Parliaments in the Middle East are falling into insignificance

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In 2011, protesters in the Libyan uprising were very clear about what they wanted, and they got it remarkably quickly. It took less than a year to overthrow Muammar Al Gaddafi, a despot who for four decades seemed nearly invincible. But securing a fair and functioning political system in the aftermath, another key requirement of the uprising, has been far from quick and is likely to drag on with no end in sight.

Blame for this sclerosis is a set of reasons much more complex than a single dictator. These include foreign interference, conflict-induced instability, and a continued unwillingness on the part of the country’s many political factions to compromise and unite behind a sensible political transition system.

The result is one of the biggest constitutional messes in the world.

In 2014, a violent schism led to the emergence of two parallel governments, one in the east and the other in the west. Now, after a flawed process of selecting candidates from across the country, an interim government installed last year to bridge those divisions has failed in its primary task of leading the country to long-awaited elections, despite years of planning and high-level diplomatic engagement.

After the interim government failed in its main task, the country’s parliament is trying to replace the now disabled interim prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. He is pushing back, saying he will only allow an elected government to replace him.

The situation adds a Catch-22 to a political landscape already too muddled to serve the Libyans. More than 10 years after their uprising, the people are no closer to a government that can turn Libya’s vast potential and natural resources into prosperity for all. The country has Africa’s largest oil reserves yet has an unemployment rate of almost 20 percent, one of the highest in the Mena region.

On the other side of this region, the Iraqis will understand the situation the Libyans find themselves in. The country’s attempt to elect a new president this Monday fell into disarray after a grouping of political factions boycotted the process. Until there is a compromise to reach the decision threshold, the position of President remains vacant.

Even the most stable countries need leadership, and it is a sign of how many political vicious circles are emerging in the region that Libya and Iraq are both in dire need of direction as they seek to manage economic and social crises, end conflict and resistance to afford foreign intervention, unable to agree on their prime ministers and presidents.

Both countries emerged from the war, fueled in part from abroad but much also from within, and in this context the desire to take time to dismantle representative political systems is understandable. But the difficulty of this task should not be used as an excuse for inaction and uncompromising.

Yesterday, Libya’s parliament began reviewing two candidates who could replace Mr Dbeibah, former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha and outsider Khaled Al Bibass. Both have promised that they will fight for unity to free Libya from its limbo. Iraq’s 329 MPs will no doubt promise the same to their constituents. You are promising the right things. But the deepening political and constitutional abyss into which these ideas are being shouted makes it highly unlikely that anything will change any time soon.

Published: Feb 9, 2022 3:00 am

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