International powers quietly shelve December plan for Libya election

Armed forces allied to internationally recognized government fight with an armed group in Tripoli. (Reuters/File)
Updated 07 November 2018
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International powers quietly shelve December plan for Libya election

  • Shelving the plans for presidential and parliamentary elections is the latest setback for Western powers that helped topple Muammar Qaddafi
  • Diplomats say delayed reforms introduced in Tripoli in September can only partially ease Libya’s economic woes

TUNIS, CAIRO: The UN and Western powers have given up hope that Libya will hold elections in the immediate future, focusing on reconciliation first among rival factions locked in a cycle of conflict, diplomats and other sources said.

In May, France had persuaded major players in the North African country to verbally agree to elections on Dec. 10 as a way of ending repeated rounds of bloodshed between competing factions that emerged after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.

But weeks of fighting between rival militias in the capital Tripoli and deadlock between rump parliaments in Tripoli and th¡e east has made that goal unrealistic, Western officials argue.

Shelving the plans for presidential and parliamentary elections is the latest setback for Western powers that helped topple Muammar Qaddafi seven years ago before stepping back and seeing hopes for a democratic transition crumble.

Instead of pushing for a vote as a short-term goal, UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame will focus in a briefing to the UN Security Council on Thursday on staging a national conference next year and fixing the economy, diplomats said.

The conference would aim to forge consensus in a country divided between hundreds of armed groups controlling mostly minimal territory, towns, tribes and regions. 

Libya has two governments, a UN-backed administration in the capital and a largely powerless eastern version aligned with influential veteran commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control much of the east. Salame will also push again for economic reforms to end a system benefiting armed groups that have access to cheap dollars due to their power over banks.

There was no immediate comment from the Tripoli-based government or the eastern-based Parliament. Diplomats say delayed reforms introduced in Tripoli in September, including a fee on purchases of foreign currency, can only partially ease Libya’s economic woes as long as the central bank remains divided and predatory factions retain their positions.

The reforms have so far done little to improve conditions for ordinary Libyans hit by steep inflation and a cash crisis linked to the fall of the dinar on the black market.

For the militias, the sources said Salame would outline a new “security arrangement” for Tripoli aimed at depriving them of control of key sites and integrating their members into regular forces —  something that has proved elusive in the past.

Salame is the sixth UN special envoy for Libya since 2011.

Talks to unify rival camps launched in September 2017, shortly after Salame took up his post, ground to a halt after one month with Haftar’s role a key sticking point. Many in western Libya oppose him, fearing he could use the position to seize power.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army says it is committed to the election process, in which Haftar himself is a possible candidate.

UN efforts to stabilize Libya have long been undercut by the divergent agendas of foreign powers.

The international community formally backs the transitional government in Tripoli, but Egypt and the UAE have lent Haftar support and European states including France courted the commander as his power grew.

France led the push for elections, believing it could benefit from helping fix the Libya conflict, before realizing the country was not ready for a vote, diplomats say.

“We have to accelerate the process, which is what Salame will say and push on with going to the ballot box,” a French official said. “The calendar on elections will slip, but that’s not a problem.”

France has vied for influence with Italy, which has sought to protect its oil and gas interests and stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean by building ties in Tripoli, where it is the only Western country to fully reopen an embassy.

Italy is hosting a conference in Palermo next week, where Salame’s roadmap will be discussed.

In recent weeks, Western powers and the UN have quietly stopped talking about the election in December, without formally declaring it dead.

“The idea is now that Salame will talk about a national conference and economic reforms so people hope the Dec. 10 date will quietly pass away,” said one source familiar with UN plans.

Elections remain the goal, but progress on the ground toward better governance and security were needed in place of “extended additional thinking sessions,” said a senior US administration official.

“I think pinning everything on a single date for an election has not proved a successful strategy,” the official said.

“We are personally less vested in a date than the quality of the election, and I do think we have some work to do.” 


Egypt races to reduce impact of $5 billion Ethiopian dam

Updated 37 min 34 sec ago
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Egypt races to reduce impact of $5 billion Ethiopian dam

  • Research group warns of ‘dire humanitarian consequences’ over disputed Al-Nahda project
  • Ethiopia plans to store 74 billion cubic meters of Nile water behind the dam

CAIRO: An international research group has warned of “dire humanitarian consequences” if a controversial Ethiopian project to dam the Nile leads to conflict with Egypt and neighboring Sudan.

The $5 billion dam is a source of friction between the three countries that could spill over into open hostility, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report.

Egypt and Sudan fear the dam, now being built near the Sudanese border, could reduce available water to both countries.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or Al-Nahda dam, has been under construction since 2011 and is due to be completed in 2022. When finished it will be the largest dam in Africa, generating about 6,000 megawatts of electricity for domestic use and export.

Dr. Abbas Al-Sharaki, a water resources expert at the Institute of African Studies at Cairo University, told Arab News that Egypt is likely to face a water crisis in the future because of the dam.

Planned negotiations on the dam between the leaders of Egypt and Ethiopia are unlikely to succeed, he said. 

Ethiopia plans to store 74 billion cubic meters of Nile water behind the dam, which would affect the 55.5 billion cubic meters of water that Egypt currently gets from the Nile. Ethiopia’s leaders insist the dam will also benefit all three countries.

Dr. Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the former Egyptian minister of irrigation, said that the impact of the Ethiopian dam on the Egyptian water quota is inevitable, but Egypt is looking to reduce its effects and delay it as long as possible until other resources are raised.

Dr. Hisham Bakhit, professor of water resources at Cairo University, said that Egypt is conducting large-scale research to reduce the impact of the dam.

Egypt has many sustainable solutions to manage the Nile’s water, he said.

The country gets 90 percent of its irrigation and drinking water from the Nile, and has “historical rights” over the river guaranteed under treaties in 1929 and 1959, Bakhit said.

MP Mustafa Al-Jundi said that Egypt has the right to appeal to the African Union, the African Parliament, the UN and international courts in the case of Ethiopia’s intransigence.

Mohamed Abdel-Ati, Egypt’s minister of irrigation and water resources, said this week that Cairo does not oppose the development ambitions of any country “as long as they don’t harm any shares in water or threaten national security.”

The ministry is working to tap all sources of water and implement modern methods in irrigation. Desalination and wastewater treatment plants, and experimental studies into salt water farming are among Egypt’s plans to ensure reliable future supplies, he said.

The Al-Nahda dam was 60 percent complete before work stopped in August as a result of a funding crisis. In January, a Chinese company, Voith Hydro Shanghai, signed a deal to build the turbine generators at the dam.