To Libya’s rescue

Kamel Abdallah , Tuesday 6 Feb 2024

International institutions are working to revitalise the political process in Libya.

To Libya s rescue


Libya has been suffering a political deadlock for two years due to tensions between separate authorities in the east and west. The UN has been working with the relevant parties to revitalise the political process in a bid to pave the way for the elections put off since 2021. But those elections remain unlikely to materialise under the current circumstances, despite having widespread popular support with the Libyan public eager to see official institutions functioning under elected representatives.

Libya has undergone significant transformations since September following the devastating floods brought about by Storm Daniel. The floods resulted in 4,000 people dead and over 5,000 reported missing, according to the public prosecution.

Eastern Libya authorities have been attempting to consolidate their political and economic influence, while the internationally recognised government, led by Abdul-Hamid Dbeibeh, is trying to assert its authority amid social tensions in western Libya. Opponents in the West are pressuring the UN to initiate a new negotiation process to select an executive authority other than the one chosen by the UN-sponsored Political Dialogue Forum in Geneva in 2020 and 2021.

The humanitarian crisis in Derna has given both the Speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh and the leader of the Libyan National Army Marshal Khalifa Haftar opportunities to cement their authority in the east. Saleh took the lead by approving an emergency budget of $10 billion for the reconstruction of Derna and flood-affected areas. Haftar announced the commencement of reconstruction operations, awarding projects to various Egyptian and Emirati companies — an action perceived by the ruling authority in Tripoli as an attempt to establish a fait accompli.

A joint statement from the World Bank, the UN, and the European Union on 24 January read that the estimated cost of reconstruction operations in Derna and the affected regions is approximately $1.8 billion. However, the government appointed by the House of Representatives in eastern Libya views this amount as insufficient to initiate comprehensive reconstruction efforts in the areas devastated by the floods.

The World Bank, the UN, and the European Union estimated that the floods resulted in damages amounting to $1.65 billion, or 3.6 per cent of Libya’s GDP in 2022. The report encompassed 20 municipalities, and focused on the five most affected cities — Derna, Sousse, Al-Bayda, Al-Marj, and Shahat — where 85 per cent of the damages occurred. The report stressed the need for recovery efforts in these areas.

The West, led by the US, advocates for the establishment of a coordinated national platform for reconstruction in Libya, supported by the UN and the international community. The proposition was welcomed by many Libyans but was met with reservations from the authority in the east.

In a preemptive move, the government appointed by the House of Representatives, led by Osama Hammad, announced in December the creation of the Reconstruction Fund for Derna and Areas Affected by Floods to be tasked with overseeing reconstruction operations. The fund is presided over by Belqasim Khalifa Haftar, the youngest son of Khalifa Haftar and his political adviser — the first public office Belqasim, now in his 30s, has held. Meanwhile, the internationally recognised government and the Presidential Council in Tripoli await further steps from the UN in the reconstruction effort.

The fund entered into agreements with Egyptian and Emirati companies to begin reconstruction operations. The Tripoli authorities made no comment on the move, while Saleh demanded that disbursements for these operations should be withheld until they are presented to him.

At around the same time, on 4 October, Saleh issued election laws which were approved by the joint committee and the State Council (6+6) but rejected by the National Unity Government and the Supreme Council of State in Tripoli. The UN said the laws did not address contentious issues, such as the dependence of presidential elections on parliamentary elections, their simultaneity, the inclusion of minorities, military voting, and the formation of a new government. These issues necessitate a political agreement among the parties involved, said Abdoulaye Bathily, the UN special representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, at the UN Security Council, conveying the message to the Libyans.

Faced with escalating local competition for reconstruction operations and authorities moving forward with them along with political arrangements, Bathily called for a meeting of Saleh, Haftar, Dbeibeh, President of the Supreme Council of State Mohamed Takala, and President of the Presidential Council Mohamed Al-Manfi to discuss future steps for implementing the electoral process — contingent upon a political agreement on the contentious issues overlooked in the electoral laws and the 13th constitutional amendment, both approved by the House of Representatives.

Bathily looks forward to forging political consensus among the leaders of the five Libyan institutions, all of whom have expressed their commitment to power and reluctance to relinquish their positions unless succeeded by elected authorities in a step meant to reignite the political process and hold elections. Meanwhile, other Libyan parties are engaged in bilateral negotiations meant to prolong the existing status quo and keep power in the hands of those who have it for an extended period.

Saleh and the former head of the Supreme Council of State Khaled Al-Mishri worked to devise constitutional and legal adjustments that add complexity to the electoral process. These issues, which Bathily stated before the Libyan people and the UN Security Council, pose challenges, especially given both sides’ commitment to restructuring the executive authority as a prerequisite for advancing towards elections.

Responding to the moves by Saleh and Al-Mishri, the sons of Haftar and Dbeibeh initiated a parallel course for legislative bodies to facilitate coordination on government appointments that would enable both sides to reinforce their negotiating positions and ensure their continued influence in any political arrangements negotiated under the auspices of the UN. Realising it was necessary to convene the institutional parties for negotiation, Bathily said the UN took note of these developments.

Bathily’s plan has garnered US support. Richard Norland, the US special envoy to Libya, recently visited Libya and met with Haftar and Saleh in Benghazi, before travelling to Tripoli to meet with Al-Manfi, Presidential Council member Moussa Al-Koni, Deputy Head of the Presidential Council Abdullah Al-Lafi, Dbeibeh, Takala, National Oil Corporation Chairman Farhat bin Qaddara, Head of the Libyan High National Elections Commission Imad Al-Sayeh, and Chief of General Staff Mohamed Al-Haddad.

Throughout his talks in Tripoli and Benghazi, Norland focused on endorsing Bathily’s initiative and convincing the Libyan figures he met to support it. The discussions encompassed reconstruction efforts in flood-affected areas, the unification of security and military authorities, and the safeguarding of financial and economic institutions.

The US embassy tweeted that Norland also urged them to cooperate with the UN to overcome obstacles hindering the electoral process in order to empower Libyans to choose their political representatives, establish a unified government post-elections, and resume efforts to unify the military institution.

Norland’s visit to Libya signified US backing for the UN-led process while expressing disapproval of any parallel initiatives that Libyan parties might pursue to divert the political trajectory away from the elections promoted by the US.

However, Libyan parties appear to persist in their attempts to initiate parallel operations to bolster their negotiating positions or secure new gains, especially because the preliminary indications do not yet suggest significant political changes.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 8 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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