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Published on November 13th, 2020 | by Brussels In View

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Libyan Forum: a step towards a new war

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), held since November 9 and organized at the initiative of acting the deputy head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) for political affairs Stephanie Williams (pictured), seems to be close to failure.

Observers note that a key forum designed to appoint a new government and a new prime minister (perhaps to replace the Government of National Accord in Tripoli) is causing increasing tension and frustration among participants. Negotiations about the location of Libya’s new government, candidates and attempts to deceive and mislead participants by the organizers are not helping the settlement process in Libya – on the contrary, the North African country is risking to receive the most dreadful thing: a pro-American government power linked to radical Islamists.

On November 9 , under the auspices of the United Nations, the negotiations started. Most participants were selected personally by Williams.

The talks were designed to take a step toward ending the civil war, and the meeting was intended to discuss the legitimacy of Libyan institutions and the long-awaited elections.

The forum was not just an attempt to formally discuss the peace process, but a practical necessity: the meeting could result in the appointment of an interim executive branch consisting of the Presidential Council and the Government. In this case, it is planned to hold full-fledged elections of permanent government members in next 18 month.

However, what is happening at the Forum is increasingly reminiscent of an attempt of outright manipulation and deception. The main reason why many people were perplexed was the leak of the draft meeting document, which mentioned that the headquarters of the Presidential Council, as well as the residence of the government, will be located in the city of Tripoli. Previously, it was suggested that the city of Sirte would be convenient as a new center of power because Tripoli is too dangerous and unstable a location from a security perspective. In Tripoli, the government will be at risk of pressure and attack by the Muslim Brotherhood and gangs of local radical Islamists. They have been controlling the city since the overthrowing of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. If the draft document is approved by LPDF, it will be rejected by everyone in Libya but radical Islamists.

Another stumbling block is the proposed mechanisms for electing the head of the Presidential Council and the government, which are also mentioned in the leak. Sources report that due to these disagreements, the plenary sessions of the Forum have even been temporarily suspended. Witnesses report that some were outraged by the fact of a buying vote and attempts to bribe the participants.

In addition, the outrage at the Forum came from supporters of President of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, as the UN tried to exclude him from the presidential council. The UN understands that if the procedure is fully transparent, Saleh will win, because more than 50 participants are ready to vote for him.

The reaction to the leaked draft was followed by a false UN statement that the document was fake. That is, the UN behaves with uncertainty and understands the precariousness of its position, and yet tries to influence the processes in Libya.

 

Thus, Williams has deceived the expectations of the Forum participants, and these attempts of manipulation only discredited the declared “transparency” of the new government formation under the UN. What is happening is reminiscent not of peacemaking mediation, but rather of an attempt to quickly close the inconvenient moments and choose the characters that are needed not by Libyans, but by Americans.

There are following candidates who have real opportunities to take up key positions – the current chairman of the GNA Fayez al-Sarraj, President of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, Interior Minister of the GNA Fathi Bashagha, and the Vice-Chairman of the Presidential Council Ahmed Maiteeq.

 

The process of power transition presents several problems at once. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), led by Williams, can directly influence the selection process and sift out those that the UN will not like. And, as described above, it can also skillfully manipulate the key decision making process.

 

It is very likely that the new interim authorities, in fact appointed by the UN, will be more radically charged than the current GNA. Importantly, according to The Supreme Council of Sheikhs and Notables of Libya, 45 of the 75 participants selected by UNSMIL are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood (https://thearabweekly.com/libyan-tribes-wary-about-brotherhoods-dominance-tunis-talks).

The U.S., which under Joe Biden may theoretically be interested in an alliance with “political Islam,” may count on figures such as Khaled al-Mishri, head of  the Chairman of the High Council of State (who openly represented the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya till 2019) and Fathi Bashagha, Interior Minister in constant contact with Williams (who calls for the deployment of an American military base in Libya and is found guilty of multiple war crimes and torture, and he also has links to the Muslim Brotherhood).

 

As a result, a new round of hot war is not ruled out – either Khalifa Haftar (followed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who will not like the legitimization of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya), or Tripoli militia (that hates Bashagha by its own reasons) will oppose them. If radicals and warlords like al-Mishri or Bashagha are promoted, their adversaries even among GNA-related militias may start civil war in Tripoli. Groups such as the Tripoli Protection Force are already opposing Bashagha, and there have already been clashes with forces under Bashagha’s control.

 

The U.S. may count on radicals at the helm in Libya, but it is not in the interests of the Libyans, nor of the neighboring states, and of course, it is not in the interests of Europe, which does not need a new wave of terrorists in light of recent wave of terror in France and Austria.

The more moderate candidates who could at least save the situation from radicalization would be the head of the GNA, Fayez al-Sarraj. An even more interesting candidate would be the Vice-Chairman of the Presidential Council Ahmed Maiteeq, a businessman and technocrat who succeeded in September 2020 in signing a major deal with Khalifa Haftar that allowed Libya to start exporting oil. Maiteeq is also acceptable for all foreign actors.

In the case of Libya, the people, who are neutral and unrelated to Islamist groups have the best chance to keep the country from chaos until the official elections and stabilize the situation in the future.

In August, a ceasefire was declared in Libya, and Tunisia is not the only negotiating ground. That is why Williams’ initiative should not be perceived as a only chance to settle the situation in the North African country.

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