Libya: No instruction manual for the country

President Muammar Gaddafi was removed from power in October of 2011. Contrary to popular belief, post-Gaddafi Libya did not fall immediately into the chaos and instability that is plaguing the country right now. In fact, Libya was seen as being relatively stable compared with the other Arab Spring nations and was one of the first to hold free and fair elections back in 2012. Libya’s current instability can mainly be traced back to the parliamentary elections of 2014. The low voter turnout (18%) coupled with the growing sense of political apathy/cynicism among the population lead to a weak parliament, the creation of two competing governments and the rise of anti-democratic movements within the country.

The lack of a Constitution

Fast forward to today and Libya is still struggling with the issues of the 2014 elections in one form or other.

The founding block of any nation is the contractual relationship between those who govern and the governed. This usually comes in the form of a codified constitution and is used by a nation to outline the rights of its citizens and delineate the powers of its government, as well as the scope of those powers. Libya does not currently have a constitution, and this has posed a problem for both the General National Congress (‘GNC’) that was elected in 2012 and the House of Representatives (‘HOR’) that was elected in 2014. Neither of the two governments had any real guidance as to how they can govern the country. The result of not having a document to look back to, caused the two to be weak and susceptible to constant challenges to the legitimacy of their authority.

This issue is not one you would often see in other countries, that’s because many states consider the creation of a constitution as their top national priority. This occurred in post-revolution America back in 1776, and it was the same in post-revolution Tunisia in 2011. In Libya however, the National Transitional Council (‘NTC’) was more concerned about not being seen as another non-elected regime than it was about creating a functioning democratic roadmap for the country. Because of this, the NTC hastily set about organising elections for a new government (GNC) and only provided a weak and ambiguous Interim constitution for them. It was not until 2014 that a 60-member Constitution Drafting Assembly (‘CDA’) was elected in order to draft a constitution.

The CDA has proven to be very inefficient and incapable of providing Libya with a strong constitution. Although in 2017 the Assembly had managed to create and publish a final draft of a proposed constitution, the political seal of approval needed to pass it proved impossible to obtain. Libya has found itself in a catch 22 situation. The lack of a political framework in the country has caused political gridlock, and because of this, there is very little way for a new constitution to be ratified. This precarious situation regarding the constitution might not be all that bad. Although admirable and providing many protections, the 2017 draft constitution is vague and many of its articles could be read in contradiction with one another. This can pose many more problems in the future than it would solve. The fact that the CDA has yet to create and implement a constitution does provide Libya with the unique opportunity to amend the imperfections of the draft constitution or alternatively learn from the mistakes of the current CDA and start from Scratch.

Resolving the issue

As mentioned, one way of going about fixing Libya’s lack of constitution problem is to go back to the 2017 draft and amend the sections that would prove problematic in the future. The benefits of this are that there would be no need for new elections for a new CDA and the work would mostly involve amendments and not a complete rewrite. The cons of this approach are that the CDA, like the HOR, also received low voter turnout, boycotts and voter suppression during the course of their election. Furthermore, after 6 years in office, many in the country may wish for a fresh start with regards to the constitution.

A new Constitutional Drafting Assembly

Creating a new CDA (Constitutional Drafting Assembly) would come in the form of holding a nation-wide election to elect a 60 member body to draft a new constitution. This is the same size as the current CDA, however, unlike the current one the membership of the new CDA should be divided equally among the historical states of Libya (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan). Unlike a legislature, which should be based on proportional representation, the CDA is creating a lasting document that needs to ensure the rights of all Libyans regardless of factions (geographic or other). Therefore, each state would receive 20 members, and they should be divided equally between men and woman.  Furthermore, there should be an equal split among Arabs and Berbers 30:30, with the 30 Berber members divided equally among the three states and among the three Berber groups of Libya (Tuareg, Amazigh and Tebou). They will also be further divided equally between men and women. Each state’s members would look something like the following.

10 Arab delegates (5 male and 5 female)

10 Berber Delegate (5 male and 5 female)

Among the three states, there would be 30 Arabs composing of 15 men and 15 women. 30 Berbers composing of 10 Amazigh, 10 Tuaraq and 10 Tebou members and within each Berber group they would be divided equally between men and women (5:5).

What it could look like

Tripolitania

5 Arab men5 Arab women
5 Amazigh men5 Amazigh women

Cyrenaica

5 Arab men5 Arab women
5 Tebou men5 Tebou women

Fezzan

5 Arab men5 Arab women
5 Tuareg men5 Tuareg women

A Helping Hand

One thing is certain, and that is without a firm push from the international community for political stability in Libya, the current CDA or the potentially new CDA will have an almost impossible task of implementing a new constitution.

The international community had (and still does hold) a responsibility to Libya and specifically the liberal democracies of the world. It is shameful that in the years following the Arab Spring, these democratic nations failed to take the opportunity to expand and strengthen the ideals of liberalism in these nations. One would have thought the at least the EU which has experience in aiding former authoritarian nations in democratic transition, would have jumped at the chance of creating a so-called democratic, stable, southern shield for themselves. In fact, what has happened is that by neglecting their duties, the Europeans had allowed for a civil war to break out in Libya, that has led to mass migration into Europe. This has ultimately weakened the EU to such an extent that authoritarianism and strong man leaders are creeping back into Europe. Even Tunisia, which is the sole democratic nation in the Arab world, is receiving almost no aid from its EU neighbours and is currently holding on to that democracy by a thread. Tunisia could have been transformed into a shining example of what a stable democracy could bring to the Middle East. Yet what we see is the opposite, and in fact, nations such as France are actively aiding non-democratic movements in Libya and the region, so much so that they are aiding the Russians in gaining a stronger foothold in the Mediterranean and destabilising EU nations such as Italy and Malta.  The EU needs to get its house in order and return to its ideals of promoting human rights, liberalism and democracy, and one way to achieve this is by aiding its southern neighbours into establishing stable liberal governments.

In the days and months ahead

With the Biden victory in the US elections, we are cautiously optimistic that a Biden presidency would mean a US foreign policy that would aim to correct what Obama regarded as the greatest mistake of his presidency, his failure to take steps to help build the institutions necessary to create peace in Libya. Hopefully, Biden will take a stand against counterproductive interference from the regional powers and once again pursue a policy of promoting democracy and the ideals of liberalism. Hopefully, with a more forceful guiding hand, the process of implementing a new constitution in Libya will become an attainable goal.

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