elected in June has rejected the ruling of the Libyan Supreme Court that the parliament is "unconstitutional".



The Court ruled against the constitutionality of the original decision of the General National Congress in February which resulted in the elections in June to the present House of Representatives. The reaction to the decision by the new House of Representatives that is allied with CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar and with what seems to be an anti-Islamist majority is in contrast to the reaction of the Islamists when the same Supreme Court declared the appointment of their favored candidate Ahmed Maiteeq for prime minister invalid. Maiteeq accepted the ruling. At the time the ruling meant that the caretaker prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni who had refused to relinquish his post remained in power. Al-Thinni had also been in power when as part of Haftar's Operation Dignity Haftar's allies from the Zintan Brigades, burned and looted the parliament. The chief of the Supreme Court Kamal al-Dahan said there is no appeal to the ruling which he said nullifies the national poll on June 25 that elected representatives to the House of Representatives that has been meeting in Tobruk. The previous government passed a motion that the parliament should meet in August in Benghazi but before that could happen the city was mostly taken over by an umbrella group of Islamist militias. Forces loyal to General Haftar along with the regular army have been trying to retake the city recently. The present prime minister of the Tobruk government is the same Abdullah al-Thinni who had called Haftar's action in burning the previous parliament illegal and who even before that had been defence minister when the same Haftar was accused of attempting a coup and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Now Al-Thinni declares support for Haftar's operations in Benghazi and is allied with him. Nevertheless, the UN and many countries have made a point of claiming that the Tobruk government is the one and only legitimate authority in Libya in spite of the fact that the main cities Tripoli and Benghazi are not under its control but that of an alternative government set up by Islamists who reconvened the GNC. The GNC then appointed a rival prime minister who formed a rival government. In its rejection of the Supreme Court decision, MP Adam Sakhra read a statement on behalf of the parliament that claimed the ruling was "taken under threat of arms" because the capital is "rule by outlawed militias". The statement went on:“The House of Representatives rejects the verdict under these conditions and says it is still functioning, as is the government” A member of the House of Representatives said the Supreme Court was guarded by "300 armed militiamen" and hence the court ruled under duress. There could have been armed militia acting as guards since forces loyal to Haftar could very well attack the court.
 So far there has not actually been any evidence of pressure on the court. Many Libyan analysts warned that the court was one of the last functioning Libyan institutions. The real problem seems to be that the Tobruk-government in spite of its lack of power and obvious campaign in alliance with Haftar is loathe to accept a political solution that would take away its present legitimacy and power such as it is. No doubt many other countries such as Egypt, the US and France, will be happy to support a government that seeks to remove Islamists from power.
A council representing tribes in the eastern coastal region called Barqa, an area that has previously declared independence, has warned that if the House of Representatives were dissolved they would declare the independence of the region and return to the 1949 constitution that recognized the area as autonomous, then called Tripolitania. This shows that the new government is allied with eastern separatists rather than being national in origin. It is telling that the present prime minister Al Thinni negotiated with rebels who were blocking oil shipments in the east and was able to reach a deal. The rebel militia controlling the oil terminals were associated with eastern separatists. That same separatist sentiment is again coming to the forefront.
  A joint statement on the situation in Libya by the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Spain and the United Kingdom is as follows:We are deeply concerned by the situation of political polarization in Libya. We are studying carefully the decision of the Supreme Court, its context and consequences. We note that the challenges facing Libya require political solutions. We remain committed to helping Libyans at this difficult time. We fully support the efforts of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and urge all parties to cooperate with him to ensure immediate and inclusive consultations among the stakeholders to agree on the way forward. We urge all parties to cease all military operations and to refrain from taking any steps which increase the polarization and divisions in the country.
 The statement is a marvel of rhetorical motherhood statements combined with caution. However, what is not in the statement is significant. It does not assert the legitimacy of the Tobruk government and it does not state that the Supreme Court ruling is invalid. Note that some countries closely involved in the conflict notably Egypt and the UAE are not signatories. The statement is probably an initiative of the US who rounded up allies to sign on to the statement. Some of the rhetoric copies that of the UN Support Mssion in Libya (UNSMIL). That group too was studying the court ruling closely and urged the parties to act responsibly and not take any action that would further polarize the situation. Jason Pack, a researcher at Cambridge University claimed that the ruling could have a positive effect: “From the UN perspective it [the ruling] means they can’t treat Tobruk as the sole legitimate government but that could have a positive impact.The UN may now be able to begin negotiations that already needed to happen – with Hassi’s government, the Misratan Led Alliance of Libya Dawn and the different military groups and commanders who need to be at the negotiating table.” Pack thinks that the House of Representatives group which he calls federalists are simply trying to gain a stronger negotiation position when negotiations begin. This assumes that negotiations will begin. There is no sign of that yet only continuing clashes. Even so, the fact that the UN must now begin to actually consult those who count, the Islamist militia, Haftar, and representatives from the alternative Hassi government gives at least a ray of hope that a political solution may be found. No doubt neither the UN nor the countries issuing the recent statement on Libya will consider Haftar's continuing attempts to take control of Benghazi from Islamist militias as taking action that will further polarize the situation. The outside powers that are attempting to control the situation in Libya obviously have not yet decided what their position on the Supreme Court ruling is. There will be pressure from Egypt and other quarters to reject the ruling and continue to work with the Tobruk-based government. There may be doubts in some quarters that Haftar and government forces are up to defeating combined Islamist and other militias. This could explain why the US and others have not immediately rejected the Supreme Court decision. 

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