Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Debate: Libya’s institutions can facilitate the political transition | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan speaks during a press conference on January 22, 2014 in the capital Tripoli. Zeidan vowed on January 21 to stay at his post, as Islamist ministers quit in protest at persistent lawlessness that saw him briefly abducted last year. AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD TURKIA

There are four fundamental institutions in Libya that need to reconsider their configuration and the nature of their work. However, it is possible to argue that they are already in a position to end Libya’s slide into chaos and division.

First, we have the legislative institution now known as the General National Congress (GNC) or, as some call it, the Interim Parliament.

This institution has many problems, and the current structure of the GNC reflects outward divisions, which are present on Libyan streets. Some individuals in the GNC are affiliated to jihadist groups and the Muslim Brotherhood. First we must reform the legislative institution from scratch and hold new elections, because the institution in its current form is truly unable to accomplish its assigned tasks. The election law that brought this legislative entity into being must be subject to a constitutional amendment as part of the initiatives currently being proposed. We must either re-elect the GNC or undertake a process of radical reform within the institution through a new roadmap and new internal regulations. If this is achieved, it will be possible to build an institution capable of preventing the country from slipping into chaos. Radical changes must take place within the legislative institution or, alternatively, the reforms could be handed over to the Committee of Sixty that will draft Libya’s new constitution after its election.

The second institution that can be relied on in the future, as long as certain conditions are met, are the political parties. These parties could play an important role in spreading political awareness and developing a vision for the political process in Libya. The problem is that it is difficult to describe the vast majority of these groups as they stand now as real parties, as they are fragile entities lacking political vision. I consider their role so far to have been destructive, not constructive. The majority of these parties are impeding the transformation process their country so badly needs because they are focussing exclusively on their own agendas. We must move away from these short-sighted plans and focus on the priority of completing the transitional phase, one aspect of which is building up the democratic process in Libya. After we move on from this stage, we can let the competition begin.

Libyan parties, in order to be effective, need to go to the people with a clear vision, whether now or in the future, with regard to both the economy and foreign policy. Each party must come to us with a clear vision and focus on the democratic process by spreading political and party awareness. Political parties are not concentrating on these things, and the necessary level of communication between party leadership and the grassroots is not present. Some parties have not even entered this stage yet. Yet there is hope that these parties will learn from their mistakes and engage in the process of building a future for a united Libya.

The third type of institution that can be relied on in Libya to prevent a descent into chaos are the civil society institutions, though they are still inexperienced. An institution that is supposed to address a single issue often finds itself working on several problems, and this challenge is similar to the ones faced by political parties. This is because Libya has lacked civil society institutions for decades. Now, in order for them to take on an active role in Libya, they must specialize in their work. One civil society organization cannot tackle too many issues at once.

Civil society institutions in Libya should work as lobbyist groups in their respective fields. For example, human rights groups should focus on that single issue, and not human rights in addition to economy and politics. Here, it has been pointed out that civil society institutions also suffer from a lack of training among their leadership. These groups also fail to coordinate between themselves. In each region, each institution works by itself, while in actuality some of them may be able to work collectively and form strong partnerships to better achieve real results on the ground.

But I must also emphasize the big issues we are currently witnessing in media institutions. The media played a major role throughout the period of liberation and armed conflict in broadcasting the suffering of Libyans all over the world. After this, the media began to flail uselessly and largely failed to adjust to the transitional phase. We saw that channels were funded from here and there, with some dependent on funding from external parties and no agreement on a code of conduct. We cannot hope to build a strong future while the media has such fundamental problems, although it has been noted that the biggest accomplishment of the revolution was achieving a degree of press freedom. People are now free to say what they want, but the media’s potential has not been realized to the full, and sometimes it actually fuels conflict. There are many examples of this. To me, the media is the most important institution, even more so than political parties.

We have finally arrived at the fourth institution: the tribes. These can be said to be the only entity working to resolve disputes in Libya right now. The tribes are working hard today, but we cannot describe their role as a constructive one for the future. Temporarily, however, the work they do is positive. The historic role of the tribes before the coup of September 1969 was that of a social institution. The tribes were effective in this field and apolitical at the time, but following Gaddafi’s takeover they became entangled in political issues. After the revolution on February 17, 2011, thanks to conflict and a lack of power within state institutions, we found ourselves marching into the same tunnel dug by Gaddafi. We were in need of the tribes as the lesser of two evils.

In the long run, we must end the political role of the tribes and return them to their social role. The democratic process must be owned by institutions.

The counterpoint to this article can be read here.