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Singing The Constitutional Song: and Why Now?

There is a continued effort by our opposition to apparently adopt the return to constitutional legitimacy as the basis of a renewed assault on the regime in Libya. The new song appears to be the focal point of the coming forum to be held soon by The National Conference of the Libyan Opposition. On the face of it, we all should welcome this new initiative, especially those of us who maintained support of the earliest call to return to constitutional legitimacy some 25 years ago.
The call to embrace our 1951 Constitution and build our case on its legitimacy, together with our other national fundamental institutions was articulated in 1981 by the Libyan Constitutional Union. In 1981 the LCU called for rallying around The Constitution, The King, raise the flag and build our case on these shared national assets. At the time, The King was still with us, the regime was only 11 years old, still vulnerable, rejected by many nations, openly practicing internal and external terrorism and had the appearance of a “temporary” arrangement. The LCU call was rejected by many, dismissed by others and attacked by a good number, particularly by those who understood it best. For varied reasons, some eminent persons spent a good proportion of their political time trying to tear it apart. The re-discovery of the constitutional legitimacy comes now at a time when the regime has reached a new height in confidence and has been endorsed by just about every nation that matters.
As articulated by The National Conference of the Libyan Opposition, in the material currently on the Libyan Internet Sites, the drive behind the discovery of the constitution shows plenty of flaws. There is no evidence that I know of which indicates that the Constitution has matured into something more palatable in these years. So the simple souls amongst us must wonder: why the interest now? What has changed? We know it is not the 1951 Constitution. Are we witnessing the birth of neo-constitutionalists? I hate these expressions, but couldn’t think of any thing better.
In the absence of evidence as to why the interest now, it is imperative that the initiative is looked at in some detail. One can point to two major worrisome issues: The first troubling point is that the call does not sound credible; it lacks genuineness and sounds hollow, just like a song. It appears to be a drive, knowingly or otherwise, to ruin the integrity of our Constitution, not embrace it and rally around it as a unique invaluable national asset. The second irritating issue is to do with the audacity of the organisers. The text of the announcement of the conference to adopt (or was to adapt?) the 1951 Constitution, in addition to appearing insincere, it blatantly omitted all references to The Libyan Constitutional Union. The LCU call preceded this initiative by 25 years, and as the organisers and the rest of us know well, it held the call at the forefront of the Libyan opposition stage throughout till this moment. On any scale of political integrity and minimum respect to us the public; the omission of the acknowledgement makes the initiative questionable in several fundamental aspects. Surely this is an oversight! If not an oversight, what do the organisers take the rest of us for? Idiots?
Regarding the first point and why the call sounds hollow and discreditable. It is quite elementary really. The value and indeed the institutional power of the 1951 Constitution rests in its completeness, in its integrity as The Constitution, the only Constitution. Fiddle with it and you lose it.
Conferencing to modernise The Constitution, is conspire to ruin it. You might as well join the ranks of the many who at present ride the constitution show train. It is a fashionable thing. Boys at home are at it now. A spectator might wonder whether the enthusiasm to re-discover The Constitution and turn it into a worthless booklet (modern no doubt, Swedish style perhaps!) was in fact quietly infused by counsellors of politics. From this distance and with recent history in mind, the initiative has the hallmarks of something suspicious like a grand distraction round engineered to waste a 20-year window. Eagerness (over keenness) to achieve is prone to clandestine interference.
In addition to this colossal error, there is another, a smidgen more complex bit. Colleagues, collectively confident as they must be, should remember that they do not have a mandate to fiddle with The Constitution, our Constitution or appoint an expert committee to mess with it. These little things do have a habit of slipping from the mind, especially with busy folk occupied by state matters and international politics. The headaches. The pressure. The busyness.
As for the second point, according to the text as I understood the vocabulary, it hints at the many noble aspects of the political philosophy behind embracing constitutional legitimacy. Sounds great. However, splendid principles require insight and a deep sense of conscientiousness, attention to detail including recognition of the hard work and standards achieved before you by your own compatriots in the very same theme you now discovered. The announcement text noticeably omitted any reference to LCU. Surely this in an error! A typewriter error perhaps? A spelling error may be? A memory thing? It is hard to explain. Let us run through the basics. There is only one 1951 Constitution for Libya. The composers of the proposed initiative are Libyans. They must have heard of The Libyan Constitutional Union (Please note that it is printed in full this time). The LCU opened its call in 1981 with a return to Constitutional legitimacy. This sounds like the same stuff to me. Of course there is one minor difference: The LCU did not invite us to meet and modernise The Constitution. The LCU call brought the institutional treasure to our attention and asked us to embrace it in its full integrity, not fiddle with it and turn it into a worthless brochure. Incidentally, the LCU call is still open. This was another little thing the organisers decided was not sufficiently significant to merit a reference. May be they just forgot. Busy folk do forget. It is a difficult job remembering all the stuff when working in a pressure environment. Or perhaps it is not relevant. It is so complicated. They just wanted to make things simple for us, may be.
It is difficult to believe that a serious group of intellectuals of this calibre would take the step of committing themselves to this dimension of political activity, could not resist the temptation to ignore acknowledgement of the link between constitutional legitimacy and the LCU. If this was indeed the reason, then one has to conclude that this is an unbecoming practice for an organisation aspiring to a credible standing. Politics is a series of plays that by nature must be acted in public. Therefore transparency and attention to detail cannot be ignored, should not be dismissed on the basis of convenience. Omitting an obvious acknowledgment such as this could be construed as a pathetic act of dismissal of an imagined adversary, a symptom of an uncertain, wobbly set up which cannot be taken seriously. One could speculate that the omitted reference to the LCU call was because the organisers are worried that they may be seen as realising something, according to them, so valuable and purely patriotic 25 years late. Difficult to explain I agree. Or, could it be because the organisers just do not like the party? They may have figured that if they acted with extra confidence as if the LCU did not exist, then no one will notice the plan. With time and more extra confidence, it will soon be just fine. The extra confidence is important; you can hear someone shout in the background. Even I could not accuse the organisers of this level of judgement.
One must add a note of caution here. There is no suggestion that the omission was intended to harm the LCU or indeed its workers. It is obvious that this type of clearly misguided dismissal of basic customary protocol could not harm the injured party. This is especially so when the party in question commands the level of presence we are all familiar with. In fact, it will have precisely the opposite result. To third parties, particularly those who really matter, failure to adhere to the minimum standard of acknowledgement will act as a wakeup call. They will sooner or later ask, why? If for no other reason, the question will force itself because moral duty and political obligation to standards and respect of the addressed public demand this minimum level of integrity. It is not a charity thing left to the discretion (or morality) of individuals.
For these reasons, I wonder if the organisers responsible actually realise the cost of their errors? So, it is extra confusing. Unless of course this is just another Indian movie. May be the reader knows. Enlighten the rest of us please. (PS. mention of Indian movies may leave some readers cold. You have to read more past papers on this site).

Ahmed S. Mosbah
London


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