Redeeming Libya
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Smooth and peaceful transition of power from an internationally recognised government (GNA) of Fayez Al-Sarraj to locally and internationally recognised interim Government of National Unity (GNU) headed by PM Abd Alhamid Dabaiba (Dbeibeh) and three member Presidency council Head Mohammed Menfi took place in Tobruk in the second week of March. It is indeed a highly significant development even though tenureof the new government is until the end of the year when it is mandated to unify the institutions, reconciliation, improving provision of services for the citizens, create conditions and hold the general elections on December 24, 2021. A tall order indeed.

But what is being witnessed on ground across the political divide in the election or selection of the new government and Council with no political heavy weights gives the hope that the technocratic government, even if rather large, should be able to strive for fulfilling the task. Menfi was a diplomat and Dabaiba headed the LIDCO (Libyan Investment & Development Company during the construction boom of Gaddafi era) and are well aware of the ground challenges. Politics is a dirty game and there will always be some accusations and filth sprung up by the opposition. Hopefully, this will not deter the incumbents from discharging their obligations to bring semblance of unity of purpose and welfare of Libyans as paramount.

In effect, this was really the second smooth transition after the one post 2012 remarkable elections. 2014 were the wash out as no one was ready to accept the election results or cede the power. Libya saw the division of the country into East under the effective control of General Haftar with though the House of Representatives and the Government sat in Tobruk and the West in Tripoli with Islamists continuing to hold the power. South was neglected and landed with mostly extremist groups. Armed militias enjoyed the patronage either of the two competing governments and their international benefactors both from the region and outside. Consequently, one saw the country disastrously being divided into geo-political entities. On the one hand General Haftar’s dispensation has been supported by France, Egypt, Russia, UK, UAE, and Saudi Arabia while Turkey, Qatar and Italy supported the Tripoli based governments. USA vacillated whimsically. Neighbours like Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria tried their best to keep the dialogue going until General Haftar launched his real battle for Tripoli in 2019. It lasted until April 2020 when Turkey decided to militarily intervene on behalf of the Tripoli government and GNA that would have otherwise fallen. A status quo ensued and ceasefire was achieved with the intervention of all major powers. Berlin Process (Jan 2020) was started and eventually 5+5 mechanisms succeeded in the resumption of the inclusive Political Dialogue Forum under the aegis of UNSMIL. On October 23, a permanent ceasefire was signed by the representatives of the 5+5 Joint Military Committee whichheld out despite occasional frictions. The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) was launched in Tunis in November and met physically and virtually. The 75-delegates conference agreed on the roadmap to “credible, inclusive and democratic national elections,” to be held on December 24, 2021.

After weeks of deliberations in Geneva LPDF finally approved the elections of the least likely group/list comprising of Dabaiba and Menfi generally considered political lightweights which was endorsed by the House of Representatives. Arguably it is also good for those seeking longterm political roles as the interim government officials will not be allowed to participate in elections. Moreover, those vying for power will have a legitimate way out in due course hopefully by the end of the year. Of course this time round political players will have to play a more constructive role and show greater responsibility for the larger good of the Libyans who have suffered tremendously for no fault of theirs, for over a decade. They were failed by their own leaders and the capricious international players. Nearly ten years later, Libyans have another chance to exercise their will and preference.

Despite heartburn and disappointments and even opposition to this interim transition by some local politicians and power aspirants one could safely assume that Dabaiba and team should be able to take on board the genuine and legitimate concerns of all sides while working on law-and-order issues as the electoral process goes underway. It is not going to be easy as challenges even in the interim are stupendous and deepening rifts and competing interests immense.

Libya has been mired by the myriad of powerful armed militia groups often tribal in nature who have looted the oil wealth and have been funded by their foreign benefactors. There are appeals to integrate them but no firm plan or power to force them. Hence, they will have to be somehow persuaded to be part of the order rather than disorder. In its final statement 5+5 Military Commission has stressed the necessity of continuing efforts for the immediate removal of mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libya. Foreign powers despite express appeals do not seem to be fully convinced to vacate their strategic space lest the opposing side grabs it. The mistrust among them continues unabated. Similarly, politicians in quest of power in haste have the capacity to derail the transition process. For some the divided house gave them an assured bed. They must be onboarded lest they become an Achilles heel. Moreover, an institutional deficit in general mars the county’s socio-political landscape. Unifying competing organisations aligned to East or West will test the credibility and capability of the interim government more than ever. What role would General Haftar play is also a big question on which will depend the success of transition. The coastal highways still not open especially between Sirte and Misrata despite the Ceasefire Commission’s lame duck efforts. A toxic combination of ambition and opportunistic candour awaits the new team. Many of these could be effectively confronted, resolved or not is another question, if all the stakeholders are on the same page. Again, a tall order indeed. There are good signs as one witnesses the thaw in relations between Egypt and Turkey and Saudi Arabia and Qatar (lifting of blockade at Al Ula Summit) who have been on the opposing sides of the spectrum in Libya.

One of the major and immediate challenges facing Libya is also of the Covid 19 pandemic. It is time that the world especially India helps them with vaccines under its Maitri programme as it had done in 2012 through supply of critical medicines on priority. Indian medical personnel, doctors and nurses are well regarded and even stayed on to look after the Libyans during the revolution and thereafter. They could be a reliable bridge in collaboration with the interim government and health authorities of Libya.

Am I pessimistic? Of course not. Fully agree with the outgoing Head of the Presidency Council Fayez Sarraj who said “I am here today consolidating the principles of democracy” while handing the baton over to Dabaiba and the team. 2022 should herald the New Libya as history has been made but hope of Libyans must not be belied this time. Mantle for that rests on the international community as much as on Libyans themselves.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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