By Stéphanie Khouri

By dedicating the victory of an unexpected list, the results of Friday’s poll appear to have hastily buried hopes for a process of national reconciliation between the east and the west of the country.

Friday, in a secret place in the suburbs of Geneva: the political future of Libya is (re) playing out, in the ballot box, under the feverish eye of international observers.

The stakes in the ballot are high: the aim is to endow the country with a new government of national unity after more than six years of conflict between the rival authorities of Tobruk, in the east, and Tripoli, in the ‘Where is.

An unprecedented scenario in the country’s recent history: the international community has not granted legitimacy to a Libyan government since 2016.

Since then, a fratricidal war has divided the country between the East, dominated by the forces of Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and the West, where the government of Fayez el-Sarraj sits. 

The country, which will celebrate at the end of the month the 10th anniversary of the uprising against Kadhafi, then in December the 70 years of its independence, has gradually become the symbol of a triple failure: the missed date of the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring; the inability of international institutions to promote democratic transition; the stagnation of a nation in a fratricidal conflict leading it to the verge of territorial, political and economic implosion.

However, encouraging signs had accumulated in recent months, letting hope if not an outcome, at least a provisionally appeased outcome to the Libyan conflict.

In June, the military front around the city of Sirte and the strategic oil crescent stabilized. Supported by Turkish intervention, the Tripoli government forces managed to contain Marshal Haftar’s offensive which began in April 2019.

A first agreement was signed on August 21 between the rival authorities, marking the end of the fighting. It is supported by the ceasefire agreement of October 23, signed in Geneva under the aegis of the United Nations.

Despite vague terms which leave the field open to divergent interpretations, in the absence of being political, this “technical calm” establishes the “working table” thanks to which a process of reconciliation between the different factions becomes possible, believes Jalel Harchaoui, specialist on Libya at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague.

The UN is taking the initiative again by launching a political process in Tunis in November, culminating last week at the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (FDPL) in Geneva. 

The latter brings together the 75 Libyan members responsible for electing a Presidential Council – composed of a president, two vice-presidents and a prime minister – in charge of embodying national reconciliation and leading the country to the general elections scheduled for next december.

Calm conducive to sharing the cake

The scenario seems plausible, especially since the two greatest powers involved in the military field appear, for the first time since their entry into play, seriously tempted by a truce of arms. 

Russia, which supports the forces of the East via the mercenaries of the Wagner group, reputed to be close to Vladimir Poutine, is withdrawing from Tripolitania, a western region where pro-Turkish forces dominate. 

“Libyan actors are starting to seek support from countries like Russia in exchange for potential business contracts,” notes Tim Eaton, Libyan political economy specialist, researcher at Chatham House.

Turkey, which committed its forces in December 2019 to support the government in Tripoli, is also seeking to protect its gains, especially in hydrocarbon resources. To “recover these contracts”,

The converging interest of local political actors and international powers, allied with the determination of the UN and the arrival in Washington of the new Biden administration, seems to create the conditions conducive to an overhaul of the political system towards a unified national governance. .

On the economic front, the first measures taken, namely the national unification of the exchange rate at the beginning of the year, and the resumption of oil production in September, appear to be positive steps in this direction. 

But “these policies cannot be sufficient on their own”, believes Tim Eaton, and major projects such as the reunification of the banking system, the allocation of the national budget or debt management remain to be done. For this, a process of integration and political reconciliation seem inevitable.

But by consecrating the victory of an unexpected list, the results of Friday’s poll appear to have hastily buried those hopes. Officially, all parties welcome the outcome of the electoral process carried out according to rules established by the United Nations, intended to be transparent and democratic. 

But the victory of the list led by Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, as Prime Minister, and Mohammad Younès el-Menfi, as President, is problematic in more than one respect.

The victory of engineer and billionaire Abdel Hamid Dbeibah does not only mark the return, on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the revolution, of a veteran of the former Gaddafi regime. 

It also carries with it the seeds of its own failure. Because the Geneva process was based on a simple principle of representativeness of the different forces involved. However, by electing Mohammad Younès el-Menfi, originally from the East but politically closer to the West, the FDPL only gives a theoretical and derisory place to the forces of the East. 

In reacting to the results of the Geneva vote, the Tobruk administration has already set the tone by announcing that it would cede power only if its own parliament approved the interim government.

“The UN has been fooled”, concludes Jalel Harchaoui, for whom the outcome of the vote could neutralize the voluntarism of the international community. 

What create, if the government were to actually see the light of day, deep frustrations capable of stoking tensions, these same tensions which seemed tamed in recent months. 

What, in fine, worsen this partition of the country that we intended to heal by a “thin film of understanding between the parties”.

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