Middle East parliaments are plunging into irrelevance

From Libya to Iraq, bad politics is making it impossible to find the next generation of leaders

Iraqi lawmakers in Baghdad. AFP
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In 2011, protesters in Libya's uprisings were very clear about what they wanted, and they got it remarkably quickly. It took under a year to topple Muammar Al Qaddafi, a despot who for four decades had seemed near-invincible. But securing a fair and functioning political system in the aftermath, another key demand of the uprising, has been anything but swift, and appears likely to drag on with no end in sight.

To blame for this sclerosis is a set of reasons far more complex than a single dictator. They include foreign interference, instability caused by conflict and an ongoing unwillingness of the country's many political factions to compromise and unite behind a sensible transitional political system.

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

In 2014, a violent schism saw the emergence of two parallel governments, one based in the east, the other in the west. Now, after a flawed process of selecting candidates from across the country, an interim government put in place last year to try and patch over these divisions has failed in its main task of getting the country to long-awaited elections, despite years of planning and high-level diplomatic engagement.

With the temporary government having failed its main mission, the country's parliament is attempting to replace the now incapacitated interim Prime Minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. He is pushing back, saying he will only allow an elected administration to replace him.

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

On the other side of this region, Iraqis will understand the situation in which Libyans find themselves. The country's attempt to elect a new president this Monday descended into chaos after a grouping of political factions boycotted the process. Until there is compromise to meet the threshold to make the decision, the position of president will remain vacant.

Even the most stable countries need leadership, and it is a sign of quite how many vicious political cycles are emerging in the region that Libya and Iraq, both in desperate need of direction as they seek to address economic and social crises, end conflict and resist foreign intervention, cannot settle on their prime ministers and presidents.

Both countries have emerged from war, some of it fuelled from abroad, but much also stemming from home, and in this context the desire to take time to thrash out representative political systems is understandable. But the difficulty of that task must not be used as an excuse for inaction and no compromise.

Yesterday, Libya's parliament started vetting two candidates who could replace Mr Dbeibah, former interior minister Fathi Bashagha and outsider Khaled Al Bibass. Both have promised they will fight for unity to move Libya on from its limbo. Iraq's 329 members of parliament will undoubtedly be promising their constituents the same. They are the right things to pledge. But the ever-deepening political, constitutional abyss into which these ideas are being shouted make it highly unlikely anything will change soon.

Published: February 09, 2022, 3:00 AM