x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Libya constitution must be inclusive

In the post-Qaddafi era, Libya must be respectful of women and minorities.

Part of the reason for the continuing crisis in Egypt and the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood's president was the lack of legitimacy for Mohammed Morsi's attempts to change Egypt's constitution. In every post Arab Spring country, the writing of the constitution has proven a stumbling block and the source of immense discussion and disputes.

In Libya, thus far the only postrevolutionary country to reject Islamists at the ballot box, such disputes have become especially acute this week, as Libya's politicians over the weekend signed a law on electing a committee to draft a new permanent constitution.

The signing by the General National Congress (GNC), the top lawmaking body in the country, has pushed the issue into sharp focus in a country with many ethnic minorities. In particular, it has pushed minorities and women into open opposition with the GNC, nervous that this new committee may bring forth a constitution that does not adequately respect their rights.

Women's rights advocates spoke first. An NGO, Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL), praised the decision by the GNC to reserve seats on the 60-member body for women and ethnic minorities. But it argued that the number of seats was inadequate: a mere six seats, 10 per cent of the total, for women and two for each of the main three minority groups.

Representatives of those three ethnic groups - the Amazigh, Tibu and Tuareg - went further, threatening to boycott the elections if changes were not made. The minority groups worry that, because the writing of the constitution will be based on the vote of the majority and not on the entire 60-member group agreeing, they, with only a few seats, are likely to be consistently outvoted.

Such disagreement shows how difficult it is to transition out of authoritarian rule. Deposed leader Muammar Qaddafi centred power in his hands, meaning that once they prized his hands off the levers of power, squabbles began.

Libya needs to find a consensual way to resolve these disagreements. The persecution of minorities under the Qaddafi regime was intolerable. That the rights of minorities will not be respected in a democratic Libya would be an insult to all those who fought and died to free Libya.