By Cansu Yigit
The peace and stability process in Libya led by the United Nations (UN) is going down “a slippery slope” towards the December 24th. The Libyans are the ones likely to pay for a UN failure in Libya, which has been known for the mess it left on its peacekeeping missions all around underdeveloped or unstable countries.
Footsteps of a new conflict are being heard, as the time approaches for the UN-led general elections in Libya on December 24th. A consensus was not reached on the national constitution within the UN-mediated negotiations between the Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU) and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR).
Thus, the most basic issues such as electoral laws, the powers of the elected authorities, and the main governing system are still not defined by law, which has to get in effect as the elections in December get closer. The main issue of disagreement is clear: The HoR wanted to remove the political restrictions for the presidency of Khalifa Haftar, who is currently an American citizen and was declared a war criminal by the Tripoli administration, while the GNU rejects that proposal totally.
The controversial electoral law
Seeing this gap and trying to favor Western fetishism on elections, the HoR President Aguila Saleh sent the electoral law that removed the restriction on Khalifa Haftar’s candidacy directly to the UN on September 8th, without even the approval of the HoR. The law got approved by the HoR, almost a month later on October 4th. Of course, the law was in favor of the potential presidency of Khalifa Haftar.
As expected, the GNU gave a harsh reaction to the law. The UN on the other hand, was pleased. They had been unable to convince these two sides to pass an agreed electoral law for many months and December 24th was approaching. Not holding the national elections would have been a major failure for the UN, and they preferred the hold the election “despite all the flaws, difficulties and risks”, as Jan Kubis the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Libya says, over “no elections at all”.
A game of thrones
And Haftar also announced that he was temporarily stepping down from his military duties, which would allow him to run in the elections. This controversial electoral law states that military officials have to suspend their duties at least three months before the elections in order to run for the presidency, but can return back to their military duties if they lose.
In response to Tobruk’s move, the Libyan High Council of State (HCS) proposed the postponement of the elections for at least a year, to prevent Haftar’s presidential candidacy. The HoR announced that it had withdrawn its vote of confidence from Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh’s interim government to eliminate any possibility of rejection and to force the government to hold elections on December 24th. This move by the HoR was overshadowed by some controversial claims that “not enough votes have been provided”, just like the issue in the electoral law.
Rising accusations and actions taken from both sides have almost eliminated the chance of healthy elections on December 24th. It is clear that Khalifa Haftar will be one of the presidential candidates if the elections are held based on the controversial law passed by the HoR.
This scenario, which is desirable by the Haftar side, which believes on the assumption that multiple candidates from the Tripoli would split the votes, is unlikely to give any healthy results. Strong reactions towards Haftar’s candidacy – or his presidency if he wins – throughout the west of the country, will not surprise anyone.
In the scenario of postponing the elections until a common constitution is drafted, as the Tripoli administration desires, would surely bring back the Tobruk administration’s arguments of legitimacy, as they have done before.
The country is rapidly being dragged into a new climate of conflict between the east, which insists elections on its own terms, and the west, which supports the continuation of the status quo for some time more. Stability and unity are almost impossible to come out of the ballot box on December 24th. But the cancellation of the elections as a whole would also further escalate the power struggle between the two sides.
That is the point where the UN forced the two sides to negotiate for one year, as the oil production in Libya halted and the supplies failed to meet the demands in the market: A dead end.
That is because the balances do not only consist of two components. This problem cannot be explained by a simple east-west conflict. If it were a simple conflict east against west, one of these sides would come out on top, and either a positive or a negative outcome would be reached in 10 years. However, the fire started by the foreign actors, was again fueled by the clashing interest of the same foreign actors. The civil war continued for some time, as Europe, which has an obvious domination over the UN, had its own internal rivalries. The fire was fueled by the Atlantic instruments within the Arab world. However, the involvement of Turkey and Russia after some time re-balanced the equation.
Incompetence of the Atlantic
Europe has not been able to develop or act on any agreed policies against any problems throughout the world, and it has also failed in Libya. The world had to sit and watch the French-Italian rivalry throughout the entire civil war. The dominance of Germany, which tried to take a broader perspective, was not enough to resolve the issue. So it also let it go, and maintained its diplomacy through German companies instead, with the logic of “winner takes all”.
As for the United States: it has not been able to get over the trauma left by the Benghazi attack in 2012, which resulted in the killing of four American diplomats along with the ambassador Christopher Stevens. The US just left Europe in charge and watched the things come over until Russia stepped in. Now they want to take over the restructuring of the Libyan security. Their current goal is to sell as many arms as possible.
The Atlantic has no plans to bring Libya back to its feet. As a matter of fact, they benefit from this oil-rich country to be drowned in turmoil, as long as there are no refugee waves coming into Europe and the oil keeps on flowing. They do not desire a prosperous and a powerful nation right next to them. However, the Atlantic countries, perfectly incompetence, continue to dominate international institutions. That is why their voices are heard pretty loud. And they are very disturbed by the Russian presence in Libya. They do not desire Turkish presence either, but they condone it as long as it “balances” the Russians.
Turkey and Russia can be the decisive actors
Let us remember the last year: Haftar’s plan to capture Tripoli was prevented by the Turkish involvement, and then the counterattack launched by Tripoli hit the Wagner wall on the Sirte-Jufra line.
As today the weapons are about to be drawn again, it can be clearly stated that Turkey and Russia stand out as the two powers that can actually determine the fate of Libya. They are on opposite sides just like in Syria. Although tensions rise from time to time, they can come together for a common solution to negotiations and can get realistic outcomes.
It is clear that Russia’s role will be very decisive if the option of conflict is raised again. Russia, which had been supporting Haftar through Wagner Group, seems to have given up over its tactic of putting all the eggs in the same basket since the formation of the interim government. They desire to normalize the relations with Tripoli. Russia is also known have contacts with Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam.
The Turkish Armed Forces are the force that would balance Haftar, in case of a possible conflict. Turkey has been co-operating with the GNU. Ankara has abandoned its former rough stance towards the Tobruk administration, without establishing diplomatic relations yet.
The main reason for the Turkish presence in Libya is to protect its rights and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. And the United States and France stand out as the main factors against such rights and interests. The other European actors are no different in this. All the effort of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean, from its maritime delimitation agreement with Libya, to the Cyprus issue and the gas exploration crisis, faces strong reaction from the Atlantic bloc. Ankara got into a deep rivalry of national interest with the United States and Europe.
Russia on the other hand, has no special interest in these maritime zones. It does not have any objection against Turkish actions either. It has intervened in Libya, mainly in order to restrict the Atlantic bloc. Although they are on different sides, their interests do not collide with each other. Therefore, they can use their influences on the Tripoli and Tobruk administrations, and stand out as paving the realistic way for a solution. This would be in favor of all: Libya, Turkey and Russia.