‘Libyans want unified state institutions, which can’t happen without polls’
By Ramadan Al Sherbini
Four months after key Libyan rivals agreed to hold elections later this year, prospects that the vote will be held in the near future are diminishing, according to analysts.
Last month, Tripoli was the scene of deadly fighting between competing militias. The week-long violence claimed dozens of lives, mainly civilians. It stopped after a fragile UN-brokered ceasefire came into place.
Days later, unidentified militiamen fired rockets at Tripoli’s only operational airport, forcing its closure.
“Everyone inside Libya is angry with the militias because they have made people’s life miserable,” said Marzouq Al Saeed, a Libyan political researcher living in Cairo.
Libya has descended into anarchy since the Nato-backed 2011 uprising that toppled Gaddafi.
The country is divided up by two rival administrations — one based in the east and the other, backed by the UN, in Tripoli. Dozens of armed militias are also rife in the oil-wealthy country.
“The Tripoli government led by Fayez Al Serraj and its UN supporters are not pleased either with these militias, but they can do nothing about bringing them to account for their bad behaviour. All they can do is just try to contain them, which does not work all the time,” Al Saeed told Gulf News.
“The majority of Libyans want unified state institutions, which could not happen without elections. But, the current circumstances in Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya are not the ideal conditions for holding credible elections whose results will be accepted by rival sides.
The big question is: Who can stand up to these militias, that are not just fighting for power but also for controlling the country’s wealth, too?”
Al Serraj’s main rival, General Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east, hinted this month that his forces may sweep into Tripoli to “liberate” it from the armed militias.
In recent months, loyalists of strongman Haftar, the chief of the east-based Libyan National Army, have seized large chunks of the country from militants.
Haftar said he is committed to holding polls in December, but vowed not to recognise their results if they were “unfair”.
In May, Libyan rival leaders including Haftar and Al Serraj agreed at a meeting hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on December 10. The plan has gained the backing of the UN.
Much to France’s chagrin, Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler, has repeatedly opposed the plan, saying it is impractical and destabilising.
The eastern parliament has, meanwhile, failed to adopt electoral laws deemed necessary for laying the groundwork for any vote.
Al Serraj, who has been leading the Tripoli government since 2016, is sceptical.
“You cannot vote with instability in the streets,” Al Serraj told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera last week. “It is also necessary that everybody accepts the result from the ballot box,” he added.
Al Serraj made the remarks a few days after a suicide attack, claimed by Daesh terrorists, against the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation, accentuating security fragility in the capital.
In late 2016, pro-Al Serraj forces evicted Daesh militants from their stronghold in Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.
“At the time, this victory boosted the image of Al Serraj,” said Al Saeed. “But his popularity has plunged after the recent clashes in Tripoli and the Daesh attack that took place a few metres from his office. His government looks too weak to even maintain security in Tripoli.”
Militia proliferation and political feuds are blamed for mounting economic woes in Libya including a liquidity crunch and frequent electricity outages in the country of around six million people.
For Mohammed Abu Al Fadl, an analyst at the Cairo-based Al Ahram newspaper, reaching out to Libyan militias is a “cardinal sin”.
“The UN envoy [Ghassan] Salame and Al Serraj insist on enhancing the role of militias, thus hindering moves aimed at ending the Libyan crisis,” Abu Al Fadl said.
“Any ceasefire will fail if it ignores the role of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and other main components of the Libyan society,” he argued. “They are the only ones capable of routing militias and ending illegal militarisation on the street.”
Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent for the Gulf News