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UN alarms over volatile security situation in Libya

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, July 26th 2022 à 15:15 | Read 981 times

A new wave of demonstrations, armed skirmishes between supporters of the two prime ministers, the dismissal of the president of the oil company, multiple governments, Libya is sinking into chaos because of the failure to organize elections. The UN is concerned... once again.

Like its capital Tripoli, Libya is experiencing an increase in demonstrations and armed skirmishes (photo: UN/Abel Kavangh)
Like its capital Tripoli, Libya is experiencing an increase in demonstrations and armed skirmishes (photo: UN/Abel Kavangh)
LIBYA. "We have seen demonstrations by Libyans frustrated by the lack of progress in holding elections and poor public services. In addition, the human rights situation in the country remains of great concern. In her statement to the UN Security Council on Monday 25 July 2022, Martha Pobee highlighted the "continuing constitutional and political impasse" in Libya. Alarmed by a security situation that "remains highly volatile", the UN Under-Secretary-General also stressed that "military activity has also increased in the western region, in particular on the eastern flank of Tripoli, in Misrata and in the outskirts of Sirte".

Libya has seen an increase in demonstrations since the beginning of July 2022. On 1 July several took place in Tripoli, Benghazi, Al-Bayda and Tobruk. The parliament building in Tobruk was attacked and damaged.
But the country is also experiencing, more and more regularly, armed skirmishes. They oppose the supporters of the Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU) Abdel Hamid Dbeibah in power since March 2021 in Tripoli to the supporters of Fathi Bashagha, the other rival Prime Minister appointed in February 2022, then confirmed the following month by the Parliament, and sitting in Sirte, for lack of being able to do so in the capital.

On the night of 21 July 2022, clashes between militias took place in Tripoli and two days later in Misrata. Despite a ceasefire signed in October 2020, the third civil war is still raging. Libya has still not recovered from its revolution, eleven years after it ousted Muammar Gaddafi from power and assassinated him in October 2011. Its successive leaders have not managed to find the path to democracy, although it was paved by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum established in January 2021 under the aegis of the UN and which carried so many hopes.

Democracy requires elections

The cocktail of political divisions, deteriorating living conditions, electricity crisis and fuel shortages explains this upsurge in demands and armed conflicts. Martha Pobee urged Libyan politicians to "listen to their people" and "show responsible leadership by responding to their grievances". She reiterated the position of the United Nations and the priority given to the return of the electoral process. The fact remains that the institution's powerlessness in this area is obvious, while the ballot box remains the only way to make Libya a democratic state by giving it indisputable institutions.

Scheduled for 24 December 2021, then postponed to 24 January 2022, the presidential election could never be held. As for the legislative elections, they were supposed to take place at the same time and then, in February 2022, Abdel Hamid Dbeibah announced them for June 2022. Yet another pipe dream.

At the beginning of June 2022, Stephanie Williams, the UN Special Adviser on Libya, slammed her fist on the table and demanded that the Libyan rivals reach an agreement and establish a constitutional framework that would allow them to finally organise elections (a presidential and legislative) in the country. It gave them a week as they entered the third and final round of negotiations in Cairo. It was a waste of time as the sequence of events showed.

Fathi Bachagha sent a letter to Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, on 22 June 2022, stating that he would "undertake all necessary efforts to organise elections in Libya as soon as possible". But no election date is on the Libyan political agenda.

Disputed dismissal of Libya's oil company chairman

The UN Under-Secretary-General is also concerned about the dismissal of Mustafa Sanalla on 12 July 2022. The historic chairman of the NOC, the national oil company, who has been in office since 2015 and who had managed to get through all the crises until now, is in question. Abdel Hamid Dbeibah has decided to replace the man who constantly fought to neutralise the oil sector, with Fahrat Bengdara, former governor of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL).

Mustafa Sanalla, supported by the Tobruk Parliament which no longer recognises Abdel Hamid Dbeibah as Prime Minister, has made known his refusal to leave his post. He will challenge the appointment of his successor in court.

"I am aware that questions have been raised about the legal basis of my appointment. The Libyan government has the right to appoint the chairman and the board of directors of the NOC. I have been officially appointed chairman by the government of national unity," Fahrat Bengdara said in a statement on Tuesday 19 July 2022. Most of the NOC's subsidiaries and affiliates (Zallaf Libya Oil and Gas, Zueitina Oil, Jowfe Oil Technology Co., Akakus Oil Co. and Mellitah Oil and Gas Co.

This politicisation of the NOC is not insignificant in a country where oil resources represent 97% of state revenues, i.e. 103.4 billion Libyan dinars ($22.39 billion - €19.90 billion) in 2021 according to the CBL. Martha Pobee "stresses the need for the NOC to remain neutral and free of political pressure" and calls on the actors involved to "overcome their differences". She insists that these natural resources "belong to all Libyans" and the revenues generated by their exploitation must therefore be distributed fairly and used to improve public services.

Oil, by blocking its infrastructure or taking control of it, has always been a weapon of blackmail between the different rivals for more than a decade.

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