The EU race to Tripoli

Kamel Abdallah , Tuesday 6 Apr 2021

Al-Ahram Weekly keeps up with positive developments in Libya

The EU race to Tripoli

The Libyan Presidency Council announced, on Monday 5 April, the creation of a national reconciliation commission. A key step in the roadmap adopted by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) in mid-November last year, it seeks to pave the way to the legislative and presidential elections in December. Another step is the adoption of the constitutional foundation and legal framework for the electoral process, something for which the Libyan legislature is responsible.

In a statement released on Monday evening, the Presidency Council said it founded the National Commission for Reconciliation “in keeping with the output of the National Dialogue Forum, the consequent creation of a Government of National Unity, and the success the House of Representatives achieved in rallying a consensus among all its members to grant a vote of confidence in this government”. This “positive climate” increased the council’s “conviction in the urgent need to set into motion a comprehensive national reconciliation across the country as one of the most important policies for remedying the scars of the political, security and social events the country has experienced in the past few years”.

The statement urged all political and social forces and civil society activists to fully engage in the national reconciliation process to ensure their success and help Libya recover from its crisis. The nationwide reconciliation “can not be achieved without concerted national efforts,” it said, appealing to all to “seize the opportunity of the positive climate at this phase” in order to create conditions “conducive to carrying out our greatest task, which is to launch the presidential and legislative elections in December.”

 The reconciliation commission will oversee “a national consensus process based on tolerance, justice and healing the scars of the past in pursuit of peaceful coexistence among the components of Libyan society and ensure a smooth transition to democracy.”

The commission will be “a monument to all Libyans,” President Mohamed Al-Menfi said in a joint press conference with the Presidency Council’s two vice presidents, Abdullah Al-Lafi and Moussa Al-Koni. “It will ensure reparations for harm done and achieve justice in accordance with the law.”

According to Vice President Al-Lafi, the commission will consist of a chairman and six members as well as a number of subcommittees. “It will not overlook those implicated in crimes against humanity. All of them will be brought to justice,” he stressed.  He added that many of the violations have been documented and that those found guilty, “especially of war crimes,” will receive the harshest punishments from the courts.

None of the Presidency Council members mentioned potential candidates for the reconciliation commission. Al-Lafi suggested that the council will not be involved in the nomination process for the commission, which he described as “a cornerstone in the restoration of stability in Libya.” He said the council was now working on creating a technical and advisory committee that will help reconciliation commission members overcome any differences that might arise between them.

Vice President Moussa Al-Koni said the commission, which will “turn the page on the past,” may last beyond the December elections and, perhaps, for years to come.

The announcement of the formation of the reconciliation commission almost exactly two years after Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar launched a military operation on 4 April 2019 to take control of Tripoli. The siege of Tripoli lasted over a year until it was eventually repelled with the assistance of Turkish military intervention.

One of the most urgent matters the national reconciliation commission needs to address is how to help thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees return to their homes. The task is complicated and requires constructive input from all stakeholders at home and abroad, especially as it is also contingent on the continued prevalence of calm and progress with the roadmap.

More generally, the new body will be required to take the practical measures needed to generate a consensual climate for the elections in December and, before that, the processes of forging the constitutional and legislative frameworks for the electoral process.

On Tuesday, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) met with the LPDF’s legal committee to discuss the progress achieved on the constitutional foundation. The committee had previously asked for a meeting with UNSMIL in order to determine the final steps for adopting the constitutional articles. In addition, US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland met with Emad Al-Sayeh, the chairman of the High National Commission for Elections, in Tunisia to discuss what the commission needs in order to prepare for the December elections.

In a phone call between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Libyan Prime Minister Abdul-Hamid Debeiba, Blinken stressed the need for elections to be held at their scheduled time and that there could be no delay, according to a source close to the prime minister. It is still uncertain whether both presidential elections and legislative elections will be held. Most observers believe that it will only be the latter.

The new climate since the House of Representatives gave its vote of confidence to the new Government of National Unity (GNU) has generated another positive phenomenon.  Since the new executive was sworn in on 10 March, Tripoli has been host to a European and North African diplomatic race to grow acquainted and forge good relations with the Presidency Council and GNU. The visitor list included the president of Tunisia and the foreign ministers of Italy, Germany and France. On Monday and Tuesday alone, the EU Council chief as well as the foreign ministers of Italy, Malta and Greece called in on Prime Minister Debeiba to affirm their countries’ support for Libya.

France, Italy and Germany have taken other encouraging diplomatic steps during recent weeks. France reopened its embassy in Tripoli last week, and the week before that President Emanuel Macron received Al-Menfi, Al-Lafi and Al-Koni. Berlin organised an economic forum in Tripoli during which representatives of companies involved in energy and infrastructure development met with senior Libyan officials.

Italy, Libya’s closest northern Mediterranean neighbour, has been particularly active in boosting diplomatic and economic ties with Tripoli. Most recently, Rome announced its intention to resume flights to Libya. The opening of Libyan airspace to Europe and Africa is in Italy’s “strategic interests,” the Italian Aviation Authority said on Monday following a meeting with officials from its Libyan counterpart. The Italian agency plans to develop the aviation systems in Tripoli and Misrata, to which end it will help train the Libyan air transport technical teams. Italy has also offered to help with the reconstruction of Tripoli’s international airport, destroyed during the war.

In addition, Italian Prime Minster Mario Draghi made Tripoli the destination of his first visit abroad since taking office. While there, he will sign extensive agreements on energy production in southern Libya with his Libyan counterpart as part of what Italian sources describe as Rome’s strategy to help the Libyan authorities overcome and contain the phenomenon of illegal immigration which is of concern to Italians.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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