Egypt, France to push for elections in Libya before year’s end

The flurry of political activity in Cairo attests to the presence of an international political will to end the Libyan crisis.
Sunday 06/05/2018
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) speaks during a news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, on April 29. (AFP)
International focus. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) speaks during a news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, on April 29. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egypt and France agreed to push efforts to stabilise Libya to allow for general elections before the end of this year.

Stability, a more efficient fight against terrorism, reconciliation between political and military rivals and strong state institutions are necessary if Libya is to overcome its security and political problems, a statement issued by the governments in Cairo and Paris said.

“There is an urgent need for completing the formation of Libya’s state institutions,” said Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid. “The presence of strong institutions in a country like Libya will speed up state building and national unity.”

This was one of the issues featured in April 29 talks in Cairo among French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

The political process in Libya, Le Drian said, must move forward, adding that “this will ensure that the electoral process could be completed by the end of the year.”

The optimistic comment was before two suicide bombers attacked an electoral commission office in Tripoli, killing at least 14 people. Earlier, Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar visited Derna, raising expectations a massive military operation targeting terrorist groups in the north-eastern Libyan city would soon begin.

Libya has become a problem spot for the international community since it fell into lawlessness in 2011. Cairo has hopes that Paris can use its international leverage to rally support to unify the Libyan military establishment and pressure countries sponsoring Islamist militias in Libya.

Le Drian’s visit coincided with developments that demonstrated international concern about the situation in Libya and unanimity on the need to stop it from falling deeper into unrest.

Representatives of the International Quartet on Libya — the Arab League, the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations — met April 30 in Cairo to discuss progress on national reconciliation. They discussed unification of the Libyan military and sending observers to oversee Libya’s general elections. They also agreed on the need to support state institution building in Libya and speeding up as-yet unscheduled general elections.

“The building of state institutions is very important for Libya’s future,” said UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame. “Nonetheless, it is equally important for the international community to support these institutions once they are there.”

This is what Libyan observers have been demanding. The flurry of political activity in Cairo, they acknowledged, attests to the presence of an international political will to end the Libyan crisis.

“However, some of the members of the international community still work to serve their very narrow interests by backing specific militias and terrorist groups,” said Libyan rights activist Aliaa al-Ubaidi. “Libya is badly in need of international pressure on those members to suspend their support for these terrorist groups.”

The Libyans accused Turkey and Qatar of offering support, including weapons shipments, to Islamist militias in Libya. Ankara and Doha were also said to have been easing the movement of militants from Syria and Iraq to Libya.

Egyptian officials said they hoped increased stability in Libya would improve security conditions in the country and neighbouring ones. Cairo said most of the arms that end up in Egypt, and particularly with terrorist groups in the country, originate in Libya.

Libya has also been a major transit point for illegal migrants to Europe, with boats carrying hundreds of migrants trying to reach European coasts every week.

Preparations for Libyan elections were moving ahead, with the country’s election commission registering voters — as of March, 2.4 million of an estimated eligible voting pool of 4.4 million had registered — and preparing logistics for the electoral process.

However, the May 2 electoral commission office attack indicates how difficult it will be to have elections in the country.

In addition to potential violence, the chances for elections taking place before the end of the year lessen if the main political players in Libya fail to set aside partisan interests and the interests of international backers.

“The international focus on players on the Libyan scene, rather than on the goal of bringing Libya as a state back to life, causes rifts and delays in bringing stability back to the country,” said Gamal Salama, a professor of political science at the Suez Canal University in Egypt.

“This is why, if those meeting on Libya in Cairo are really sincere, they should stop procrastinating on who they should support and start working to push for an inclusive solution to the problem.”