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Much ado about nothing: The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunisia




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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 Libyan Political Dialogue Forum is at an impasse

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".

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