Floris van Straaten
A conference in Berlin should help the Libyans to rein in militias and to consolidate the fragile peace with elections.
How do you get a deeply divided country back on track after ten lost years of civil war and ongoing foreign intervention?
There is no manual for this. So, with the assistance of the UN and foreign powers, the exhausted Libyans are now trying to pull themselves out of the quicksand.
This Wednesday, at a conference in Berlin, the international community will try to give the Libyans a helping hand after a similar attempt failed in early 2020. The German Foreign Ministry even promises “steps towards the unification of the armed forces”. be put.
For the first time this time, the new government led by interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibeh is making an appearance. The fact that there is now one provisional government is a small miracle.
In recent years there have been two or even three separate governments in Libya at the same time, making some even homesick for Colonel Gaddafi ‘s harsh but fairly stable rule .
But in March this year, the warring factions surprisingly agreed to form a single interim government, after an earlier ceasefire had been reached. They also agreed that Libyans will go to the polls on December 24.
What they will vote on is still shrouded in mystery.
A new constitution? A new parliament? A new president? A new prime minister? Or a combination of these options?
Despite this, many Libyans are eagerly awaiting December 24. One of them is Fathi Bashagha, a former minister who wants to become president.
Bashagha, like Dbeibeh, a wealthy businessman from the western port of Misrata, narrowly lost the race for the interim premiership. His opponents consider him part of the Muslim Brotherhood camp, although Bashagha himself denies being part of it.
Much to the concern of countries such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, the brotherhood enjoys considerable influence in western Libya.
Bashagha (58) is a staunch supporter of parliamentary and presidential elections. “It is the heart’s desire of all Libyans to hold such elections,” he says during a conversation in the Hotel Des Indes in The Hague.
The politician toured Europe at the beginning of this month to lobby for Libya and himself. “All successive governments in recent years have been the result not of elections but of agreements, often after foreign interference. As a result, they lacked legitimacy,” he argues.
Russian Air Force Base
Many analysts doubt whether elections will be feasible in six months. Libya does not yet have a constitution and the Libyan militias continue to operate independently, as before.
The security situation is shaky, the mutual mistrust between East and West in particular remains deep – the important coastal road between the two parts of the country only opened this Sunday.
It is also still teeming with foreign soldiers in Libya, whether or not they work as mercenaries. In particular, the Turks and Russians, who support opposing camps, have a significant military presence in the country.
The Russians are very pleased with their air base in Jufra, which is a useful base not only for Libya, but also elsewhere in Africa.
“I was impressed by the breakthrough in March,” admits Jalel Harchaoui, Libyan analyst for Global Initiative, an organization that tries to curb transnational crime.
But now he sees many obstacles on the road to a lasting peace in Libya. “The main reason the weapons were silent was not so much that the Libyans had had enough of fighting, but that Turkey and Russia decided it was no longer in their interest to continue waging war against each other.
I do not believe that Turkey is so eager for elections. Why would they? They will hardly be able to find a more pro-Turkish leader than the current interim prime minister.”
Harchaoui also sees inhibiting factors among the Libyans themselves. The strongman in the east, General Haftar, who previously unsuccessfully tried to take the capital Tripoli , surprisingly resigned himself to the formation of a single government led by western Libyan Dbeibeh.
“But all things considered, the East has made few sacrifices on matters important to them,” says Harchaoui. “Especially in economic terms, the East has been treated very well.
All officials in the East they have appointed in the last seven years will henceforth be paid by the interim government. That’s a nice gift. And otherwise they can just go their own way in the East.”
Bashagha, on the other hand, expects the elections to have a purifying effect. According to him, the constitution can wait until after the polls. This is how they did it in neighboring Tunisia after the revolution of 2010.
“There is now peace in Libya, we must keep it. Elections give us legitimacy among the population. That is precisely the way in which we will eradicate the causes of the conflict.” And the militias? “They don’t stand strong anymore when they are confronted with an elected government.”
Such optimism sounds surprising from the mouth of a man who, according to himself, escaped an assassination attempt at the beginning of this year.
Europeans and Americans must fight for elections in Berlin, says Bashagha. For Europe, however, the biggest concern seems to be that no new wave of migrants will cross the Mediterranean via Libya. Elections do not necessarily help.
“Western countries attach particular importance to symbolic progress,” says Harchaoui. “The impression must be given that things are going in the right direction so that they can claim diplomatic success. But they close their eyes to how things really are on the ground in Libya.”
Jean-Marie Guéhenno – Former President & CEO