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Holding Libyan elections on time almost impossible: Ambassador Ibrahim Grada - Daily News Egypt

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Holding Libyan elections on time almost impossible: Ambassador Ibrahim Grada

Outputs of Berlin II Conference celebrated language of consensus without real mechanisms, says Grada


A hundred days ago or more, and in extremely complex geopolitical circumstances, the Libyan Government of National Unity assumed the task of managing the country in an agreement between the factions in the country. 

It took the constitutional oath before the House of Representatives led by Speaker Aguila Saleh, and in the presence of international representatives, to begin its exceptional tasks within nine months.

The new government aimed to prepare the Libyan scene for elections by the end of this year, according to what has become known as the “Berlin track”.

On the one hand, and before these developments took place, there was a military advance by the forces of Commander Khalifa Haftar, Head of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), towards the Libyan capital, Tripoli. 

This took place under the pretext of expelling Turkish mercenaries, and among the manoeuvres led by the former Al-Wefaq government in the west of the country led by Fayez Al-Sarraj, at the time. 

The latter similarly criticised what it called the spread of Russian and Syrian mercenaries in the east of the country. 

The country emerged from a state of congestion by choosing the national unity government led by Abdel Hamid Dbeiba, and the Presidential Council led by Muhammad Al-Manfi.

The first hundred days have passed since the Libyan government took the constitutional oath, amid a number of positive endeavours, in an attempt to stave off the actual division.

It has already hit several roadblocks, however, including the Prime Minister failing to visit the east of the country to meet with Haftar, amidst the continued presence of mercenary forces.

In an interview with Daily News Egypt, Ambassador Ibrahim Mousa Grada, the former Senior Libyan Adviser to the United Nations, talked about the challenges of the current stage. He also outlined his vision of the results of the Berlin II conference, and his perception of the Egyptian role in Libya.

The Berlin II conference ended a few days ago. How did you see its outcomes?

Its results and attendance were less than the first Berlin conference, as its output points exceeded 50. All of these celebrated the language of firm international consensus regarding the definition and termination of the foreign military presence, the date and conditions of the planned elections, and standing with the national unity government, without specifying real mechanisms for this. 

This reflects the international and Libyan differences over the Libyan crisis. It means that the international consensus around it has not matured, and it may take a long time to be resolved. It is confirmed by the approach with the US summits, with the G7, the European Union (EU), NATO, and with Russia, so that it becomes clear that the Libyan issue has become secondary to the global agenda.

I confirm that the Egyptian role, which I see as the most important regarding Libya, who believe that his new positive communicative approach with all parties, will be effective and useful in shortening the life of the Libyan crisis, and alleviating it politically and in terms of living standards.

How do you assess the Libyan scene after 100 days of the new government?

The Libyan scene is in a state of stagnation with no stability, a state of no war and no peace. The geographical lines of contact are still separated, despite the formal unity in the national unity government. 

There are still two military and security authorities, just as the first stage of optimism collided with the inherited political reality and the difficult economic living situation. Evidence of this is the ongoing military confrontation, the delay in adopting the budget, the failure and inability of the Prime Minister to visit Benghazi in eastern Libya, and the lack of agreement on the presence and exit of foreign forces.

What is important is the general popular refusal to return to war, unless provoked and agreements on the ground are bypassed, or if some countries are pushed towards escalation.

Do you think the government-led moves will lead to the upcoming elections being held on time?

I don’t think so, because of the lack of practical seriousness. Statements are closer to “cliches” for popular consumption and media marketing. But not all the blame can be confined to the government for several reasons, including urgency, a lack of realistic goals, and insufficient time. 

There are serious political, security, and societal obstacles, and practical and logistical requirements, that cannot be overcome and achieved in this very short time frame. This raises question marks about the intention and purpose of the UN mission and who pushed for setting the date of the elections. Of course, the desire of the real authorities, centres of influence, and interests from the current situation to delay the elections cannot be ignored.

How do you see Turkey’s moves on the ground, and what is their impact on the current political decision in Tripoli?

The Turkish moves are part of a broader scene that includes the Russian presence (Wagner) in central, eastern, and southern Libya. This is in addition to regional and international turmoil and balances from the eastern Mediterranean basin and Syria to Ukraine and Western Europe.

In this context, it is important to know the US and British position, as well as NATO, on Turkey’s role in confronting Russian expansion. Thus, it is difficult to estimate the ability of the political decision in Tripoli, as long as Russia and other parties continue to support the camp led by [Commander Khalifa] Haftar. The two parties are in a state of apprehension and fear of each other.

But the important thing is to find an equation and schedule for the exit of the foreign military presence, especially that of Russia and Turkey, in a manner that does not prejudice the fragile peace, and that does not give an external party greater power and dominance in Libya.

I would also like to point out that the Turkish role is complicated internally, as it is linked internationally to the position of the US and NATO on the Russian presence in Libya and its encirclement, and its balance with the Turkish presence in Libya.

Without these two internal and international elements, it is difficult to talk about a quiet exit. This is alongside the fear that one of the international parties will exploit this reality by launching military operations against the Russian or Turkish presence.

Who did Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Al-Manquosh address in her statements highlighting the need for foreign mercenaries and fighters to exit Libya? 

The [minister’s] statements outlined the Libyan popular and official demand. This is a political trend that enjoys broad popular support, and it needs the agreement and consensus of all political authorities, from the Presidential Council, the Government of National Unity (GNU), the Parliament, the Supreme Council of State, the forces of eastern Libya led by Commander Haftar and the forces of western Libya led by Major General Mohamed Al-Haddad. They need a practical agreement on this issue.

How did you read the visit of the head by Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) to Tripoli and Benghazi?

It was a good, useful, courageous, and timely step and message, and as evidence, it was accepted and applauded by public and political opinion across Libya, including the parties in the west of the country.

This visit, which came after the visit of Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, confirms the Egyptian presence and interest in the stability and unity of all of Libya. This is not an important point for the Libyan interior and the outside as well.

The Egyptian role and performance towards Libya and its current difficult crisis, I believe, has witnessed an important qualitative and quantitative development. The country’s new role is an important and professional role that confirms the long, deep, and broad bonds between Libya and Egypt as neighbours, with a popular overlap, and intertwined political, economic, and security interdependence.

It also provides Egypt with a greater positive role and influence in its expected contribution, and provides an international political opportunity for the Egyptian regional role. There is no closer, more knowledgeable, and more anxious country than Egypt and the Arab neighbourhood regarding the stability, unity, and prosperity of Libya.

There is an important point that must be pointed out, as a Libyan citizen and a specialist in political affairs, is that there are some Egyptian media outlets that still speak sharp, non-neutral discourse between the Libyan parties. This should be addressed, as it does not help in the nationwide calm, which calls for a more friendly and understanding discourse. 

For all Libyan parties, this helps Libya to overcome its crisis, and also strengthens the Egyptian position and the recent positive moves, which I mentioned.

How do you see the escalating crisis between Parliament and the government regarding the state budget’s adoption?

It is not a crisis between Parliament and the government. Rather, it is closer to the competition between Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh and Prime Minister Dbeiba, than as a statement of the balance of power. It reflects the Speaker’s keenness to preserve some power cards to negotiate in his hands, so that it is not exceeded after approving the budget, especially after guaranteeing the ministerial quotas.

Although this procrastination preserves the political role of Saleh, it hinders and delays the stage of unifying the geography and Libyan institutions at a difficult time that is complicated by the approaching date of the elections and the real and serious questions surrounding their holding.

How do you see the operation announced by the LAAF recently to confront terrorism in the south and expel mercenaries?

Libya is a large country with a vast area. The south is mostly desert in nature, with long borders and a very low population density, with the presence of irregular migration lines, crime, and cross-border terrorism.

In light of many circumstances and challenges, including Commander Haftar’s limited forces, the vast area we are talking about, and the presence of areas under the allegiance or subordination of the forces of western Libya, it is difficult to talk about the ability and possibility of this move in effectively confronting terrorism.

Realistically, let me say in an abstract way that perhaps this move is a political message to employ the fight against terrorism, to gain new localisation territories, and to put pressure on the national unity government.

It is also a message to Algeria in response to its recent statements, and serves as a reminder of the importance of opening a channel of communication with Haftar, as well as a reminder to France and the US that Libya is needed to fight terrorism and stabilise the African Sahel countries.

A few days ago, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi spoke in The Times newspaper declaring his intention to return to political life and to run in the presidential elections. How do you see his chances, as a son of Gaddafi, to become president of Libya?

Personally, I tend to find it difficult to think that full presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on time. Other challenges include if they happen, that they take place across Libya in peace, as well as the results being accepted. 

As for Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi’s intention to run, it was stated through a press article, and it was not directly from him. In principle, he is a full-fledged Libyan citizen, like any Libyan who has the right to run. To achieve this, it is required to solve some obstacles, including appearing with a personal statement about his intention to run, and from there solving existing Libyan and international political and legal issues and demands.

What are the most prominent challenges and obstacles that his candidacy may face, if it is fulfilled?

In principle, there are no obstacles, but reality has a say in that, and even if these obstacles are overcome, Saif Al-Islam needs to formulate a national political discourse and narrative that guides and reassures all Libyans.

I think that the return and emergence of Saif Al-Islam in the Libyan political arena is the most important variable than his candidacy for the elections, as it will place him as a declared political party in the political arena with supporters and opponents.

How do you see the preparations for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, expected next July?

The Committee of the 75th Libyan Political Dialogue Forum [which is devoted to resolving laws on the basis of which the presidential and parliamentary elections will be held] has also changed due to the death and resignation of some of its members. 

Since the selection of the Presidential Council and the Prime Minister, alongside the scheduling of elections, there have been developments and changes in reality, positions, and political alignments. These will reflect on the ability of the Dialogue Committee to reach agreement and consensus on the legal basis for elections, and the voting mechanism will be difficult to conduct. 

Here, a serious question arises about the extent of the seriousness, knowledge, purpose, intention, and reliability of the previous UN mission when it turns a blind eye to a conscious assessment of reality, in order to rush to score points and achieve hollow media victories that the Libyans pay for in the unity and stability of Libya.

Are Libyan politicians able to unite behind a consensus president in the upcoming elections under international support?

The issue is not the Libyans’ acceptance of a consensus president, but rather that he be strong, resolute, and possess a unanimous national vision in this circumstance. So far, no consensual national figure has emerged that succeeded in gathering a Libyan majority around him from all of the country’s geography and diversity.

Arguably and hypothetically, even if a Libyan citizen was elected and won the presidency after two electoral rounds, and won 75% of the voters who make up 75% of those entitled to vote (that is, 56% of Libyans), the rest who reject him will be resistant to him. 

In light of social fragmentation, political dissonance, and geographical division with the proliferation of weapons and direct and indirect external interference, this may lead to the deterioration of the situation and its descent into wider conflicts for a longer period of time.

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