It’s complicated

Samer Al-Atrush

Abdelhamid Dabaiba, Libya’s new prime minister designate, was never precisely synonymous with transparent business dealings, and his cousin Ali, who’s been investigated by Scottish police for money laundering and had a seat at the UN dialogue, is synonymous with corruption.

So it may not be surprising that allegations of vote buying in the process that led to Dabaiba’s victory ended up in the UN Panel of Experts report. But there’s much more to this story.

There’s quite a bit of background that is not obvious to non-Libya watchers, and even to some Libya watchers, on how the panel of experts works, and what led up to the inclusion of the allegations.

It’s been hard to actually see evidence for the bribery allegations.

That is understandable–Libya is country where witnesses and whistleblowers can be made to disappear. But that in itself doesn’t explain why some came forward to give the panel testimony only after Dabaiba had won.

Would the allegations have been of a different order had he lost?

The allegations would have put the panel in an impossible position. From what I’ve been briefed on, they don’t seem to include a smoking gun. Yet ignore them, and risk being accused of a cover up.

You can imagine how the panel members, no doubt under tons of stress at that point, decided to handle the explosive issue: mention it vaguely in the main body of the report that will be published, then file the details in a so-called confidential annex.

Of course, that didn’t work out well. The other thing is, although UNSMIL had asked the panel to investigate, once the investigation does start, there’s no appraisal provided to UNSMIL before the sanctions committee is briefed on the report—which happened only after the early February vote.

(Incidentally the identity of the outlet that first reported the leaks, the French news agency AFP, led many to maintain that it must have been the French who leaked the details.

That’s not quite how it works: French officials have an often complicated relationship with the state-subsidised news agency that ranges from pride and support for its global brand to stiff formality towards its reporters to sneering contempt for some it of its managers, particularly the excessively sycophantic ones—there are quite a few of those le courtisan types.

Had the French wanted to publicise that report in a sanctioned leak, they’d have probably picked Reuters or an American or British outlet just for kicks and plausible deniability).

So now that the leaks are out, there are calls for a full publication of the report, and a probe. It’s not certain whether that happens—if it does not, the controversy will drag out.

Dabaiba’s people had initially called it “fake news” but the presidential council’s most recent statement takes the matter more seriously.

Some Libyans have been appalled all along that they had to choose between the Kleptocrats and the Dinosaurs, as the two main lists were nicknamed, after successive iterations of a myopic, feckless and overweening political class the country can’t shake off.

Many of the calls to essentially derail Dabaiba’s government stem from that. But not all of them.

There are of course those who are exploiting the allegations to get their say in the formation of the new government and their share.

So what happens next?

As Tarek Megerisi points out here, the government may very well pass, but it will be tainted. What’s certain is that although some regional powers had hoped for an Aguileh-Bashagha win (France and Egypt particularly) while others jumped on Dabaiba’s list (UAE, Morocco), many are now of the position that the new government should succeed.

Sarraj still hasn’t given up hope for staying on in a revamped executive that would supposedly lead the country to elections—if he isn’t forced to step down for health reasons, that is.

That idea had some subscribers in the region—and it is certainly attractive for Haftar—but it’s been overtaken by Dabiaba’s win.

The prevailing mood now is, as one foreign official put it: “it’s an ugly baby but it’s ours.”

The alternative, they fear, could be chaos.

Those who wish to go ahead with the new government seem confident that it can survive the bribery allegations—which, to stress, remain allegations in a partially leaked UN report for now.

Whether the new government can survive them remains to be seen.




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