Salame expresses pessimism about Libya’s election prospects

Payments to the militias by the authorities in Tripoli and the milking of the country’s riches by officials were broadly condemned as being at the heart of Libya’s crisis well before Haftar decided to act.
Sunday 22/07/2018
Growing frustration. UN Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame gives a news conference in Farnesina palace in Rome, on July 9.  (AFP)
Growing frustration. UN Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame gives a news conference in Farnesina palace in Rome, on July 9. (AFP)

TUNIS - Every three months or so, UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame gives the UN Security Council an update on the situation in Libya. The latest, in a video linkup from Tripoli, was his most pessimistic. The situation had deteriorated, he said.

He pointed out elections planned for December 10 could not take place in the current circumstances: Libya was on the verge of economic collapse; public services were on the brink of breakdown; terrorists were “lurking”; the number of foreign mercenaries was growing; human trafficking continued, as were human rights abuses; the plight of refugees and asylum seekers was dire; the prospect was for more frequent and more bitter outbreaks of violence.

Elections, which the international community sees as a step to a more stable Libya, were wanted by most Libyans, Salame said, but they were jeopardised because of the actions of a “few.”

“The few who benefit from the status quo will… do whatever they can to hinder elections. Unfortunately, they can do much, especially as they hold crucial, and too often lucrative, official positions,” he added.

Salame’s assessment contained barely disguised criticism of the determined opponents of the internationally recognised Presidency Council government in Tripoli, Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Ageela Saleh, the president of the House of Representatives.

Salame’s exasperation was evident after a brief meeting with Saleh.

“He promised a vote on a law for the referendum of the constitution within the next two weeks and that electoral legislation would be voted upon immediately after. I truly hope this pledge is kept, this time,” Salame said.

The use of the words “this time” was telling and spoke of a lack of confidence.

There was criticism of the various countries that have their own agendas in Libya.

Salame said Haftar’s decision to hand the eastern oil terminals to the parallel Benghazi national oil corporation, since reversed, was a political watershed for Libya. It resulted in the resignation of the last active member of the Presidency Council from the east whom the east accepts as being from the region.

Fathi Majbri, from Ajdabiya and once a lecturer in engineering at Glasgow University, oversaw the Presidency Council’s economic policies. He quit after his home in Tripoli was attacked by a militia. It followed a comment he made about understanding why Haftar had made his decision. He did not say he approved the action but that this was what the attackers apparently decided he meant.

In his televised resignation speech, Majbri said the militias controlled Tripoli, that the Presidency Council was dependent on them and that there was no hope of it having a security force of its own. He called on the Government of National Accord minister of finance to follow his example and quit the government.

In response, Presidency Council head Fayez al-Sarraj suspended Majbri but the affair massively damaged the council, now down to four members. Although its leadership was already very much in the hands of just two — Sarraj (from Tripoli) and Ahmed Maiteeg (from Misrata) — Majbri’s resignation made it apparent that the east no longer has any role in the council.

Majbri’s departure is bound to reinforce the view in the east that the council is controlled by the west of the country, by militias and the Muslim Brotherhood. As such it deepens the separation of Libya.

Payments to the militias by the authorities in Tripoli and the milking of the country’s riches by officials were broadly condemned as being at the heart of Libya’s crisis well before Haftar decided to act.

In his Security Council report, Salame made clear that “frustrations with regards to the distribution of wealth and the endemic plundering of resources” were the underlying issues plaguing Libya.

Despite suspending Majbri, the Presidency Council and other authorities in Tripoli accept that something must change. Immediately after the eastern oil terminals were handed back, the head of the official National Oil Company, Mustafa Sanalla, called for a fair distribution of oil revenues and Sarraj wrote to the Security Council asking for help to review the operations of the Central Bank and ensure transparency on where money was going.

Despite the high probability that the Security Council will respond positively to Sarraj’s request, there is little conviction among the Libyan public, though, that much will change.

In Tripoli, the militias rule the roost and are most unlikely to give up their lucrative position without a fight.

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