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November 16, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1605

Memorandum Of Understanding Signed With UN On Promoting Women's Rights Sparks Opposition In Libya

November 16, 2021 | By B. Chernitsky*
Libya | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1605

On October 8, 2021, Libya's Minister of Women's Affairs, Houria Khalifa Miloud Al-Tormal, signed a memorandum of understandings with UN Women (the UN Entity For Gender Equality) on the promotion of women's rights in Libya. Although the MoU has not been made public, statements by Minister Al-Tormal and by UN Women indicate that it deals with the implementation in Libya of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, from 2000, which acknowledges the unique impact of armed conflict on women in conflict zones and  underscores the need to protect them and ensure their representation in peace negotiations and in politics.[1]

The reports on the signing of the MoU sparked an uproar in Libya, after it was claimed on social media that one of the clauses of the MoU mentions the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which seeks to promote gender equality within the family, in the public sphere and in the workplace. Social media users claimed that, by signing the MoU, the minister had in essence signed this convention. It should be mentioned that Libya did sign the CEDAW in 1989, but with reservations to articles that contravene Libya's personal status law, which is based on the shari'a. [2] 

Among those who opposed and criticized the signing of the MoU were Islamist circles in Libya identified with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and with Salafi movements, chief of them Dar Al-Ifta, a body responsible for issuing fatwas (religious rulings). The critics called to withdraw from the MoU, arguing that the Islamic shari'a already grants women all their rights, and that whoever agrees to this is an infidel. They also warned that the CEDAW and other UN conventions are intended to harm Islam and the shari'a.

Facebook users launched a campaign against the MoU under the hashtag #StopThisDisgrace.  Messages posted with this hashtag stated that CEDAW promotes complete promiscuity, polyandry and same-sex marriage, and advocates granting women half the husband's property in the case of divorce, among other claims.[3]

Minister Al-Tormal said in response that the Libyan foreign ministry had reviewed the MoU before it was signed, and had approved it after making a few amendments. [4] Libyan websites even posted a photo of a document by Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh empowering Al-Tormal to sign the MoU.[5] Al-Tormal also stressed that the MoU makes no mention of CEDAW and that, in signing international agreements, Libya is very careful not to allow any violation of the shari'a.[6] Al-Tormal's advisor, Ahlam bin Taboun, gave a different version of events. She stated that Al-Tormal had signed the CEDAW without realizing what she was signing, and that Libya would take legal measures to revoke its commitment to this convention.[7]

In response to the strong reactions against the MoU, and in an attempt to appease the opponents, Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh instructed to form a committee headed by Justice Minister Halima 'Abd Al-Rahman to look into the affair and investigate whether mistakes or violations had occurred. [8]


Libyan Minister of Women's Affairs Houria Al-Tormal and UN Women's Representative for Tunisia Begoña Lasagabaster at the signing of the MoU (Source: Eremnews.com, October 19, 2021; twitter.com/unwomenlibya, October 8, 2021)

The following are excerpts from some of the reactions in Libya criticizing and supporting the signing of the MoU.

Dar Al-Ifta, Affiliated With The MB: The Shari'a Grants Women All Their Rights; Whoever Denies This Is An Infidel. Libya Must Withdraw From The MoU

As stated, many circles in Libya, most of them affiliated with the MB, condemned the signing of the MoU. Prominent among the critics who fanned the flames of the controversy was the research council of Libya's Dar Al-Ifta, headed by the Grand Mufti of Libya, Sadiq Al-Ghariani, who is close to the MB and is known for his extremist views and support of radical Salafis.[9] On October 23, Dar Al-Ifta's research council issued a sharply-worded statement against the MoU signed with the UN. Noting that the council was reviewing "what is allegedly stated in this MoU about implementing [UN] Resolution 1325 and about clauses pertaining to the implementation of CEDAW and similar conventions," it warned against signing and implementing agreements with the UN that contravene the shari'a, calling this heresy.

The statement says:

"1. The council warns against any one element signing agreements that have dangerous social effects, and against neglecting to present them to [the authorities qualified to verify their compatibility with] the state constitution, the shari'a and the commandments of the faith.

"2. The Ministry [of Women's Affairs] must publish the MoU that has been signed…

"3. Signing [a commitment] to implement the CEDAW and similar UN-drafted agreements on women's issues contravenes the principles of the magnificent Islamic shari'a regarding the family, marriage, lineage, individual rights and the roles set out for men and women according to their natures. The Islamic shari'a fully establishes the rights of women based on justice, and there is no need to make any changes to these principles as they are stated. Only an infidel would deny this.  

"4. Signing a plan to be implemented as part of such agreements, with the stated aim of [ensuring] full equality between men and women and eradicating sexual violence against women, will lead to the abolishment of many Islamic laws regarding women, such as [the laws regarding] 'iddah [i.e., the time period a widowed or divorced women must wait before remarrying], alimony, guardianship, obedience, breastfeeding and pregnancy, all of which are addressed by verses in the Quran. It will also lead to disregarding the verses about the hijab, the veil, inheritance, and the validity or invalidity of women's testimony, as well as the warnings of the Sunna regarding immodest dress in public, the commingling of [immodestly] dressed women with men at [various] performances, and so on… Clearly, any agreement that involves disregarding Quranic verses and violating absolute and known religious laws is something no Muslim can remain silent about, let alone accept or preach…    

"5. Reservations like 'with the exception of anything that contravenes the shari'a' are useless once [the agreement] is signed, for these agreements stipulate that such reservations are unimportant if they contravene the goals of the plan that has been signed…

Hence, the council… firmly calls to withdraw from the MoU and revoke all commitments related to the CEDAW and the like… Beware falling into a situation whose outcome will be bitter and heartbreaking, and which will be a death blow to this generation and future ones. All Muslims, officials and others, who find themselves facing such a trial must ask [Allah] to heal their souls before it is too late."[10]

Al-Ghariani himself also addressed the MoU on his television channel Al-Tanasuh, describing the UN as a scheming organization hostile to Islam. He said: "Whoever follows the UN, its actions and its ploys [knows] that all its actions are fraudulent, deceptive and misleading. When Minister [Al-Tormal] said that she did not sign the CEDAW but rather the Security Council resolution on women, peace and security, she was right, but that resolution does not go into details. The importance of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security lies in the fact that it appears under Chapter VII of the UN Charter [sic],[11] which is the chapter that includes sanctions… Any wicked idea [the UN] has regarding Islam, regarding undermining Muslim society and customs, and regarding [Muslim] women are handled as part of Security Council resolutions… and the upshot is that, if [the resolution] is not implemented, it is referred to the Security Council for the purpose of imposing sanctions."[12]

Other elements associated with the MB also expressed opposition to the MoU. For example, the chairman of Libya's High Council, Khalid Al-Mishari, who is close to the MB, said in a meeting with Minister Al-Tormal that "[action to] support Libyan women and empower them to attain their rights can only take place if it does not contravene the Islamic shari'a, the customs and traditions, and Libyan law." He added that "every society has its unique characteristics, which must be respected when joining any agreement or MoU."[13]

Hanan Al-Shalouf, a Libyan MP from Misrata, said in an interview on the Libya Al-Ahrar television channel, aired from Turkey, that the signing of the MoU, whose content is still kept secret, was problematic, and wondered why "the document was not been presented to the relevant authorities, given the accusations that it contravenes the Islamic shari'a and the customs of Libyan society." She called to involve Dar Al-Ifta in the affair, stressing that if the MoU indeed turns out to contravene the shari'a, it must be revoked.[14]

Feeble Support For The Minister Of Women's Affairs: The MoU Does Not Contravene Libya's Laws Or Values

Voices expressing support for Minister Al-Tormal and for the signing of the MoU were very few. The office for women's and children's affairs in Libya's The National Commission for Human Rights issued a statement condemning "the smear campaign being conducted against the minister on several media outlets and by social media [users] with the aim of misleading public opinion." The statement said that the MoU "does not contravene the state laws or the religious, social or national values of Libyan society."[15]

Libyan human rights activist Zahra Langhi, member of the Arab Regional Network on Women, Peace and Security and of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, expressed support for the minister and condemned Prime Minister Dbeibeh's decision to form an investigative committee into the affair. She noted that Dbeibeh was the one who had "empowered the minister to sign the MoU in order to receive technical support in developing the Libyan institutions' ability to formulate a national plan on women, security and peace," and that now he was using the minister as a scapegoat.  She added that the smear campaigns against the minister created confusion between the request for technical assistance that appears in the MoU, and the CEDAW, which Libya actually signed already in 1989.[16]

As stated, various websites posted the photo below, of a document by Prime Minister Dbeibeh empowering Minister Al-Tormal to sign the MoU on Resolution 1325.[17]

* B. Chernitsky is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 


[1] Youtube.com, October 17, 2021; Twitter.com/unwomenlibya, October 8, 2021.

[2] In addition to Libya, 20 other Arab countries signed the CEDAW as well, all of them with reservations, except for Tunisia, which withdrew its reservations four years ago. See afrigatenews.net, October 23, 2021.

[3] Facebook.com/hashtag/%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%82%D9%81%D9%88%D8%A7_%D9%87%D8%B0%D8%A7_%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%B1, October 17, 2021.

[4] Youtube.com, October 17, 2021.

[5] Libyaalhadath.net, October 20, 2021.

[6] Youtube.com/watch?v=f8kAsm-yxYM, October 17, 2021

[7] Alsaaa24.com, October 17, 2021.

[8] Afrigatenews.net, October 23, 2021.

[9] In November 2014, Libya's eastern parliament officially dismissed Al-Ghariani from his position and dissolved Dar Al-Ifta after he ruled that the Libya civil war was a war between Islam and the infidels, and that the eastern parliament is in the latter camp and must be fought. However, Libya's Government of National Accord, then headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, continued to recognize Dar Al-Ifta and the Mufti. The current unity government, headed by Dbeibeh, recently asked the Genera Authority of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs to recognize Dar Al-Ifta despite the parliament's 2014 decision to dissolve it. Since his dismissal Al-Ghariani has been living in Turkey, where he serves as the director of the Al-Tanasuh television channel. Alarabiya.net, May 20, 2020; ewanlibya.ly, October 30, 2021; ifta.ly.

[10] Ifta.ly, October 25, 2021.

[11] The resolution was not actually passed under Chapter VII.

[12] Almarsad.co, October 21, 2021.

[13] Afrigatenews.net, October 23, 2021.

[14] Almarsad.co, October 20, 2021.

[15] Afrigatenews.net, October 23, 2021.

[16] Afrigatenews.net, October 23, 2021.

[17] Libyaalhadath.net, October 20, 2021.

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