By Saber Ayyub.
Tripoli, 8 April 2016:
Hundreds of demonstrators took to Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square this evening to protest the institution of the . . .[restrict]State Council without a vote by the House of Representatives (HoR).
There were also protests in Benghazi’s Kish Square this afternoon, although numbers were smaller.
The State Council, whose members are supposed to be drawn from the General National Congress (GNC), is part of the Libyan Political Agreement signed in December in Skhirat, Morocco and then endorsed by the UN Security Council. However, it officially does not come into existence until the HoR incorporates the LPA into Libya law with an amendment to the 2011 Constitutional Declaration which acts as Libya’s interim constitution. So far, that has not happened.
On Tuesday, however, a number of past and, till then, current members of the GNC took matters into their own hands, declared the LPA approved, the GNC dissolved and the State Council now in session, with themselves as its participants. Misratan politician Abdulrahman Sewehli was elected president of the body, former GNC second deputy president Saleh Makhzoum its first deputy president, Mohamed Emazab from Ajdabiya its second deputy president, and Ajaili Abusudair from Garabulli as rapporteur.
In addition to its premature launch, the State Council, whose role as set out in the LPA is as an advisory chamber, has started acting as if it is a legislature, provoking criticism from several observers. British ambassador Peter Millett tweeted “State Council is not a legislative organ under LPA. It is consultative. Legislative authority is House of Reps”.
This evening, that criticism was echoed in Martyrs’ Square by a huge crowd insisting that the only legitimate legislature in the country was the HoR.
The demonstration is a major change from the situation until just a few days ago where the square was the platform for Islamists and supporters of the Khalifa Ghwell/Nuri Abu Sahmain regime, and constantly resounded to anti-HoR rhetioric. This evening, instead, many of the protestors were carrying placards expressing full support for the HoR as the sole legitimate body in the country and the demand that the Government of National Accord (GNA) first obtain the Tobruk parliament’s approval before it too takes up office.
In another potentially significant change, there were voices in the square for the first time backing the army in Benghazi in its fight against terrorism and also rejecting the growing call in the east for self-determination.
“The atmosphere is amazing,” one of the demonstrators, Sami Gati, told the Libya Herald. “Tripolitians are determined to open their mouths and voice their backing for parliament and the army in Benghazi but also their rejection of the farce of the State Council.”
Meanwhile the situation is further complicated by claims that Sewehli cannot be president of the State Council as he is as member of the House of Representatives. HoR member Saleh Al-Sahbi said that for him to be a member of the Council was a violation of the LPA.
In Sebha too there have been protests against his election, with demands that the State Council be based there.
In another development, some former members of the GNC loyal to National Forces Alliance leader Mahmoud Jibril are also threatening to continue Libya’s new tradition of having two of everything – parliaments, governments, sovereign institutions and more – by constituting themselves as a separate state council, based in Benghazi. The threat is not, however, seen as serious. [/restrict]