By Amr Ben Halim and Gilbert Doumit
Libya’s recent elections on 7 July resulted in a 200-member . . .[restrict]General National Congress that will be entrusted with the most significant of tasks, namely the appointment of a new interim government and the matter of a commission to draft a new constitution. The 60-member commission is supposed to be set up within 30 days.
An indication of the looming potential for division is the last-minute decision by the outgoing National Transitional Council to take away the task of appointing the commission from the newly-elected congress and its assignment to a directly-elected body consisting of 20 members each from Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan. The committee will have no more than 60 days to write the constitution, get it approved by the National Congress which then organises a referendum within 30 days. In any case, this decision could well be revoked by the congress indicating further potential disagreement over the process and content of the new constitution.
The clock is ticking for Libyans, who are facing heightened tensions and divisive stances on their country’s future. Regime change in Libya may not necessarily afford Libyans a change in the political system and social relations unless Libya’s decision-makers adopt dialogue, accountability and participatory processes.
“These elections were not about who wins but about what will be done next to pay tribute to our martyrs who sacrificed their lives for a democratic Libya,” said one elderly woman at a voting booth in Benghazi. If development of the constitution remains in the hands of an elite few there is a high probability that it will face rejection.
If Libya’s National Congress wants to maintain legitimacy, it can only do so by responding to citizens’ priority issues, including demands for greater influence over the government. If the slogans of the revolution are to become reality, now is the time for Libya’s policy-makers to follow up on the calls for freedom and equality and transparency.
A process of inclusive dialogue is becoming a dire need in today’s Libya.
As the deadline for establishing the Constitutional Commission approaches, it is important to recall that this time-frame is in fact around half as long as was spent developing Libya’s first constitution in 1951. Lessons learnt can be found in the 1951 experience where according to Dr Mohamed Berween, professor of politics at Texas A&M International University and who ran Misrata‘s local elections in February, success included “continuous efforts for dialogue over 770 days, openness and flexibility, and finally determination and political awareness.”
It is not that the actual drafting needs to take more time, but rather, Libya’s new assembly must carefully put in place mechanisms and processes that can ensure the inclusion and participation of all stakeholders in this process. The National Congress must caution itself against monopolizing power, marginalizing civil society and political parties, and failing to build consensus.
Divisive Issues Facing Libya
The schisms across Libya were very visible in the pre-election phase. Libya’s struggle for freedom goes beyond the calls for a new government or political rights. It is about the way that the country should be governed, about who has the right to participate, and about reconciling religion and state. A closer look at Libya’s social structure and viewpoints shows stark differences in the way citizens interpret such issues.
The Role of Sharia in the Constitution
Opinions over the role of Sharia are divided as to it being the main and only source for the constitution, while others are open to idea that the constitution articles be inspired from other external sources in addition to Sharia. There are also views that Islam is the religion of the state, but that the constitution is a legal document that is not determined exclusively by Sharia.
The Meaning of Freedom and Equality
Although “Free Libya” is widely repeated in speeches, daily discourse and graffiti, Libyans will have to translate these slogans into law and practice. Some reduce these concepts to the level of the political participation. Others want these terms to infer meanings that affect personal freedoms including freedoms of expression, religion, and assembly.
While others, believe these concepts to be imported from the West and should not replace Islamic values. In Tripoli participants expressed that they want “a regime that allows political plurality and ensures representation of all Libyan social segments with accountability mechanisms that prevent monopoly over power as happened in the last 42 years.”
The Shape of the Political and Administrative System
Opinions are divided between advocates of administrative decentralisation and supporters of federalism. Some demand decentralisation as“de-concentration” aiming for the decentralisation of resources and services, equitable and sustainable development across Libya being the mainmotivation
Integration of Minorities
While many participants believe that there are no minorities in Libya since the Libyan and Islamic identities are common to all, Libyans do admit to the presence of tribal and ethnic minorities, as well as the presence of a very small Jewish minority.
There is also demand to consider Arabic as the official priority language while recognizing and allowing other languages in official settings whenever they are used. Other groups think that Arabic and the Amazigh language should be accredited as two official languages of the state of Libya.
The Role of Women in Society
There are those who aim for complete equality between men and women. Others demand equality between men and women as far as religion allows but without crossing those lines, especially on the issues of inheritance and marriage.
There are those who think that a woman’s role is different from a man’s and oppose female participation in political life and, occasionally, in the economic one. As one female activist from Misrata put it, “If the constitution ignores women, youth, minorities and Qaddafi supporters, then who will participate in building the future of the Libyan State?”
Libyans need not look too far for practical tips on how to manage dialogue, the answer lies only slightly deeper in their own history.
Libyans can learn from their successful past experience of drafting a constitution in 1951. According to Dr Mohamed Berween, the committee in 1951 consisted of 21 representatives from three Libyan regions; Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan. The commission that is being formed this time to develop the constitution will have 60 members, chosen equally from the three regions, irrespective of their demographics.
The technical writing of the constitution was done during 25-month long dialogue and 187 meetings to design a comprehensive social contract.
There might not be a simple formula to overcoming divisions among Libyans, however, there are actionable steps for Libyans to enhance participation and representation through dialogue. The Forum for Democratic Libya in partnership with Beyond Reform & Development has been taking the initiative since June 2011 to engage citizens, from different regions, in a series of dialogues to invite stakeholders to voice their concerns and aspirations.
From Tripoli to Benghazi, Derna, Beyda, and Misrata, over 700 civil society and political activists, thuwar, NTC members, intellectuals, lawyers, women and youth groups took part in a series of workshops and dialogues. These helped identify priority areas and recommended the ideas below for adoption by government and civil society in the next phase:
? Choosing weekly topics around the new social contract to be discussed in media, universities, local communities and national seminars.
? Ministries should organise a series of dialogues with specialists and stakeholders in all districts, that connect directly to, or reflect on the constitution.
? A committee should be formed from intellectuals, experts and civil society leaders to organise regional meetings in all areas in which stakeholders combine any suggestions.
? Social media could be used to make writing of the constitution an interactive process and open to responses and electronic debates, especially among youth.
Post-elections, Libya seems to have dazzled the world and shown a commitment to the results of the ballot and a strong desire for democracy. These next steps can be an opportunity to truly transform governance, but might also contain hidden traps that lead to irreconcilable divisions.
Libya can continue to set a precedent for the Arab World if the transition period ensures the participation of different political, cultural and social factions. Dialogue and interface are the only means that the National Congress has today to secure these freedoms and guarantee citizens’ inclusion.
Immediate steps should be taken to initiate and maintain dialogue among stakeholders, coupled with a process to collectively reach a consensus. It is only this consensus that can ensure the constitution is truly a new social contract that will be respected and upheld by all citizens equally.
This article is inspired from a report documenting the results of a mapping of over 700 civil society and political activists, thuwar, NTC members, intellectuals, lawyers, election candidates, women and youth groups conducted by Beyond Reform & Development and The Forum for Democratic Libya.
Order the full report from [email protected]beyondrd.com [/restrict]