14.06.2022 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Libya in the Throes of a Serious Political Crisis


After Mohamed al-Menfi, president of the Libyan Presidential Council, met with UN General Secretary António Guterres, he spoke highly of the work done by the UN’s mission in Libya “to support the people in reaching a peaceful solution to restore security, stability and peace to the country.” However, in reality he was probably just being polite and diplomatic, and the current situation in the country, in spite of the efforts of international forums at the very highest level, is very far from hopeful.

Day by day it is looking less and less likely that the so-called Road Map will lead to the successful parliamentary and presidential elections that the 2.8 million strong electorate have been waiting for for so long. The main political forces in the country have still not reached a consensus on certain key questions related to the electoral process. And the regional and international powers, as well as the UN also disagree about the best way to resolve the Libyan crisis, but that has not prevented them meddling in the most reckless manner in the affairs of the country once united by the concept of Jamahiriya. Perhaps all the parties with an interest in resolving the Libyan problem should reconsider their positions and try to reach an alternative agreement – one which has a chance of succeeding where all previous attempts over the last ten years have failed.

In the current highly complex situation Stephanie T. Williams, Special Adviser on Libya to the United Nations Secretary-General is taking advantage of her position to achieve ends of her own, in doing so fanning the flames of the Libyan crisis. Ignoring all the problems afflicting the country, the fundamental flaws in the UN-brokered process and the stalemate into which the opposing Libyan groups have been forced by the West’s policies, she insists on forcing her – and the West’s – point of view on the Libyans. She is still hoping that her friends back in the US will help her out in Libya, and is using the promise of financial assistance to push through her Road Map which is entirely geared towards promoting US interests. It was she who drew up and promoted this document in a meeting with the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) held in Tunis in November 2020.  She is continuing to call for elections and for the restoration of political institutions – but only those that are loyal to the West.

It should be remembered that Stephanie Williams is a skilled diplomatic provocateur – not for nothing did she study at the National War College, from which she graduated in 2008 to then join the Department of State. Even after she joined the UN and started a new career as an international civil servant, she shamelessly continued to promote the interests of the United States. In 2010-2013, she served as deputy head of the US mission in Bahrain, and for part of this time was the senior US diplomat in the country, acting as chargé d’affaires. It was she who, in 2011, instructed Saudi troops to occupy the emirate and suppress the Shia-led Bahrain uprising (despite the fact that Shiites make up 85% of Bahrain’s population). Quite naturally, as UN Special Adviser to Libya, a very senior post, she is trying to impose solutions to Libya’s political, economical and social problems, despite the fact that these solutions take no account of the interests of the Libyans themselves.

Ms Williams’ plan, supported and actively promoted by the main Western powers, is highly dependent on the ability of the existing Libyan institutions, especially the Tobruk-based Libyan House of Representatives and the High Council of State to reach a consensus on various issues. However, both these bodies then withdrew from their obligations and objected to the entry into effect of the old Road Map, which they considered was not in their interests. She then derailed the Libyan political process by trying to command these two bodies to do her bidding.

In recent months there have been parallel negotiations between representatives of different Libyan groups in Egypt and Switzerland. Despite objections by Stephanie Williams, Cairo hosted the second round of dialogues on the constitution, which included members of the Libyan House of Representatives and the High Council of State. The declared goal of the talks was to agree on a constitutional framework for the elections. And in Montreux, Switzerland, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, an NGO which is working with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to organize and hold talks, invited a number of Libyan political leaders and officers from the security services and armed forces to discuss the political process and ways to preserve the ceasefire which was concluded in Geneva on October 23, 2020.

However, the main problem is that the House of Representatives is still intent on observing the new Road Map. Adopted in February 2022, this document calls for the adoption of constitutional amendments and their approval by referendum before the general elections are held. The High Council of State, in turn, is against the proposed amendments. To further complicate matters, the Constitution Drafting Assembly, a national electoral body, has opposed the creation of a new drafting assembly as proposed by the Road Map approved in February 2022. Finally, Libya’s Supreme Court ruled that the Libyan people “have the right to decide for themselves whether or not to accept the current draft.” This means that any amendments to the current draft constitution may end up complicating things further rather than solving the problems.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue hosted talks on the political process in Libya, which took place on May 12, and were attended by representatives of the main militant groups in both Eastern and Western Libya, together with a large number of political figures. According to reports in the Libyan press, the participants agreed to work on preserving civil order in Libya and preventing a relapse into war. They also agreed to hold a further round of talks in Morocco.

Meanwhile, a number of Libyan journalists have claimed that the speakers of the House of Representatives and the High Council of State have reached agreement on the formation of a new cabinet – although no such agreement has been published yet. It appears that the agreement is an attempt to resolve the stand-off concerning the government formed by the new Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha, appointed and backed by the House of Representatives.

The actions of this new Prime Minister, who travelled to the capital in secret early in the morning of May 17, accompanied by his Health and Foreign Ministers, serve to underline the political chaos in Libya and the helplessness of the newly founded supreme bodies. Fathi Bashagha’s appearance provoked clashes between his supporters and those loyal to his rival, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who heads the Government of National Accord, and who categorically refused to step down. Fathi Bashagha was therefore forced to leave the capital just a few hours after his arrival. The unexpected outbreak of violence in the capital, in which one person was killed and five wounded, caused a great deal of concern among the diplomatic community. There were urgent calls from politicians across the spectrum for the parties to stay calm, prevent any outbreaks of violence, and participate in the political process.

Quite naturally, both Fathi Bashagha and Abdul Hamid Dbeibah blamed each other for the violence, and each reiterated their claim to power. As readers will remember, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah was appointed as interim Prime Minister by the United Nations in a deal approved at the end of 2020. He was supposed to remain in office until the holding of elections on December 24, 2021, but these did not take place. Fathi Bashagha, in turn, has insisted that his government will continue to operate from Sirte until circumstances permit it to relocate to Tripoli without provoking more bloodshed. His journey to Tripoli came as a complete surprise, as he had previously announced that he would remain in Sirte in view of Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s refusal to step down in favor of anyone except for a duly elected successor. It is unclear whether Fathi Bashagha was pressurized into making the trip by his supporters – who clearly wanted to see his government recognized in the capital – but in any event in view of the situation there that option is definitely off the cards for the time being.

In they eyes of many experts his ill-fated attempt to prove to his supporters and allies – both in Libya and abroad – that he can shift the balance of power in the capital has merely served to shorten his term of office. A number of factors are making things difficult for Fathi Bashagha: the determination of the UN and Western powers not to let Libya, with its considerable oil reserves, escape from their zone of influence, the unwillingness of his allies to move to Sirte, the difficulty of governing from Benghazi, and the need to reduce political tensions in the country. Together, these difficulties may have the effect of pushing him to leave the political stage. And then Libya will be left with a single Prime Minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who was appointed by the UN and is actively supported by Stephanie Williams.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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