By Célian Macé

At the end of this week of debates and votes, the Libyan delegates gathered by the UN in Switzerland must designate the three new members of the Presidential Council and a Prime Minister, supposed to lead the country towards elections at the end of the year. ‘year.

Ten years ago to the day, on February 2, 2011, a first call to demonstrate against the dictatorship of Muammar al-Gaddafi was launched on social networks. This mad proclamation, anonymous and virtual, was soon followed by a very real insurrection. 

On February 17, encouraged by the neighboring Tunisian and Egyptian examples, the Libyans rose up against the tyrannical ruler who had confiscated their state for four decades.

This state did not survive the collapse of Gaddafi, who was killed on August 23, 2011. The country has since struggled with an interminable civil war, paralyzed by rival institutions and uncontrollable armed groups. 

The Skhirat peace agreement, sponsored by the UN in December 2015, was torpedoed by political leaders and warlords fearing to lose their positions of power and, above all, by the successive coups de force of the rebel Marshal Khalifa Haftar. 

Since the failure of its offensive on the capital, Tripoli,his troops retreated to his stronghold in Cyrenaica, in the east of the country. 

Despite signing a ceasefire this fall, it continues to strengthen its military positions along the front line between the city of Sirte and the Al-Jufra air base, helped by its sponsors. Russian and Emirati.

Taking advantage of this fragile status quo on the ground, the United Nations has succeeded in resuming an intra-Libyan political dialogue. 

This week, in Geneva, in an undisclosed location, a crucial stage of negotiations is taking place, the culmination of several months of discussions and compromises: the appointment of the new heads of the executive, supposed to replace those appointed in Skhirat, today breathless.

The architecture of the institutions has been slightly revised. A Presidential Council made up of three members – representatives of the three provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan, chosen separately – will have the mission of leading the country towards elections, set for December 24, after having passed a new Constitution. 

While a new head of government, also appointed to Skhirat, will be responsible for managing current affairs. Which, in Libya, amounts to facing a triple economic, financial and security crisis.

Twenty minutes of hearing

“This desire to dissociate the executive and to entrust the Prime Minister with allegedly technical aspects is not really applicable in reality,” said Virginie Collombier, specialist in Libya at the European University Institute in Florence. 

Because the central questions of security, the sharing of resources and the functioning of basic services are eminently political questions, and they are not the subject of a consensus. “

Until now, only one man, Faïez al-Sarraj, has occupied the chairs of head of the Presidential Council and prime minister. In September, the number 1 government of national unity, recognized by the United Nations but lacking solid national legitimacy, had publicly announced his departure for “the end of October”. It is still in place.

The 75 delegates present in Geneva (49 selected by the UN, 36 by the House of Representatives and the High Council of State) are discussing his successors these days. 

In reaction to recurring accusations of corruption in the selection process, the hearings of candidates are broadcast live on the United Nations website. Each of the applicants has twenty minutes to introduce themselves by videoconference and answer questions from the delegates.

No one is fooled : the real negotiations do not take place in plenary, but in the corridors. However, the process has the advantage of pushing candidates to expose themselves, judge Virginie Collombier. Rather, the problem lies with the candidates themselves. 

Most of the actors are at the heart of the conflict that has plagued Libya since 2014. The method of appointment favors these polarizing candidates, who can ally themselves to share the cake, rather than more consensual personalities.

” Among the candidates, we find the old president of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, the powerful Minister of the Interior of the government of national unity Fathi Bachagha, the ambitious businessman and vice-president of the Presidential Council Ahmed Miitig, or General Osama al-Juwaili, who was in charge of the defense of Tripoli.

“Window of opportunity”

In 2015, in Skhirat, the United Nations and the Libyan parties had been unable to resolve the fundamental problem – the unity of Libya – and had privileged the creation of new institutions to ensure that everyone would have a piece of the pie. 

This diplomatic cycle resembles that of Skhirat, in which the same actors as today had tried to end the same war, warns Tarek Megerisi in a note for the European Council on Foreign Relations , with whom he works as specialist in Libya. 

The only result, at the time, had been the division of the country between East and West. […] This does not mean that Geneva is doomed to failure.

The current pressure on Libyan leaders – from foreign countries fearing the consequences of escalation and citizens weary of war, this political stalemate and the collapse of public services – created a small, but real, window of opportunity.”

The renewal of Libyan leadership in Geneva is, in itself, a puzzle. But the acceptance of these personalities by the different parties to the conflict will certainly be an even more difficult task. 

How can we be sure, first of all, that the disappointed, and even the losers, of Geneva will play the game? 

What will be the response of the fiery Marshal Haftar, strangely silent for several months? And that of the powerful brigades that control the cities of western Libya? 

This time, will the legitimacy of the new authorities be sufficient to impose themselves on the whole territory, where the Al-Sarraj administration has failed?

“Without the support of key foreign states which sponsor Libyan actors, no political process will be able to bear fruit,” Tarek Megerisi recalls. The reactions of Turkey , the first ally of the government of national unity in Tripoli, and of Russia, engaged militarily alongside Haftar, will be decisive. 

As in Syria, Ankara and Moscow set themselves up last year as arbiters of the Libyan conflict. Masters of the field, they have the means to support – or to ruin – the Geneva initiative. 

The process will also depend on the attitude of Europeans, divided for years on the Libyan file (mainly because of Paris, which has long supported Haftar), and Americans, who were far behind during Donald Trump’s presidency. 

Whatever the outcome, the Geneva initiative will at least have the merit of launching a new diplomatic cycle that Libya desperately needs.

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