UNSMIL does not stabilize Libya by imposing foreign interests. The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) in Tunisia, around which so much noise was made, did not produce results in the end. Hopes were high that the Forum would be the first step towards forming an interim government, electing a Prime Minister and presidential council members, and within 18 months those procedures would enable the country to hold the long-awaited democratic elections and contribute to stabilizing a fractured Libya, write Louis Auge.
But that is not yet expected. The efforts publicly made by Stephanie Williams, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (Political), the effective head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), have actually come to naught after a series of scandals and questionable outcomes of an event that brought together 75 participants from different countries to discuss Libya's future.
But it is important to note that the stabilization of Libya seems to be not the original goal of Williams and her team. What happened at the Forum proves once again that the U.S. is not interested in real democratic processes in Libya, and that it has not abandoned its plans to subordinate the country's leadership and maintain manageable chaos in the region.
The forum, despite its importance, was distinguished from the outset by its hidden nature, given that the official information from the fields was not covered and the main news discussed outside the Tunisian meeting was the result of various leaks. As we noted in the previous publication, only about 45 people actually participated in the Forum - many refused to interact, seeing UNSMIL attempts to manipulate the process.
As a result, what actual results did LPDF lead to?
- - It was decided on the date of future elections.
- - A number of declarations have been declared, which are not of fundamental importance for Libya itself.
- - Split among the participants: about two thirds of the active participants of the Forum voted for preventing the election of politicians who have held senior positions since August 2014. However, the required majority was 75% and the proposition was not adopted.
Obviously, more was expected from the Forum: for example, discussion of a detailed procedure for the election of temporary authorities, the initiative to move the administrative centre from Tripoli to Sirte in terms of efficiency and security, issues of interaction and conflict resolution with local militias, economic prospects and confirmation of guarantees of Libya's oil exports. At the same time, UNSMIL ignored earlier humanitarian promises regarding the release of prisoners.
Nominations for key positions in the interim government and the Presidential Council also deserved open discussion. Thus, among potential candidates for the highest positions usually stand out several people: the current head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj, President of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, Vice Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya Ahmed Maiteeq, the Interior Minister of the GNA Fathi Bashagha and the Chairman of the High Council of State Khalid al-Mishri.
However, there were no open alternatives - during the Forum, the scandalous Fathi Bashagha, close to the radicals of the Muslim Brotherhood, became an obvious preference of the UN for the post of the head of government. The case turned out to be actually a corruption scandal, given that right on the sidelines of the LPDF they organized a vote trading, where votes of the participants were simply bought. However, the UN ignored the fact of corruption right at the official event. How can one talk about the democratic process when from the very beginning the Forum turned into a farce?
At the same time, experts believe that the rebellion of a number of participants against UN rules was a demonstration of the demand to remove Fathi Bashagha from the list of potential candidates for power, because his biography - war crimes confirmed by witnesses, torture against people and, most importantly, his connection with radical Islamists. All that clearly do not help Libya to stabilize. On the contrary, his candidacy has the potential to ignite contradictions between internal and external players up to an open military conflict.
Curiously, one of Libya's key leaders, Khalifa Haftar, was not involved in the Tunisian process. It may be assumed that in this case, he holds a more pragmatic view, preferring to engage in military missions and the fight against terrorists. Haftar separated himself a priori from the political games of the UN, and chose the position of state guard.
At the same time, it should be noted separately that the results (or rather, their absence) of the forum put one of the largest participants in the negotiation processes on Libya - Russia - in opposition to the UN. The point is about Williams' ignoring Moscow's request to mediate in the release of two Russian sociologists, Maxim Shugaley and Samer Sueifan, who were illegally detained by the GNA in 2019 and have been held in harsh conditions in a Libyan prison.
On a more global level, the head of the Russian Foundation for National Values Protection, Alexander Malkevich, asked the organizer of the forum Stephanie Williams, to assist in the release of Russian citizens. Obviously, the request was ignored.
After that an open letter to the head of the GNA Fayez al-Sarraj with a request to release the Russian sociologists was sent, and a copy was also addressed to Fathi Bashagha. As Russians remind in the letter, the Russian Foreign Ministry "has the right to use its influence, including the right to veto the UN Security Council resolutions on Libya, to save Russian citizens".
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation states that the release of Russian citizens is the main condition for the restoration of cooperation with the GNA, and therefore now Moscow as an active actor in Libya can block the negotiation process under the auspices of the UN.
Thus, after what is happening at the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, experts and ordinary Libyans agree that it is senseless and, moreover, dangerous to place hopes on resolving the situation in Libya through the mediation of the UN. First of all, as practice has shown, the Williams team demonstrated uselessness during the negotiations - on the contrary, this only fueled the contradictions, and the final result was only an abstract date of future elections (with no information about real candidates, on whom the fact directly depends the stability in the country in the coming months).
In addition, the Forum demonstrated to the Libyans that the UN did not want to really replace the corrupt government (GNA), which had been imposed on them by the UN before. The Government of National Unity proposed by the UNSMIL risks to became the same GNA with the new label – the unelected government headed by the same and even more radical Islamists like Fathi Bashagha. Moreover, it was the UN that allowed the destruction of Libya in 2011, after which Libya is still trying to restore unity and economic prosperity.
The Williams organization (UNSMIL), in fact, continues to do what the UN did in 2011 - intervene in domestic political processes in Libya and impose power on its people, not taking into account the interests of domestic groups in the country. At the same time, UNSMIL ignores requests for assistance from a potential ally in the mediation process - Moscow, and therefore risks losing a strong international support.
As a result, UNSMIL is acting in some of its own interests, provoking only discord and destabilization - but certainly not in the interests of the Libyans, the affected captives or the entire region. If such an organization calls itself peacekeeping, Libya certainly does not need such "peace".
Economics first: Ahmed Maiteeq's approach to the Libyan unity is working
Amid the fiasco of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), which failed to form an interim government in divided Libya, the result of talks Wednesday between economic institutions representing the two sides to the conflict was an unexpected success, Bloomberg reported.
Stephany Williams, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN and current head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) recognized Tuesday that LPDF went to impasse as talks since November failed to form interim authorities in the country. The only result was an established date for new elections in December 2021.
As Williams noted, the UN was forced to set up an advisory committee to bridge the differences between participants in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum.
On Wednesday, however, encouraging news came from Switzerland. Representatives from the two branches of the Central Bank of Libya (one in Tobruk and the other in Tripoli), the Audit Bureau, the Ministry of Finance and the National Oil Corporation agreed to merge the banking institutions and define a single exchange rate.
Stephanie Williams said in a statement that "now is the moment for all Libyans - particularly the country's political actors - to demonstrate similar courage, determination and leadership to put aside their personal interests and overcome their differences for the sake of the Libyan people in order to restore the country's sovereignty and the democratic legitimacy of its institutions".
Thus, she in fact recognized that the only successful road to the peace in Libya lies within the framework defined not by external actors but Libyans themselves, as negotiations on the Libyan economy started from the bold initiative of Ahmed Maiteeq the Vice Prime Minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
LPDF on the contrary was the mere initiative of Williams herself and was heavily criticized by many Libyan actors.
One of the main outcomes of the year 2020 was the new start of the peace process in Libya. Beginning with negotiations in Moscow in January 2020 and a full-scale international conference in Berlin, the search for a peaceful solution to the conflict continued with the Cairo Declaration in June. Finally in August the parties to the conflict: the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar reached a ceasefire.
However, an initiative by Ahmed Maiteeq has given a decisive impetus to the peace process. In September he reached an agreement with Khalifa Haftar to resume Libya's oil exports and establish a joint committee, representatives of both sides of the conflict, to oversee the fair distribution of oil export revenues.
At the time, Ahmed Maiteeq was criticized by a number of GNA figures. The Chairman of the High Council of State Khalid al-Mishri even tried to denounce it. The time has shown that Maiteeq’s approach was correct. His initiative made it possible to relaunch the Libyan economy, to begin solving the urgent problems that concerned all the inhabitants of the country without exception, to create the prerequisites for stable and sustainable development and to cure the wounds of war. His approach was inclusive (nobody else in GNA did not want to spoke with Haftar) and pragmatic.
Thus, the Maiteeq-Haftar agreement was also the first real step to unite the country. It was it that made it possible to realize the unification of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, divided by parties to the conflict in November 2020. The current agreement to unify the financial institutions is only a logical consequence of the September agreement, since oil is the main source of income in Libya.
The efforts of Ahmed Maitig have been recognized internationally. As the recent report of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) says:
"On the economy's side, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq has continued to seek solutions to build on the relative success of the agreement to reopen Libyan oil assets struck with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in September. Over the past month, Maiteeq has tried to connect officials from the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the eastern-based Interim Government in order to pursue the resumption of an economic reform program, with the imperative of unifying the country's financial institutions."
The path to peace
It is noteworthy that, amid the squabbling of politicians who cannot agree among themselves, Libya's economic institutions are proving remarkably contractual. This observation alone shows that the solution to the Libyan crisis lies largely in the economic realm. Economic agreements are a prerequisite for the normalization of political relations.
On the other hand, political will is needed to push through economic agreements. Thus, the success of the peace process in Libya will largely depend on which politicians will play the main role: pragmatists interested in unifying the country or Islamists ideologically irreconcilable with their opponents.
Ahmed Maiteeq is considered to be a pragmatist, ideologically neutral politician with close ties to Libyan business. In addition, he is considered one of the main contenders for the position of the future Prime Minister. On 1 December, while participating in Mediterranean Dialogues forum, Maiteeq reiterated his willingness to lead the next government if Libyans choose him.
If he, or someone like him, is given more power, the peace process in Libya is likely to gain new momentum, boosting confidence among all Libyans regardless their political affiliations.
The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum is at an impasse
The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), has been held since 9 November in Tunisia. 75 delegates from Libya's three historic regions are expected to adopt a road map for a final political settlement, including agreements on a constitution, the establishment of a Presidential council and government, and parliamentary elections. However, after four days of the forum, we can conclude that the event, which was supposed to end the civil war in Libya is turning into a sham.
The organizer of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum is formally the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), headed by American diplomat Stephanie Williams (pictured). It would seem that it should be interested in maximum transparency of the forum, because from the beginning there was little trust in it. However, the organizers do just the opposite.
In the West of Libya, a number of militias in Tripoli protested against the LPDF, saying that they would not take U.S. advanced decisions.
There is no full trust to the forum in the east of Libya too. The representatives of forces that support Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar say that 45 out of 75 delegates of LPDF represent interests of radical Islamists. Another claim is that 49 out of 75 members appointed Stephanie Williams personally. They represent supposedly 'Libyan civil society'. But there are suspicions that in this way the former U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Libya achieved control over the votes within the forum.
One of the main problems of the Forum is that it is closed to the outside world. In fact, no information about the negotiations is provided, except photographs. And photos also raise questions. None of them have 75 people whose participation is declared.
No more than 45 people are actively involved. Is it possible to trust the decisions to be taken behind the scenes by people whom the Libyan people did not choose? And will these decisions be made by the real participants in the conflict? It is doubtful.
On November 11, the organizer of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Libya Stephanie Williams said that the participants of the LPDF agreed on a plan to unite the authorities of the African country. It is assumed that elections will be held in Libya no more than 18 months after the beginning of the transition period.
During this period, the country should be governed by an interim government. However, no official information has been provided as to where that government will be located. And that is key.
Earlier, one of the representatives of the Libyan National Army Khaled Al-Mahjoub, confirmed that "what distinguishes the existing dialogues from other dialogues is the transfer of power from the hands of armed groups from Tripoli to Sirte, by transferring the headquarters of the state administration to Sirte and thus removing it from the hands of the armed groups that were controlling it and making it follow them”.
If the new interim government's headquarters are in Tripoli, it will repeat the sad experience of the current Government of National Accord (GNA). The international community believed that after the conclusion of the Skhirat agreement (Libyan Political Agreement) in 2015, peace would finally come to Libya. But that has not happened. Once the National Accord Government arrived in Tripoli in 2016, it fell under the control of influential Islamist groups holding the capital by then. And the GNA was transformed into an instrument of Islamic radicals from a government that was supposed to provide peace and compromise, the balance of power among the intra-Libyan players.
The same awaits a new government if it settles down in Tripoli. Sirte, as a city in the middle between Tripolitania, which is controlled by the current GNA and its militias and Cyrenaica (where the alternative Provisional Government is located), and as a city free from the control of Islamists, is best suited for the role of headquarters of the Provisional Government.
However, according to information from sources at The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, the draft agreement to be signed by LPDF participants on 15 November lists Tripoli as the seat of the interim administration. Earlier, the draft agreement of the LPDF participants was published in the Internet. It has been published by an account that supports the GNA.
UNSMIL then stated that "any information about the forum that is not posted on the mission's website and social media pages is considered fake and intended to mislead public opinion”. However, the UN mission did not provide any real information to refute reports of the future government's location in Tripoli. It does not provide any specific information in this regard at all.
All of this only reinforces suspicions that UNSMIL is either hiding something from the Libyans and the international community, or no longer in control of the situation at the Forum.
Another LPDF problem is the lack of transparency in the elections of Libya's interim leadership and hyper-centralism of the UNSMIL approach.
According to the draft agreement, power in the country (including military) will be concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister, which only the LPDF has the right to remove. The Presidential Council, where all Libya's regions are to be represented, will only serve as a collective commander-in-chief and symbol of national unity without real powers.
Thus, there will be no equilibrium and no consideration of the views of the regions in Libya. The region that will represent the Prime Minister will impose its will on the others. Given the location of the government in Tripoli, it is clear that it will be a representative of the West.
This is unacceptable for the East and South of Libya, regions of Cyrenaica and Fezzan, especially against the background of reports about attempts to prevent the election to the presidential council of Aguila Saleh, one of the initiators of the current peace process, Chairman of the House of Representatives, Libyan parliament. If key figures of Libya's East are not represented in the country's leadership, any new interim government will be stillborn initiative.
However, there is one more problem. There is a serious danger that power will be transferred to the radicals. Stephanie Williams represents the interests of the United States. And the most pro-American candidate now is Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha. It was he who had previously offered to host the United States military base in Libya.
However, Bashagha is associated with the Islamists, accused of involvement in torture, he is the patron to the Salafists from the RADA group, who terrorize the residents of Tripoli and kidnap people.
It is now Fathi Bashagha who has been nominated by the “Muslin Brotherhood” to be the Prime Minister of the new Libyan government.
If he or another politician with a close history of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood is elected, Libya will face a new conflict, and the country will continue to be a nest of Islamic radicalism that threatens the security of both Europe and Africa. Against the backdrop of Bashagha, even the current head of the GNA, the pro-Turkish Fayez Sarraj, seems moderate. Ahmed Maiteeq, Libyan business representative and deputy prime minister of the GNA, is considered an even more moderate and compromise candidate for the head of government.
Whoever takes the lead in Libya during the transition period must he or she should be a neutral person, whatever the new authorities are, they must be created on the basis of a balance of power through a process that is transparent to both Libyans and the international community.
Instead, in Tunisia, under the banner of the UN, the exact opposite is observed - attempts to impose the results of behind-the-scenes agreements between the US representative and individual Libyan political groups. Perhaps the result of this process will provide some short-term interests of the United States, but the LPDF will not bring peace and unity to Libya. It is only natural that it should fail.
Path to extremist Chaos? The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum: how to avoid failure and new escalation?
The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) was launched in Tunisia on 9 November. It is organized by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) headed by American diplomat Stephanie Williams. The task of the Forum, as well as of all international events on Libya in recent years, is to end the civil war, restore the unity of the country and the structure of state power. In addition, the LPDF should choose a new government and a new prime minister, who are likely to replace the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli (pictured is GNA leader Fayez al-Sarraj). This interim government will act until new elections are held in six months and the permanent government of Libya is approved.The overall objective of the LPDF will be to generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to holding national elections in the shortest possible timeframe,“ the UN mission said in a statement.
The Italian journalist and specialist on Libya, Alessandro Sansoni, expressed on the news website “Il Talebano” which is close to “Lega” affiliated think tank his concerns about the outcome of the forum.
In Sansoni´s opinion this initiative is essentially doomed to fail. The problem is in the basic approach of the organizers. UNSMIL is trying to impose ready-made solutions on Libyans, instead of allowing them to decide their own destiny.
There are 75 participants, all of whom have been approved by UNSMIL, that means mainly Stephanie Williams. The former U.S. Charge d´Affaires in Libya was thus able to cut off candidates she did not like. Who are the 75 people, also the Italian Libya-expert asks? 13 appointed by the House of Representatives, which supports the Khalifa Haftar, and another 13 by the The High Council of State (GNA). But 49 people were chosen by Stephanie Williams herself. These are representatives of so-called “civil society”, including bloggers and journalists. They do not have real political influence in Libya. On the other hand, they give UNSMIL (or rather Williams and the United States) a control package of votes, allowing any convenient Washington decisions to be made through them.
Also, UNSMIL can remove anyone from the electoral process, even if they get the support they need, by declaring that they are not psychologically balanced or do not fit the right competencies. Finally, if the process of selecting ministers, the prime minister and Presidential council members is stalled, UNSMIL will determine for itself who takes up the contested position.
On November 10, 112 deputies of the House of Representatives of Libya made a joint statement in which they stated that they did not approve of the mechanism of selection of the dialogue participants. Of particular concern is the participation of people who do not represent the Libyan people or existing political forces and who have been appointed „in circumvention“ of the selected delegations of House of Representatives and High Council of State.
In addition, members of the Libyan Parliament stressed that UNSMIL should perform the functions that were defined at its establishment, not by changing the Constitutional Declaration or encroaching on the powers of the House of Representatives.
On 9 November, Tunisian lawyer Wafa Al-Hazami El-Shazly said that „foreign intelligence controls and conducts this dialogue, not from behind a curtain, but with rudeness.
Against this background, there is no agreement among the participants in the The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum on who will take key positions in the new government of Libya.
Libya 24 reports that the list of candidates for the post of Chairman of the Presidential Council includes dozens of names, among them the chairman of the House of Representatives (Tobruk), Aguila Saleh and Interior Minister of the GNA Fathi Bashagha.
Also, Libyan and foreign media names the current head of the GNA Fayez Sarraj and deputy chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya Ahmed Maiteeq among persons who may remain in the key positions.
However, Libyan politicians claim that the disagreements at the Libyan political forum do not yet allow even a final list of candidates for the positions of members of the government and the Presidential Council of Libya.
The LPDF may not lead to any compromise, but the procedure developed by Stephanie Williams makes it possible to declare it and appoint de-facto unilaterally a new government, which will be considered „recognized by the UN“. In this regard, the names of the head of the Presidential Council and the Prime Minister are likely to be announced within the next ten days.
This prospect itself raises doubts that the leading domestic political players will agree with the directive imposition of the new leadership of Libya by the UN. Anyone who is de facto appointed by the UN and foreigners will be illegitimate in the eyes of most Libyans.
In addition, there is a danger of radicals coming to key positions. The Supreme Council of Sheikhs and Notables of Libya has already expressed concern that the 45 participants of the Forum for Political Dialogue are connected with the radial organization „Muslim Brotherhood“.
A candidate from the „Muslim Brotherhood“, such as Khaled al-Mishri, head of the High Council of State, as the new head of government or member of the Presidential Council, will not be accepted in eastern Libya.
Fathi Bashagha, the current interior minister is even more questionable. He is accused of torture and war crimes, having links to the “Muslim Brotherhood” and radical Salafists. The RADA group, which imposes a Salafist interpretation of Sharia in Tripoli, maintains an illegal Mitiga prison and is involved in human trafficking - his direct subordinates.
At the same time, Bashaga, as his opponents in Tripoli say, behaves not like a minister of the interior, but like a prime minister. This is also confirmed by his constant visits abroad.
Recently the so-called “Tripoli Protection Force” – a group of Tripoli militias affiliated to the Presidential Council of Libya and Fayez Sarraj j stated that „Fathi Bashaga, Minister of the Interior, and works as if he were the head of government or minister of foreign affairs. He moves from country to country, using his official position to get a „new post“.
Bashaga does not hide his power ambitions. He has a friendly relationship with Stephanie Williams, and he has called for an American base in Libya, clearly counting on U.S. support.
Even if Khalifa Haftar implements the ceasefire agreements and does not launch another offensive in Tripoli in the case of Bashagha coming to power in a transitional government, there is a strong possibility of conflict in western Libya.
Relations in Tripoli are now very tense and Bashagha's appointment will lead to an escalation of internal conflicts. Clashes between the Tripoli Interior Ministry and groups outside their control (The Tripoli Protection Force) or even between Interior Ministry units are highly likely. As a result, there will be a new military escalation. There are already demonstrations in Tripoli of militias dissatisfied with the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum
For the Italian specialist is clear: The only way to preserve the real, not declarative, political dialogue in Libya and prepare the ground for the elections and appointment of a permanent Libyan government is to abandon the dictate of one side (in this case, the U.S.), the imposition of a pro-American candidate (who likely to be Fathi Bashagha, disliked by Eastern Libya and Tripoli militias).
Both Libyans and foreign actors are interested in stopping American usurpation of power, first of all Italy, for which the main thing is to achieve stability in Libya.
For Libya, it is optimal that the positions of the head of government remain behind a compromise figure until the elections. It may be Fayez Sarraj or Ahmed Maiteeq - also a respected, neutral member of the GNA. Then the country can overcome a difficult transition period and finally elect a permanent government that represents all Libyans.
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