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The (priority) tasks of the new Libyan executive and the (indelible) stains of the previous ones

Special series "Towards a new Libya?" Part 2 of 6

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Thursday, April 8th 2021 à 11:02 | Read 377 times

Who will lead the Libya of tomorrow? Today, no name stands out, other than those of the former contenders: Fayez al-Sarraj, Khalifa Haftar and Saif el Islam Gaddafi. The analysis of their candidacies by the experts of disqualifies them all for their past mistakes.

A fragmented country in search of a new guide to achieve its unity (map:
A fragmented country in search of a new guide to achieve its unity (map:
LIBYA. On Monday 5 April 2021, the new Libyan executive created a national reconciliation commission with the aim of restoring social peace. To stabilize and reunify the country, the newly appointed President and Prime Minister of the transition will have to meet no less than five challenges: succeed in forming a government of national unity (thus reunifying the institutions), regain independence, eradicate terrorism, solve the problem of migration, and revive the economy. Without the resolution of the first two points, the other challenges will remain doomed to failure.

The "interim" government in power will have to hand over the keys to the country to its successors, who will be appointed by the ballot box, with a more or less well-stocked trousseau. This government, recognized by all, will then be committed to the long term. "Among the priorities of this reconstruction I would put everything that the international community had not done after the disappearance of Gaddafi," emphasizes Bernard Valero. And the honorary plenipotentiary minister, former French ambassador and just retired from his position as director general of Avitem (Agency for Sustainable Mediterranean Cities and Territories), specifies: "governance, that is to say, a public administration, border surveillance, taxation (which is not only the management of oil revenues), unified and professionalized security forces."

Future Libyan leaders will not be able to claim to solve problems without exercising authority over the entire country. This means being truly independent in their choices. "In the long term, priority must be given to the departure of all foreign forces and mercenaries present in Libya," said a recent statement by the French, Italian and German foreign ministers, following their visit to the country. "This is essential for the country to regain its sovereignty and unity. It is on these two conditions that Libya will finally be able to turn the page on these long years of crisis that have divided the country and severely tested its population. There is, for the first time in a long time, a window of opportunity, and the three of us have come to support the Libyan authorities in achieving this".

At the end of 2020, a UN report on Libya estimated that there were about 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters on Libyan soil. And in March 2021, these experts mentioned 1,200 mercenaries belonging to the private Russian military company Wagner alone. Not to mention the Chadians, the Sudanese and the Syrians, as well as foreign armies (notably the Turkish army). All of them have been violating the 2011 UN embargo on armed support for the Libyan conflict for years. Noting that no movement in this direction had so far been made, the UN Security Council called Friday, March 12, 2021, the "withdrawal without further delay of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya. For Alain Chouet, this is just wishful thinking: "They will stay. Nature abhors a vacuum and every warlord always needs them to serve his interests. We are in for quite a long sequence of confusion," he analyzes.


Khalifa Haftar is portrayed as a man of betrayals (photo: DR)
Khalifa Haftar is portrayed as a man of betrayals (photo: DR)

A chair for three

"Libya undoubtedly needs a strong person, able to build and hold strong institutions, but without being a new dictator," argues Barah Mikaïl, founder-director of Stractegia and director of the political science and international relations program at the University of St. Louis - Madrid Campus. It remains to be seen who will be strong enough to take on the role of unifier of Libya.

For Henry Marty-Gauquié, honorary director of the European Investment Bank (EIB) and member of the analysis group JFC Conseil, "only General Haftar could claim the title of 'strong man'. But, in my opinion, he has only an inconsistent legitimacy in Libyan opinion and among the tribal leaders. He has betrayed too much and rallied too much to different supporters (Gaddafi, Sudan, USA, Arabia, Russia, to a lesser extent France etc...) to be perceived as a way out for the country." Christian Graeff, former French ambassador to Libya (1982-1985), is even more direct: "Haftar is a born traitor: after betraying his master Gaddafi, he betrayed the Americans who had given him the mission to physically eliminate the Guide of the Revolution."
"Khalifa Haftar is a soldier clearly convinced that the solution will come from the use of force. Trained in Russia, a companion of Muammar Gaddafi before opposing him, exiled to the United States, supported by Islamists, and then fighting Al Qaeda with the support of the United States and the Emirates, he presented himself as an anti-terrorist actor, a role for which he planned to work with Russia and the United States. As such he was appreciated as a possible strong recourse for a reconciled Libya," recalls Vice Admiral Jean-François Coustillière, a member of the JFC analysis group on international relations issues in the Mediterranean.

Moreover, in July 2017, an inter-Libyan meeting, under the auspices of the French government, was held at the Château de La Celle, in the presence of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron. It ended with the signing of an agreement between Fayez el-Sarraj and Marshal Haftar, who were committed to a ceasefire in Libya. "At the end of 2017, Haftar turned the political situation to his advantage, with his forces controlling a large part of the country, to the detriment of the government of national accord and asserted his ability to lead the country. He has thus shown his unreliability and propensity to change alliances. He remains a man of coups and forceful actions," insists the vice-admiral.
The name of Khalifa Haftar does not arouse any enthusiasm either on the side of Alain Chouet: "He was used to annoy Gaddafi, he is a puppet who came out at the right moment. His only interest is to unite some of the tribes of Cyrenaica against those of Tripolitania. For me, he has no future, because no one will bet on him." The former French intelligence officer (1972 to 2007 at the DGSE, where he served as head of the security intelligence service) also points to Khalifa Haftar's age: seventy-eight. "Gaddafi was less than thirty years old when he took power in 1969," he recalls.


Fayez al-Sarraj appointed by the UN and supported by various countries has not been able to pull his weight (photo: DR)
Fayez al-Sarraj appointed by the UN and supported by various countries has not been able to pull his weight (photo: DR)

The failure of Fayez al-Sarraj

Fayez al-Sarraj (61) already had the cards in his hand with his appointment by the UN in 2015 after the Skhirat (Morocco) agreements. These texts allowed the formation of a Government of National Unity (GNA) based in Tripoli. However, the dice were loaded from the start. The Parliament in Tobruk (east of the country) never gave it its confidence, nor did the political and military leaders of Cyrenaica. And let's not talk about the militias scattered throughout the country, even in the suburbs of the capital, which sometimes serve foreign interests.

The example of France showing its support for this decision while providing military aid to his opponent Khalifa Haftar is significant of this lying poker. Fayez al-Sarraj has thus proved nothing about his ability to unite the country. His failure seemed predictable and he was clearly no match for the Marshal, who had tried to win the battle by force by laying siege to Tripoli. Khalifa Haftar even had the audacity to proclaim himself master of Libya's destiny, claiming to have a "people's mandate". Meanwhile, the Western powers were keeping score and waiting patiently to see who would make the cut.

Fayez al-Sarraj only escaped a Libya ruled by Khalifa Haftar thanks to the help of Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has well and truly monetized the umbrella deployed over the Libyan capital (see our fourth part to be published next week). In January 2020, the Turkish president began to deploy his troops there, while signing two agreements with Fayez al-Sarraj. The first on military cooperation, the second on a maritime boundary line allowing Turkey to assert its rights over vast areas - coveted by Egypt, Greece and Cyprus - in the eastern Mediterranean.

For Henry Marty-Gauquié, "the aura of Fayez al-Sarraj is limited to the tribal chiefs of Tripolitania. He is supported only because he serves the interests of the tribes and merchants of western Libya (notably by mobilizing Western and UN manna to rebuild the country). This is not enough to create unity. Alain Chouet strikes out the name of the former President and Prime Minister, "because of his closeness to the Muslim Brotherhood, which scares the Egyptians who will not let him back. All the more so because he is subservient to the Turks."

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi could play the role of outsider (photo: DR)
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi could play the role of outsider (photo: DR)

Gaddafi's son as outsider

That leaves the outsider Saif al-Islam Gaddafi (48 years). The second son of the former dictator regained his freedom in June 2017. Since his departure from the prison of Zintan, in the north of the country, he has spoken little. In June 2017, in December 2017, in March 2018 and in December 2018, relatives were communicating about his candidacy for a future presidential election, while no election date had yet been set. Since then, there has been no news. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is still under threat of an arrest warrant issued in June 2011 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for "crimes against humanity, murder and persecution. The same warrant that allowed his arrest on November 19, 2011 in southern Libya, near the Algerian border. A trial had even taken place, in his absence, with the verdict of a death sentence in absentia. But the militias holding him refused to hand him over to the authorities. Muammar Gaddafi's son was then granted an amnesty by the Tobruk parliament, much to the displeasure of the GNA in Tripoli and the ICC, which is still demanding his extradition to The Hague to stand trial.
"I think he is not acceptable to the Western international community," notes Henry Marty-Gauquié. "Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has a poor image outside his tribe," adds Jean-François Coustillière.
"No more than Fayez Al-Saraj or Khalifa Haftar, he is not legitimate to take over the presidency of a government of national unity," also assures Bernard Valero. "Sarraj and Haftar are too compromised with foreign powers, mainly Saudis, Emiratis, Russians, Egyptians and Turks, to hope to represent solutions acceptable to all Libyans," confirms Jean-François Coustillière. "The Libyans, no more than the populations of other Arab countries, are not destined to support autocratic regimes, whether monarchies or republics," continued the vice-admiral.
Only Alain Chouet has a small but important reservation. "Saif al-Islam could only play a role if he succeeded, like his father, in federating certain tribes in Cyrenaica."


For Bernard Valero, none of the three protagonists mentioned is sufficiently legitimate (photo: F.Dubessy)
For Bernard Valero, none of the three protagonists mentioned is sufficiently legitimate (photo: F.Dubessy)

All disqualified?

In the exclusive interview granted to, Ambassador Christian Graeff is more direct about the three men: "My feeling is that all the has-beens are now out. Of course, everyone will try their luck to take over. But, after almost ten years of chaos and fratricidal struggles, the Libyan people - 183 Arab tribes - will be opposed to old figures returning to the scene."
Same opinion for Barah Mikaïl, "Sarraj and Haftar cannot hold this role, they are not consensual. Gaddafi would be unquestionably rejected by part of the population."

So, all disqualified? Unless... The position of foreign and influential powers on the ground weighs on the choice. "Khalifa Haftar could be imposed by an external power, for example Egypt and behind it Saudi Arabia, or Russia. But I observe that these actors do not seem to want him to take over the country. These powers use it to prolong the chaos or deny al-Sarraj, but not to the point that he wins," analyzes Henry Marty-Gauquié.

For Barak Mikaïl "no name of strong and consensual personality stands out" (photo: Barah Mikaïl Archives)
For Barak Mikaïl "no name of strong and consensual personality stands out" (photo: Barah Mikaïl Archives)

"Hope for the emergence of a less divisive ruling class"

For Bernard Valero, the solution lies in "a government of national unity, because none of the three protagonists mentioned is legitimate enough to take the lead." Barah Mikaïl believes that "certain people from the military elite enjoy a certain respectability. They could perhaps generate a relative consensus in Libya. But the problem is that they would make people fear the imposition of a military order. So the solution must come from the ballot box instead."

The founder-director of Stractegia acknowledges, however, that "at this point, there is really no name of a strong, consensual personality who stands out clearly, so polarized is the country." So here we are, back where we started. Finally, to a blank page to write, far from the mistakes of the past. All hopes rest more than ever on the work of the new team in power, but also on the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), whose members are determined to closely supervise the holding of future elections, especially since they have all declared themselves ineligible during this transition phase.

Jean-François Coustillière hopes for the emergence of a less divisive ruling class (photo: F. Dubessy)
Jean-François Coustillière hopes for the emergence of a less divisive ruling class (photo: F. Dubessy)
Jean-François Coustillière thinks that Abdel Hamid Dbeibah's team "can give hope for the emergence of a less divisive ruling class. While Alain Chouet "does not see an immediate solution even if the situation is not tenable. The new governance will therefore last, because no one will be found to replace it. The power will remain in half measures, but the reunification will eventually take place. When a new Gaddafi comes out of the ranks to kick the asses of all those people who don't want to live together and establish it by force."

Once the stabilization stage is successful, it will be necessary to look at the development of the economy, which today relies on oil rents and will not be able to make.... the economy (sic) of a diversification.


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