Written by Dr. Sasha Toperich for USMilitary.com
?Following the May Paris Summit hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron, four key Libyan leaders committed to reach a consensus on electoral law by September 16 and to hold parliamentary and legislative elections on December 10. Libya?s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA) in the east of the country, the Head of the State Council Khaled al-Mishri, and the President of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh all endorsed (but did not sign) the statement.
France and Italy are the two European countries with the most vested interests in Libya. However, they failed to encourage the EU to put a more robust effort into stabilizing the country. The EU has provided limited security trainings, support for local police, and various incentives for local communities in Libya, but these are focused only on migrant crises, with the EU working with Libyan authorities to stop the daily influx of Africans desperately seeking refuge across the Mediterranean, even knowing the journey can be deadly. In the absence of a comprehensive EU and NATO plan to stabilize the country, Russia is attempting to fill up the void. Moscow is courting Khalifa Haftar, whose strong army is backed and armed by the UAE and Egypt.
Perhaps the war of proxies that raged last few years between Turkey and Qatar on one side (supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist groups) and UAE and Egypt on the other (supporting so-called more secular political spectrum led by Khalifa Haftar) is no longer a dominant issue but wounds and mistrust within the complex post-Gaddafi Libya are still strong. Furthermore, the kidnappings and assassinations by various militias and criminal groups induce fear among citizens and the international community, distancing further those who would help stabilize Libya. And while Libyans share plenty of responsibility for the lawless state of their country, it is the EU and the US that are most responsible for having left the country with no institutional structure after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Former US President Obama was right to admit that attacking Libya was the ?worst decision he ever made? but this is of little comfort to the people of Libya. They rightly expect the US to step up and enforce the truce amongst the many militias backed by various local and regional players.
There are many reminders that security in Libya is still the key problem: the bombing that destroyed the electoral commission building in Tripoli in early May; militias? fight over Mitiga airport that left over 20 dead and many wounded in January; and this month?s assault of Ibrahim Jadhran?s militia in the country?s northeastern oil crescent (Ras Lanuf and Al Sidra oil terminals) resulting in billions lost in revenue.
Last week?s decision by Khalifa Haftar to turn over control of the oil region in central Libya from NOC in Tripoli to NOC in Benghazi, after pushing out Jadhran?s militia, (who overran the region a week earlier but failed to rally militias from Tripoli and Misrata in his attempt to gain control over the oil fields), will further complicate already fragile relations amongst the political rivals in the country. The United States, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement expressing deep concern about the announcement, adding that ?the international community will hold those who undermine Libya?s peace, security, and stability to account?.
Libyans are wary of another military strongman with ambition to rule the country as Gaddafi did for over four decades, fearing of disastrous consequences evident after his departure. Libyans also fear the extremist Wahhabi sect of Al Madkhali, who constitutes the backbone of Haftar?s army, along with foreign mercenaries from Africa. Al Madkhali is a Saudi backed Salafist movement that rejects democracy and elections, seeking instead to form an Islamic state, demolishing (in past years) number of Sufi shrines in different parts of Libya. To further deepen concern Libyans have over Haftar, the Salafist rigid interpretation of Islam does not have much in common with traditional and moderate Islamic practices in Libya. Haftar may be a part of the solution, but he is not the only solution for the country. Exclusivity instead of inclusivity is a key problem that Libya?s political spectrum faces. Haftar expresses his exclusivity by rejecting the Presidential Council and the Skhirat political agreement reached in Morocco in 2015.
As Jonathan Winer, a former US special envoy to Libya said in his article ?Libya?s future is bigger than any one leader? published by the Middle East Institute, Haftar is seeking a military solution to bring all of Libya under his military rule. The US and the EU must unequivocally put an end to anyone?s rejection of dialogue, cooperation, and negotiations that are beneficial for people of Libya?all tribes, and all sects. This is easier said than done, but it need to be made very clear to all of Libya?s leaders, Haftar included, that true strength and effective leadership lies in serving and taking into consideration the interests of all people, including those of different political views.
?Should Libya Hold the Elections On December 10?
There are opposing viewpoints to this question. While president Macron deserves praise as a European leader who finally took some action for Libya, many open issues remain a serious challenge to his initiative. After the May 2nd bombing of the electoral commission building in Tripoli, the staff have yet to move to another location, probably due to security fears. Libya worked to craft a new constitution for over three years?and that draft constitution is yet to be put to a referendum by the House of Representatives (HoR) which has also blocked approval of the government of National Accord. Lack of strong international backing made the members of elected commission for drafting the compromised constitution an easy target for delay tactics by the HoR and threats by groups opposing any progress on the matter. It is not clear if the new constitution draft will be put to a popular referendum by September 16, and if there could be ?something new? to be put on the table instead. With a broken political system, further complicated by the Sokhrat accord, the question is who would have the authority ? for all Libyans ? to pass the new constitution? Given the current status quo, another question is, can an agreement on executive power sharing be reached? Even if this is accomplished, is it possible to prepare credible info package for the six million Libyans to know what the constitutional changes and new framework actually mean for them? How would the new parliament function? (80% of seats are reserved for political parties, under the current formula that proved to be unsuccessful). Will the government be able to provide enough funds to organize the elections? And finally, is it possible to hold the elections under the current very poor security conditions in the country? Is it right to ask Libyans to go out and vote, risk their lives, when all the above is not clear? Will the results of the election be honored by all, or would they create further division and rifts?
In my view, President Macron should mobilize the entire EU and use his relationship with president Trump to jointly work to first enforce stability in Libya, while simultaneously appointing knowledgeable special envoys to work with the UN envoy Ghassan Salame in bringing together all local and regional players involved in Libya. This is essential in order to address the EU main concern of the migrant influx, the US concern of a rift in the Gulf that weakens the fight against terrorism, and Russia?s growing influence in the country ? all heavily as a result of Libyan crises. And first and foremost, to help Libyans breathe easier, and not live in daily fear for their lives, in growing deteriorating economic environment. With all the political and ideological differences, and economic special interests, a genuine and open dialogue, including a very broad spectrum of Libyan?s intellectuals at home and abroad, conducted under enforced stability, and led by the United States, can achieve this.