In Paris, the international community at the bedside of a Libyan reconciliation in pain

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The head of the government of national unity (GUN) Abdelhamid Dbeibah received in Tripoli, in western Libya, by the Minister of the Interior Khaled Mazen on October 23, 2021.

« Make the electoral process indisputable and irreversible. “This is the objective, one indicates at the Elysee Palace, of the international conference on Libya that Paris is to host on Friday, November 12, at a time when concerns are mounting over the possibility of organizing the double ballot presidential and legislative – initially scheduled for December 24 – in this fragile convalescent country. Co-chaired by France, Germany, Italy, the United Nations and Libya, the Paris meeting will attempt to breathe new life into a reconciliation process barely more than a year after the signing of a ceasefire between the two camps which clashed during the “Battle of Tripoli” (April 2019-June 2020).

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The establishment in March of a government of national unity (GUN) led by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, who was able to integrate into his team representatives of the two rival blocks of East and West Libyans, had seemed good. augury. However, two challenges remained to be taken up in order to consolidate this stammering normalization: the effective holding of the double ballot of December 24 proposed by the United Nations and to which the various protagonists had given their agreement in principle; and the departure of foreign forces – regular or ” mercenaries – resulting from the “Battle of Tripoli” and whose maintenance mortgages Libyan sovereignty.

Tensions and cleavages

The Paris conference, which is being held simultaneously in the capital at the World Peace Forum, was preceded by complicated preparations around the composition of the delegations. While Turkish President Erdogan is not expected to make the trip – because of Greece’s presence among the invited states – Algerian Head of State Abdjelmadjid Tebboune will also shun the meeting because of the recent Franco-diplomatic crisis. Algerian. “The conditions are not met for the personal participation of President Tebboune”Foreign Minister Lamtane Lamamra, who will himself lead the Algerian delegation to Paris, explained in Algiers on Wednesday.

The bilateral conflict – opened by the projection of Mr. Macron at the end of September on the “ Algerian nation ” and the “ Algerian politico-military system “- seems to be experiencing a de-escalation, however, while the French president said Tuesday through his entourage that he” regretted ” the ” controversies and misunderstandings Prompted by his controversial statement.

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Another difficulty in the preparations for the Paris conference came from the Libyan delegation itself at a time when the Libyan executive – with a two-headed structure – is torn by tensions between Mr. Dbeibah’s GUN and the Presidential Council led by Mohamed Al-Menfi. The most recent dispute concerned the fate of the head of diplomacy, Najla Mangoush, whose « suspension » by the Presidential Council – on the grounds that it would have exceeded its prerogatives – is contested by Mr. Dbeibah himself. The probable absence of Mme Mangoush at the Paris conference casts a shadow over the cohesion of Libya’s diplomatic action at a time when the international community is mobilizing for respect for the electoral process.

These tensions are added to other divisions over the holding of these elections, the timetable for which remains unclear. The first round of the presidential ballot is expected a priori to be held on December 24 and the second round on February 14, simultaneously with the legislative elections, announced Saturday the head of the Libyan electoral commission. A postponement of the deadlines is however not excluded in view of the persistent disagreement between the various Libyan actors vis-à-vis the overhaul of positions of power implied by this double ballot. In Cyrenaica (east), dominated by forces favorable to Marshal Khalifa Haftar – holding a strong presidentialist regime – the holding of the presidential ballot is considered a priority while the prospect of legislative elections, secondary. The hierarchy is reversed in Tripolitania (west), especially among the forces revolving around the Muslim Brotherhood, where the election of the Head of State is held in suspicion to prefer that of Parliament.

General blur

The difficulty is compounded by the fact that Libya has still not clarified the constitutional basis which will govern the definition of powers after the double ballot. In this general vagueness, each of the forces is above all preoccupied with maintaining its prerogatives and preserving its interests, judging only by this yardstick the validity of the ballots, as well as their modalities.

The best illustration is the play of Prime Minister Mr. Dbeibah, who seems tempted to launch into the presidential race but, according to a European diplomatic source, inclines towards a postponement of the poll in order to better prepare for it. ” He estimates that he needs another two or three months to finish buying the votes with all the promises he gives out left and right. », Confides this source.

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His candidacy, if it were to be confirmed, would raise multiple difficulties because it would contradict the rules laid down by the United Nations roadmap – approved at the end of 2020 by the Libyan forces – prohibiting a holder of institutional functions from standing for election. For his part, Marshal Haftar, whose candidacy is also likely, threatened in the spring to resume military action if the electoral process – hearing the presidential ballot – was hampered. In Tripolitania, Khaled Al-Mishri, president of the High Council of State – a consultative body – and linked to the Islamist movement has in turn threatened a resumption of violence in the event of an election of Haftar to the head of state.

Therefore, the forced organization of this double ballot, under pressure from the international community but in the absence of a real consensus between Libyan forces, does it not risk reviving the specter of unrest in Libya? , or the exact opposite of the effect initially sought? A number of analysts fear it. ” Instead of preventing a conflict from erupting, elections could catalyze it », Warns Wolfram Lacher in a note disseminated by the site of the German Institute for International Affairs and Security (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, SWP), based in Berlin, of which he is a researcher.

Derailment of the process

The derailment of an ill-conceived electoral process could also revive the game of foreign forces present in Libya. Despite recurring calls to “Departure of foreign forces and mercenaries” – especially at the international conference in Berlin in June – little progress has been made on the ground. “Foreign forces and mercenaries continued to operate across Libya with no discernible sign of curtailing their activities”, noted a report from the United Nations Mission for Libya (Manul) dated August 25.

The international conference in Paris should consider the departure from Libya of “Mercenaries” Africans – especially Sudanese and Chadians – which motivates the presence in Paris of delegations from Sahelian States. The case of the presence of Russian fighters from the Wagner security company in the pro-Haftar camp – in Cyrenaica and in Fezzan (south) – or of the Turkish armed forces in Tripolitania remains untouchable to this day.

Both Moscow and Ankara, which have let the West push the fire around the upcoming dual electoral ballot, could come back more ostensibly in the event of further unrest. ” In the absence of a strong United Nations mission in Libya, reports a former UN employee, a new conflict would allow the Russians and the Turks to regain control of Libyan mediation. »

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In Paris, the international community at the bedside of a Libyan reconciliation in pain

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