Despite the efforts of the United Nations (UN) and the international community, the seventy-five delegates of the Forum for Political Dialogue in Libya (LPDF) were unable to agree on the legal framework necessary for the organization of the Libyan elections. scheduled for December 2021. Consequently, the context and practical arrangements for the elections remain to be defined. Moreover, foreign actors continue to undermine Libya’s stability by exerting influence on its state-building process.
General Kamel’s mission to Tripoli
On June 17, the director of Egyptian military intelligence, Major General Abbas Kamel, visited Tripoli and Benghazi with the aim of easing the tensions generated in the previous days between General Khalifa Haftar and the prime minister of the government. of National Unity (GNU), Abdul Hamid. Dbeibah. The visit, organized at very short notice, was also organized by the Egyptians to discuss the ongoing negotiations for the preparation of the elections next December with the authorities in Tripoli. In addition, the parties discussed the conditions for ensuring the security of the country and the exit of all foreign troops and mercenaries still widely present throughout Libya.
According to the Egyptian press, General Kamel told Dbeibah both of Cairo’s disappointment in maintaining Turkey’s role in the country and of the Syrian militias linked to it, and of General Haftar’s availability towards the definition of an agreement with the GNU. An agreement which, according to the Egyptians, could also include his candidacy for the presidential election.
General Kamel tried to convince the authorities in Tripoli of the need to dissolve the numerous militias still present and to accelerate the start of the exit of the Turkish forces and the Syrian militias associated with them, arguing that this condition constitutes the prerequisite for General’s arrest Haftar’s hostile posture.
On the GNU side, however, the Egyptian narrative was not only dismissed but also substantially overturned, justifying both the Turkish presence and that of the militias as a direct consequence of General Haftar’s aggressive action.
Although the government in Tripoli is, in principle, prepared to encourage the exit of the Syrian mercenary forces and to integrate the various local militias as much as possible into an embryonic national army, the knot of the direct Turkish presence remains untied. Turkey’s military and political programs in Libya have long-term objectives and are supported by the desire to create a permanent military and economic garrison essential for the development of political and commercial synergy with the country.
This knot is difficult to untie. On the one hand, Egypt is trying to untangle it thanks to the mediation capacity of General Kamel and the Egyptian secret services. On the other hand, Egypt offers no real assurances to the GNU regarding General Haftar’s control and his well-known intemperance.
Another aspect which upsets Egypt is the de facto refusal of Tripoli to accept the proposal of integration between its own militias and those of the Libyan National Army (LNA), with a view to the creation of a unitary national army. . The unification of the Libyan military apparatus will be a long-term objective of the stabilization process, and Egypt’s insistence on accelerating this process risks being seen in Tripoli as an instrument to surreptitiously promote the consolidation of the power of General Haftar. . Therefore, General Kamel’s insistence in this direction could frustrate the minimum opening recorded in recent months between Tripoli and Cairo, consolidating the role of the Libyan militias and probably broadening the consensus around the presence of Turkey. and especially of its soldiers.
The GNU authorities did not appreciate the comments made by General Kamel during his continued visit to Libya, when, on his return to Cairo, he stopped in Benghazi to meet with General Haftar, to whom he spoke. reiterated its invitation to “prepare the forces of the Libyan National Army” for the imminent elections. The de facto hypothesis of the ANL forces as a military structure guaranteeing the elections is one of the countless controversies accompanying the preparation for the elections next December, and it is clear that no one in Tripoli intends to entrust the ANL with such a role. . Thus, General Kamel’s statements in this regard seem highly inappropriate in Tripoli and fuel the well-established fears that accompany Egypt’s role and its manifest party with General Haftar.
The failure of the Geneva Forum
The efforts of the UN, through its support for the organization of the LPDF, aimed to define the legal framework in which to organize the elections scheduled for December 24. Unfortunately, the LPDF has systematically failed in its ability to build consensus, which reflects the broad sphere of dissent that characterizes the political and social context of Libya.
It was the UN itself that announced that the work of the forum was not moving forward with a statement released on July 3, highlighting the attempt by some political forces to derail the now defined roadmap and postpone the elections. .
Five days of forum work in a hotel on the outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland, where seventy-five delegates met with the main objective of designing the regulatory framework for the December elections, ended in a deadlock. None of the proposed constitutional formulas for the organization of the poll found majority consensus, while UN coordinator Raisedon Zenenga said any proposal to postpone the poll date will not be considered.
The outcome of the meeting seems to reveal an insurmountable set of differences between the delegates, which is certainly not limited to the legal framework necessary for the organization of the elections. There are many aspects on which the Libyan parties are unable to find a common position. First of all, there is a lack of clarity and agreement on the electoral context, as neither the scope of the vote nor the way in which it will be expressed has yet been precisely defined. Since it is not yet clear for which offices will be elected, it is therefore impossible to establish the eligibility criteria and how the vote will be managed, especially given the de facto division of the country into three entities. distinct, each characterized by its own autonomous management.
The UN proposal to limit the December vote to the election of a legislative assembly (thus extending the duration of the current transitional executive, which is chaired by Dbeibah, until subsequent elections for the choice of the new executive) drew criticism from at least a third of forum members, making it an impractical option.
The question linked to the presence of foreign forces on Libyan soil – where it is estimated that more than twenty thousand mercenaries are currently engaged on several fronts – is also central.
In addition, the establishment of the decision-making process that will control and allow candidates to stand for election will be particularly complex. There could be some very polarizing and controversial names among the various candidates, like that of General Khalifa Haftar. While part of Libyan society regards his candidacy as legitimate and legal, another part considers his candidacy unacceptable and categorically rejects it.
The Libyan Forum’s Geneva talks were a failure. The differences expressed by the seventy-five delegates representing Libya’s heterogeneous political and social context seemed insurmountable, and no agreement was reached even on the most fundamental questions relating to the legal definition of the constitutional framework in which to organize the vote.
In addition to the already significant divisions expressed by the Libyans, there are issues linked to the rivalries between the main international players, particularly on the military level, in local dynamics. With less than six months from the date of the elections, it is still not known for which posts will be voted, on the basis of what criteria, when and in what context of security and transparency.
On the fate of the Forum and the elections hangs the specter of candidacies from controversial and very polarizing personalities, such as General Haftar, and it is therefore urgent to define a legal framework that sets the eligibility criteria and the management of the selection process. of the future Libyan executive.
On the contrary, personalism and purely fractional interests risk compromising a phase which has only recently been characterized by the possibility of a solution to the many obstacles which stand in the way of the country’s normalization.
Karim mezran is Director of the North Africa Initiative and Resident Principal Investigator of the Rafik Hariri Center and the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs, focusing on change processes in North Africa.
Nicola Pedde is director of the Institute for Global Studies in Rome, Italy.