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Paris Conference on Libya: dodging the hard questions while ignoring the easy ones

November 18, 2021 at 8:27 am

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) welcomes President of the European Council Charles Michel (L) for the International conference on Libya at the Maison de la Chimie in Paris, France on November 12, 2021 [Albert Cara – Anadolu Agency]

Paris has just hosted yet another international conference on Libya that ended with a very long communiqué expressing support for the country’s planned 24 December elections and threatening with sanctions those who might attempt to spoil the polls in any way.

The gathering that brought together over 30 countries and regional organizations, including the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union, did not have a specific agenda. The general theme of the meeting was to support “a Libyan-led and owned political process”, facilitated by the United Nations, that could lead to “a political solution” in the conflict ridden country, the statement said. How to translate such nice words to deeds remains unclear.

In threatening potential domestic or foreign actors who might attempt to obstruct the elections, the Conference statement said, any such individuals or entities will be “held accountable and may be designated” by the UN Sanctions Committee in accordance with UNSC resolution 2571 adopted last April. However, this is not the first time punitive measures are threatened against instigators of violence in Libya, but no one has been held accountable, so far, despite all that has happened in the country.

Libya is, in fact, still under sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council resolution 1970, adopted in February 2011, banning the transfer of arms and fighters to its territory. More or less the same sanctions have been repeated in every subsequent UN resolution adopted by the UN. The most recent of such resolutions is resolution 2510, which was adopted by the Security Council last year after the Berlin conference on Libya—another international gathering hosted by Germany.

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Yet, almost all UN sanction resolutions on Libya have, so far, remained toothless. Different countries involved in the Libyan conflict, through local proxies, simply ignore them while attending every international meeting that pledges to end the flow of arms and fighters into Libya.

Would the Paris Conference threat of sanctions be any different, is doubtful. The long list of pledges made in the Conference is unlikely to be backed by new UN resolutions so as to give it some kind of power. Among the pledges made in Paris was the demand that all foreign troops and mercenaries leave Libya. Turkey, with troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries in Libya since 2019, did not sign up to this particular pledge in the final communiqué. Russia did not comment at all, since it never acknowledges any military presence in Libya, despite its Wagner Group maintaining thousands of mercenaries in the country. Moscow always says it has no links to the private military company!

Even Libya’s current interim Prime Minister, Abdulhamid Dbeibah, appears to ignore relevant UN resolutions on the crisis in his country. The Libyan Political Dialogue Form, that selected him as Prime Minister last February made it a condition that all individuals running for prime minister should not contest the December elections. Yet, Mr. Dbeibah is likely to do the opposite.

While he has not yet announced his candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections, he has not ruled out the idea. In the press conference at the end of the Paris meeting, the Prime Minister was asked by a Libyan reporter if he would hand over power after the 24 December elections and if he would contest the polls.

He replied, “I will hand over power” after the elections but he simply did not answer the second question.

Once back home, the Prime Minister continued what many see as a political election campaign funded by government resources.

In a speech before students in Tripoli on 16 November, he promised young Libyans pieces of land for free, for those wishing to build their homes. He also said that his government will continue the marriage grants program he launched last September—a controversial handout to young people wishing to get married.

In the same speech, the Prime Minister criticised the election laws as “flawed”, promising to reject them. This puts him in breach of what he signed up to, in Paris three days before—this could mean obstruction of the elections!

Dodging the question about him running for elections, he said, “I will announce my decision at the right time.” People close to him have already said that he will run for president. Whatever he decides, he must submit his application as candidate before the 22 November—the deadline for the elections commission to accept nominations.

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While the Paris Conference made little difference in tackling Libya’s internal strife it has, at least, put Libya, once again, on the world map, particularly in the West.

Last October, President Emmanuel Macron admitted, for the first time, that his country’s military intervention in Libya, a decade ago, was a mistake. From March to October, 2011, France and its NATO allies launched an air and sea campaign against Libya that led to the downfall of the late Libyan leader, Muammer Gaddafi. The Western military intervention came in support of rebels fighting the Gaddafi government. While much of the country was destroyed in the civil war, the NATO intervention left Libya in chaos.

In light of Mr. Macron’s admission, many observers think the Paris Conference is another French gesture designed to give the impression that Paris is not abandoning Libya in its search for peace and security. Western countries, including France, were accused of deserting Libya after destroying the former regime while they are morally responsible to help the country get back on its feet again.

However, for Libya to become a stable and peaceful country, international meetings remain a photo opportunity as long as they fail to implement their decisions on the ground.

The Paris Conference came less than three weeks after another conference in Tripoli, Libya, on 21 October, in which the same countries which participated in the Paris Conference pledged support for Libya’s elections. Repeating the same pledges, again, in Paris is worthless and remains no more than empty talk.

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