The real multi-billion dollar question is whether Libyan leaders can hold the scheduled elections on time and hence send a reassuring signal to the international community.

A decade after Libya descended into chaos, a host of countries is eyeing potential multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects in the oil-rich nation, if stability is assured.

Economist Kamal Mansouri expects Libya’s reconstruction drive to be one of the biggest in the Middle East and North Africa.

He estimates “more than 100 billion dollars” are needed to rebuild Libya, which has been gripped by violence and political turmoil since long-time ruler Muammar Gadhafi was toppled in a NATO-backed 2011 uprising.

Former colonial power Italy, neighbouring Egypt and Turkey are tipped to be awarded the lion’s share of reconstruction deals.

In the capital Tripoli, dozens of rusted cranes and unfinished buildings dot the seafront, testimony to hundreds of abandoned projects worth billions of dollars launched between 2000 and 2010.

After Gadhafi’s overthrow, Libya fell under the control of a complex, ever-shifting patchwork of militias and foreign mercenaries backing rival administrations.

While Turkey has supported the Tripoli government, eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar, who battled but failed to seize the capital, has had the backing of Russia and Egypt. A UN-backed ceasefire was agreed last October, paving the way for the establishment in March of an interim administration.

The Dbeibah government is tasked with organising presidential and parliamentary elections in December if a legal framework is agreed on in time.

Diverse interests 

Turkey has endeavoured to widen its political and military footprint so as to buttress its unbridled economic ambitions. Based on a military cooperation agreement, it has dispatched army personnel and mercenaries and opened military basis. Ankara covets multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects and exports to Libya. It seeks to recover huge Gadhafi-era debts.

In recent months and with an eye on the future, Cairo has edged closer to the Government of National Unity (GNU) headed by Abdulhamid Dbeibah in Tripoli.

Neighbouring Tunisia, which counts on Libya as an export and employment outlet, is distracted by its own political instability.

The new Libyan administration has been courted by Western leaders who have visited Libya with large business delegations in tow.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio was accompanied by the chief of Italian energy giant ENI.

In May, Dbeibah, an engineer and businessman, visited Rome and agreed with his Italian counterpart Mario Draghi to expand collaboration on energy projects.

Italy aims to defend its commercial interests in the nation with Africa’s largest oil reserves, an energy sector where Eni has been the leading foreign player since 1959.

The firm reportedly proposes building a photovoltaic solar plant in southern Libya.

In June, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also visited with a business team, while Dbeibah has travelled to Paris.

As Dbeibah’s administration takes part in several business forums, regional and international powers are also in the running for lucrative contracts.

A delegation from Russia’s energy group Tatneft visited Tripoli in June to study oil exploration projects.

 Questions about stability 

Libya hasn’t built a thing in ten years,” said Global Initiative senior fellow and Libya expert Jalel Harchaoui.

It’s a rich country which hasn’t maintained its infrastructure.”

A decade of violence has ravaged its airports, roads and the electricity network.

While there is no shortage of major projects and international suitors, questions remain over funding and whether instability will return.

Divisions have devastated Libya’s economy and complicated management of its oil revenues, weakening its foreign currency reserves.

On the political and economic fronts, a 2021 budget has yet to be approved by the parliament, the House of Representatives and UN-led efforts to organise elections appear to be floundering.

The real multi-billion dollar question is whether Libyan leaders can hold the scheduled elections on time and hence send a reassuring signal to the international community.  A return to square one of strife and division will render reconstruction prospects merely hypothetical.

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Libya in peace push amid flurry of diplomacy in Cairo

Mohammed Abu Zaid

Norland urged the need to accept the “difficult compromises” needed to create the constitutional basis and legal framework required to hold elections on Dec. 24

CAIRO: Libyan, Egyptian and US officials met in Cairo on Tuesday to further Libya’s political process and boost peace efforts in the North African country.

The meeting included Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar and US envoy to Libya Richard Norland.

Libyan sources said that the visit came within the framework of Egypt’s role in bringing the Libyan sides closer and supporting the peace process.

Sources said that Norland discussed with Haftar the upcoming Libyan elections and welcomed the government’s decision to open the coastal road between the cities of Misrata and Sirte.

Earlier, the US Embassy in Tripoli announced that Norland’s visit to Cairo aimed to support the Libyan parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for December.

Norland urged the need to accept the “difficult compromises” needed to create the constitutional basis and legal framework required to hold elections on Dec. 24, an embassy statement said.

It said the US “supports the right of the Libyan people to choose their leaders through a free and fair democratic process and calls on key figures to use their influence at this critical stage to do what is best for all Libyans.”

The Egyptian initiative for Libya laid the foundations of stability and was critical in breaking down political divisions in the country.

The Cairo declaration — launched in June 2020 by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Haftar, and Saleh — paved the way for the unification of institutions aimed at improving stability.

The Tuesday meeting was the first international event between military and political bodies that aim to reconstruct the Libyan state.

Gailane Gabr, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, said that Egypt has become a “hub of activity in the region” and an “important wing for peace.”

The consultations, she said, aimed to ensure a smooth and stable electoral process in Libya.

Deliberations on Libya, witnessed by the US, are testimony to the success of Egypt’s foreign policy, Gabr said, adding that the exercise emphasized Egypt’s effective role in building peace and stability in the region, as envisioned by El-Sisi.

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