Will Libya's political stalemate continue?

Flags over the port of Tripoli, Libya's capital.(Photo by Shutterstock).

Political stalemate threatens to deepen the division and prolong the conflict in Libya, says Ahmad Abdel-Rahman.

Libya is not making progress politically and is in a state of political stalemate. With the election of Fathi Bashagha as second prime minister alongside Abdel Hamid Dabaiba, the country appears to be going back to the past. But it needs political unity, especially given the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Moreover, the elections, which were supposed to take place in December last year, and then were postponed to January of this year, are meant to take place in June, as the UN suggested. However, it remains unclear whether elections will ever take place.

At first glance, Libya appears to have returned to where it was until February 2021, when, after years of armed conflict, representatives of competing power groups finally agreed to a transitional government led by Prime Minister Abdel Dabaiba, under the supervision of the UN. That government should have unified the divided state institutions and prepared for elections, while at the same time forming a constitutional committee.

But on February 10, when the parliament in Tobruk, a port city in the east of Libya, elected a second prime minister, former Minister of Interior Fathi Bashagha, the complexity of the situation became clear. The parliamentarians justified their move by saying that the term of Prime Minister Dabaiba, who was appointed in February last year with UN mediation, expired with the December elections. Dabaiba says he does not want to accept this result, and he has not taken any step to resign. The government he leads announced in early March that it would continue work as usual despite the election of another prime minister in the east of the country.

The issue of personal interests

Recent developments in the country reveal one of its main problems, says Thomas Falk, representative of the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Libya, speaking to German broadcaster Deutsch Welle (DW). "In the country's political landscape, there are major figures who seem to think that it is only about themselves and their careers," Falk adds.

Tariq al-Majrisi of the European Council on Foreign Relations and an expert in Libyan affairs, says: "The only thing that is certain is that the new confrontation will be harmful to the Libyans." Al-Majrisi adds that Dabaiba and the other Libyan elites have much more in common with each other than with the people they rule.

Hope for a new constitution

"A new constitution adopted by the stricken country can withstand such a situation," says political researcher Hajar Ali, who researches political constitutions in the Arab world at the German Institute for Global and Regional Studies and Regions (GIGA) in Hamburg. Libya has not had political pluralism for more than 10 years. Therefore, Libya does not know similar institutions. However, even the work itself on the constitution can be influenced by the personal interests of political actors."

"The arbitrary division of electoral districts and regulations regarding party financing are means by which actors want to make it difficult for each other to win elections," Hajar adds.

Relations with Russia

At the same time, it is also now particularly about the ability to make political concessions, in light of the Russian attack on Ukraine. Russia has had a massive military presence in Libya for years and has a significant influence on the country's political development. However, at the beginning of this month, Libya voted in favour of the UN General Assembly Resolution "11/1" condemning the Russian attack on Ukraine.

Moreover, Bashaga posted a series of condemning Russia's attack on Ukraine and describing it as a "clear violation of international law and the democratic sovereignty of Ukraine". He did not consider that Russia welcomed his candidacy for the position of prime minister. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova commented on Bashaga's appointment: "We believe that the decision of the Libyan Legislative Council must be respected."

Effects of the Ukraine war

Libya remains an important center for Russia, says Falk: "Russia has repeatedly asserted its influence in Libya in recent years through its army."

However, there are fears in Libya that a sharp rise in wheat prices caused by the war in Ukraine will have unexpected effects on the Libyan people and other Arab countries. Meanwhile, now that Russia has focused its capabilities on the war in Ukraine, Turkey is likely to regain its strength as a player in Libya.

The war in Ukraine is also likely to have an impact on internal politics in Libya, says Ali, adding that: "Mineral wealth management is likely to play a bigger role in the future than it has so far. " He also says: "Depending on how oil fields are managed, there will be consequences for political actors, for example in terms of patronage."

He adds that political actors may be inclined to harmonize the division of political constituencies and areas of mineral wealth presence. It has already been confirmed that most of the oil deposits are in their own areas. This trend is likely to intensify, "and this is also likely to put pressure on the political agreement."

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Sunday, 25 September 2022