Libya’s Wish for Peace

© Shutterstock - Hussein Eddeb - Tripoli, Libya - February 14, 2021: Libyan flags flying over the capital of Libya, Tripoli. Tripoli skyline view.

Holding the next elections in Libya on December 24th, 2021, is not fortuitous, but it coincides with the 70th anniversary of the unification of the country by King Driss Senoussi.

From the Italian colony in 1911, to the Franco-British colony after the Second World War, Libya quickly became a constitutional confederal kingdom in 1951. The country was made of three provinces: Cyrenaica in the East, Tripolitania in the West, and the Fezzan in the South.

Cyrenaica and Tripolitania were both previously colonized by the British, while Fezzan was colonized by the French. On December 24th, 1951, the Emir of Cyrenaica, Driss Senoussi, reunited all three provinces in a confederal constitutional monarchy, under his authority, his decision was supported by the National Constituent Assemblies that had been elected in all three regions in 1950. The three regional assemblies adopted the Constitution of October 7th, 1951, reintroducing the confederal regime that King Driss had abolished in 1963 and therefor reunited the Kingdom of Libya again.

Libya has long lived divided under different regimes, except Gaddafi’s, which started on September 1st, 1969, when King Driss was overthrown, and lasted until October 23, 2011, with the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Under the dictatorship of Gaddafi, Libya remained united. But today, years on, an ordinary Libyan citizen identifies more with the ruling and politics of King Driss Senoussi, whom many now say was a ‘saint for the people’ when compared to the Gaddafi days and his green book.

Gaddafi looted Libya and visitors see no trace of billions of dollars neither in oil revenues, nor in road or airport infrastructure. The Libyans try to forget the past 42 years of their history and misery, although the following decade [2011-2021] did not bring them the expected benefits, nor better days. The euphoria following the fall of the dictator Colonel quickly wore off with the rise of armed groups and an ongoing battle to settle scores between different actors, which has continued since 2014. Today, Libyans hope for real multi-layered change, with new opportunities offered by possible new faces in office.

The armed groups which surfaced during the revolution of February 17, 2011, disrupted the political balance in Libya, a temporary balance that blossomed from that same revolution. The military intervention in Libya, decided by the Security Council in March 2011, allowed the insurgents to drive out Gaddafi. But no one has helped to stabilize the new Libya politically despite two free and democratic parliamentary elections, that were held in the recent years. Despite previous elections [the General National Congress on July 07, 2012, and the Chamber of Deputies elections on June 25, 2014] Libya is still unstable with elected politics powers that lack the needed strength to impose change under the rule of law. One example of how armed groups keep influencing the scene in Libya is all those failed attempts to form a presidential guard under the authority of the government, this has been aborted by armed groups repeatedly, they want to keep controlling the state.

The results of two previous elections [2012 and 2014], showed that Libyans are in favor of civil and modernist currents. Islamist currents have been largely beaten at the polls. In 2012, the ‘Union des Forces Nationales’ led by modernist Mahmoud Jibril obtained 48.14% of the vote, while the Justice and Construction party of Mohamed Sawan got 10.27% of them.

In 2014, out of the 188 deputies elected in the Chamber of Deputies, only 30 were close to the Islamists. The Libyans want a life similar to the one lived by citizens of the Gulf, so they elected Mahmoud Jibril who had already offered his expertise to the Emiratis.

But the wishful thinking of the citizens did not please the ideologized militias, whose leaders had worked in bin Laden's entourage in Afghanistan. These militias refused to acknowledge the results of the 2014 elections, prompting the Chamber of Deputies and the government [which did not have loyal armed forces under their command] to flee Tripoli towards Toubrouk and Al Baydha, in eastern Libya, where General Khalifa Haftar was beginning to form regular armed forces.

The lack of rule of law in Libya meant that everyone allowed themselves to establish their own authority and chose the limits of their power, this rhetoric groomed, indirectly, the growth of groups like Daesh, in cities like Benghazi, Sirte and Derna.

It had taken General Haftar a war of attrition lasting nearly three years [from 2014 to 2016] to annihilate these militias in Benghazi, where they had entrenched themselves in the ancient city. The army of the Government of National Union of West Libya took nearly seven months [between May and December 2016] to drive Daesh [ISIS] out of Sirte, where Daesh had claimed a whole area, as their province.

Meanwhile, loyal troops had received support from the US air force, which carried out 492 strikes, they were brutal. Ultimately, it was down to the Battle of Derna, which General Haftar launched in June 2018 against the radical group. This resulted significant progress since his army was already well established and specialized in street warfare. If these three battles against Daesh and terrorists in Libya proved anything, it’s that a strong anti-terrorism front was being established in the war-torn country, observers already saw this as an advantage that might result in a more united Libya soon.

After the defeat of extremist groups, general elections were expected in Libya, which would ultimately organize the political scene and lift the country out of chaos. But different political groups were tempted to govern alone and were encouraged to seek this by their international sponsors.

At the beginning of 2019, the Eastern forces led by General Khalifa Haftar, occupied southern Libya, which was abandoned. France was concerned about the stability of this region bordering Chad and Niger, so France encouraged Haftar's troops who, at the same time, took over the rest of the oil fields. Haftar then marched to Tripoli on April 4, 2019, thinking he would be welcomed in the city. But it was a miscalculated step and Haftar's troops had to withdraw from the city by September 2020.

The rulers of Tripoli then appealed to the Turks, who brought thousands of men and military equipment to balance the situation, driving Haftar back to his bases in the east.

There is no winner or loser in the military field, these years of war have impoverished the population. The Libyan dinar, which traded for $ 1.3 in 2014, was down to $ 0.22 in 2021. Life has become very hard for average Libyans who feel that their wages became insignificant in the face of rising prices. And if the Libyans did not revolt, it was because they were afraid of armed groups in the West and of Haftar's forces in the East, they were surrounded and sometimes caught in the middle of a war that was not theirs.

Few demonstrations were organized in September 2020 against the high prices and inflation, but they were quickly manipulated and used by the authorities in place, in both the East and the West of Libya. Some may ask: how come the country did not break down collapse even more? The answer is simple: Oil continued to flow, and the Central Bank continued to distribute salaries for Libyans, they also provided compensation for basic products. So, Libyans manage to survive yes, they are fed up with politicians on both sides of the ruling.

All Libyans supported the ceasefire agreement reached in September 2020, which speaks of more equity in the distribution of oil money, transparency in the management of state affairs and transition Politics. Everyone therefore hoped for the success of the negotiations that were launched by the UN Delegation at the end of 2020, to ensure a fair and peaceful handover of power so that elections can be help.

The two sides of the Libyan crisis, in the East and West, understand that the population blames them both for the ongoing crisis in Libya, political figures have therefore been forced to accept the concept of dialogue imposed by the United Nations associating them with the civil society and tribes, seeking a solution to end the crisis. Dialogue rounds took place in Morocco, Geneva, Switzerland, Egypt and Tunisia. The discussions focused on the partition of power, the strengthening of the armistice, the distribution of wealth and positions of responsibility between the three Libyan regions, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan. Inter-Libyan dialogue has intensified since September 2020 and continued after the ceasefire agreement. The last dialogue meeting, held in Geneva in February made it possible to choose the Libyan transitional authority that will lead to the elections scheduled for December 24, 2021.

The political commission chose the new Presidential Council, formed by President Younes El Menfi from the East, the 1st Vice-President, Abdallah Ellafi from the West, and the 2nd Vice-President and President, Moussa Al Kouni from the South. They came to the agreement on February 5 in Geneva, the head of government was also assigned, a businessman from Misrata, called Abdelhamid Dbeyba.

A team of 35 ministers won the confidence of the Chamber of Deputies unanimously. Libyans and the international community applauded this solution, the new rulers have already crisscrossed Libya east, west, and south, something the previous government and the former Presidential Council never did in their five years in office. El Menfi, Ellafi, El Kouni and Dbeiba seem to have the Libyans’ support and confidence, but the challenges ahead are many, and the security situation might be beyond their control.

Before her departure, former United Nations interim envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, spoke of 20,000 foreign fighters present in Libya. Turkish troops are settled in the West at the El Witya air base, 120 kilometers in the south of Tripoli, while thousands of Syrian mercenaries were brought back by the Turks to support the outgoing government of Sarraj against the attack of General Haftar.

To the east, Russian troops are settled near the Gardhabya air base, 20 kilometers from Sirte, in addition to the Sudanese mercenaries.  It’s no secret that the military map is as complex as ever, and this is a challenge for the new government in Libya. The new Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Najla Al Mangouch, has repeatedly called for the departure of the mercenaries: No government can implement change and accomplish stability, if its incapable of finding permanent solutions for the security situation where around 20,000 armed fighters are out of control and positions against one another, even if it’s a government heavily supported by the people.

In addition to the complex security situation and the different militias and axes involved, the new Libyan power will have to deal with a socio-economic crisis. Libyans however believe in their new government and in its leader, Abdelhamid Dbeiba, who seems certain that the war is ending, and the general elections will be held in December, as he pledged to make it happen.

About the Author

Mourad Sellami
Mourad Sellami is a Tunisian journalist, trainer and expert in media development in Tunisia and North Africa. Currently, He works as the correspondent of the French-speaking Algerian daily El Watan in Tunisia and Libya. As a specialist in the media’s role in counter-terrorism, Sellami has developed a network of 120 citizen journalists in six North African countries (Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya) during the period 2014-2018, as part of the 'Dune-voices' project, funded by the British Foreign Office. The network is still operational.