Making history: Draft constitution serves as roadmap for Libya’s political process

By Thomas Lynch

June 21, 2018   |   0 comments

Since the 2011 revolution in Libya, the country has been attempting to transition to a stable and democratic society. An essential part of this effort is the formation of a new constitution that will provide a legal foundation to move the country out of its current political impasse and toward a democratic process with new elections.

I serve as Chief of Party for Creative Associates International’s Libyan Engagement and Governance through Applied Learning (LEGAL) project. This project, funded by the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative, has been providing drafting, mediation and outreach support to Libya’s Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) for the past four years.

Since 2014, the Constitutional Drafting Assembly has attempted to forge a political path forward with its diverse elected members from across Libya – all with different backgrounds and diverse political views.

While it once seemed an impossible task for Constitutional Drafting Assembly members to agree on a single constitution draft, Creative’s LEGAL project invested countless hours during a three-year period, facilitating in-depth discussion and debate. This effort was highlighted by a major international conference in March 2016, in Salalah, Oman, facilitated by Creative and the United Nations Mission to Libya

Ultimately, on July 29, 2017, the Constitutional Drafting Assembly approved a final draft. This was a monumental step forward for a country that has never had a democratic constitution.

After agreeing on this final draft, the Constitutional Drafting Assembly’s rapporteur told Creative that its assistance during the past three years was “instrumental” to their success. This new proposed constitution injected new life into a transitional political process that many had written off altogether.

A public referendum on the constitution now awaits in 2018 and the LEGAL project remains engaged in supporting this process.

Bringing minority groups together for sustainable peace  

While the Constitutional Drafting Assembly finally approved a draft document, a majority of Libyans have not read it. Many Libyans have remained skeptical and some have reservations on different articles.

To bridge the divide and build on the accomplishments of past Creative projects, the current LEGAL-Dustur project is encouraging a greater understanding of the proposed constitution among key government stakeholders and minority groups. I serve as its Chief of Party.

In March 2018, Creative facilitated a dialogue session in Tunis, Tunisia, among the Constitutional Drafting Assembly’s public outreach committee and 20 representatives from Libya’s Tebu minority group, predominately youth activists.

On the first day, the session started off very combative and intense, with participants presenting hostile, but non-specific, arguments against the constitutional process and the draft. At the end of that day, and subsequent days, their minds had opened and there was a clear opportunity to discuss sensitive, cultural perspectives and work together to address issues.

With a more narrowed focus, the activists began to listen to the explanation about how the draft was established. Key topics included national identity and language, citizenship, and minority representation, among others.

On day two, the Tebu activists agreed on about 90 percent of the draft constitution – a critical step in the right direction.

After the workshop ended, I pulled one of the Tebu participants aside and asked him what he thought of the dialogue.

He said this was the first time he had the opportunity to discuss the constitution and that he had brought a copy of the draft constitution with him. He was determined to oppose it, being part of a unified opposition that calls out oppression and mistreatment of minority groups.

He expressed how he learned more about the drafting process and possible solutions to the political divide. He also shared that he had meaningful conversations with the Constitutional Drafting Assembly and that they pointed to Tebu rights and protections guaranteed in the draft.

He said he supported the constitution draft 95 percent, a major success from my perspective. This was emblematic of the entire two-day dialogue and a critical next step needed to move the constitution draft forward.

These sessions showed us that ongoing, face-to-face dialogue truly does makes a difference in working toward finalizing the constitution and, more broadly, establishing and maintaining peace and stability throughout Libya.

Thomas Lynch serves as the Chief of Party for the LEGAL-Dustur project. He is based in Tunis, Tunisia.