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What is next for Libya after the failure of the Geneva dialogue?

A Libyan volunteer takes part in an operation called by parents and teachers to renovate the Libya's Martyrs school, which was damaged during fighting between rival factions, in the capital Tripoli's suburb of Ain Zara, on November 19, 2020. [MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP via Getty Images]
A Libyan volunteer takes part in an operation called by parents and teachers to renovate the Libya's Martyrs school, which was damaged during fighting between rival factions, in the capital Tripoli's suburb of Ain Zara, on November 19, 2020. [MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP via Getty Images]

On 2 July, the UN-led Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) ended four days of talks in Geneva but failed to reach agreement on the task at hand: agreeing a constitutional basis for the proposed presidential and legislative elections on 24 December. The marathon session of the 75-strong group, acting as a mini interim parliament, had already agreed a road map and elected the current interim prime minister of a Government of National Unity, as well as a presidency council, as a safe exit route for the war-torn country.

The announcement of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on Saturday has thrown the entire political process into disarray. UNSMIL's coordinator, the Zimbabwean diplomat Raisedon Zenenga, said that it is "regrettable" that the LPDF failed and that the Libyan people will "feel let down". He did not announce any new talks but "encouraged" delegates to keep talking among themselves, in the hope that they will be able to overcome their differences. However, he warned that any proposal that did not make the December elections feasible "will not be entertained" by UNSMIL.

Among the proposals circulated by delegates is one that calls for the presidential election to be delayed, but for the legislative election to proceed as planned. This contradicts the road map agreed last November. Nevertheless, in an attempt to salvage the talks, UNSMIL tried to have the LPDF plenary vote on this proposal. This casts doubt on the integrity of the process.

Libya's election commission set 1 July as a deadline for it to receive the constitutional document if it is to be able to organise the elections in December. However, the latest failure in Geneva forced it to extend that deadline to 1 August. The commission tried to sound positive by opening the voter registration process but could not offer any guarantees that polling will go ahead. There appear to be two sticking points: who can contest the presidential election and when it should take place.

READ: Foreign troops are not leaving Libya despite Berlin II pledges

An LPDF member and parliamentarian from Gharyan in western Libya, Al-Sayeda Al Yaqoubi, tweeted a copy of a letter signed by 24 LPDF members blaming the failure on UNSMIL's handling of the discussion. The letter questioned why the mission "acts as if it accepts" the idea of delaying the elections despite the fact that "Libyans do not want" any delay beyond December.

Prominent LPDF delegate Mohamed Al-Hisnaoui, from southern Libya, wrote on his Facebook page on 3 July that he blamed "politically corrupt money" for the failure and called for the entire LPDF to be replaced.

German Foreign Minister, Heiko Mass (C) speaks during the Second Berlin Conference on Libya, in Berlin, Germany on 23 June 2021. [Thomas Imo/photothek.de/Pool - Anadolu Agency]

German Foreign Minister, Heiko Mass (C) speaks during the Second Berlin Conference on Libya, in Berlin, Germany on 23 June 2021. [Thomas Imo/photothek.de/Pool – Anadolu Agency]

While October's ceasefire is still holding across Libya, internal political divisions remain strong and the latest failure in Geneva is not entirely surprising. Since 2011, Libya's political factions have become used to agreeing on compromises only to renege on them later.

The hope was that the LPDF, as a relatively small group, might be able to minimise quarrels among its members, helping to reach a consensus and agreement to push the country forward through the election of a new president and legislature. This hope has evaporated, opening the door for further violence to ensue.

In fact, many aspects of the cherished road map have not been implemented. The same goes for the ceasefire agreement which calls, inter alia, for an exchange of prisoners and the departure of all foreign troops and mercenaries from Libya before the elections can be held. Some prisoners are still in jail while Turkish troops and Syrian and Russian mercenaries are still in the country. This is a clear violation of the ceasefire terms and the road map.

READ: What can we expect from the Berlin II international conference on Libya?

What former UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame called the "spoilers" of the political process in the country still appear to be operating with impunity. The lack of action by the so called "international community" on Libya seems to have encouraged, however indirectly, the "spoilers" and weakened the peacemakers. While the Berlin I conference on Libya last year led to UN Security Council Resolution 2510, Berlin II produced more empty rhetoric and unfulfilled promises by not agreeing on any substantial steps to implement the resolution. That gives the "spoilers" a green light to derail the entire political process in Libya.

The question now is whether or not the LPDF will meet again, and when. Replacing the entire team would be difficult; it could take months to assemble a new one. Waiting for the Libyan parliament and the Higher Council of State, as stipulated by the road map, to agree on some legal document for elections is a very risky step, since getting these two corrupt institutions to agree on anything is impossible and is the reason why the LPDF was formed in the first place.

The current UN envoy, Jan Kubis, is recovering from Covid-19 and participated in the Geneva discussions via a video link. His absence meant that his staff, including UNSMIL coordinator Zenenga, to manage the proceedings. According to LPDF members, this is what led to the failure of the talks.

So what is next for Libya? While a renewed military confrontation is not imminent, the lack of political progress makes the holding of the elections in December increasingly doubtful.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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