Libya’s fate in the balance as UN-led peace efforts sputter

Fighters loyal to Libya's UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) stand atop a tank in the town of Tarhuna, about 65 kilometres southeast of the capital Tripoli on June 5, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Fighters loyal to Libya's UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) stand atop a tank in the town of Tarhuna, about 65 kilometres southeast of the capital Tripoli on June 5, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 05 October 2021

Libya’s fate in the balance as UN-led peace efforts sputter

Fighters loyal to Libya's UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) stand atop a tank in the town of Tarhuna, about 65 kilometres southeast of the capital Tripoli on June 5, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Attempts to restore order in the war-torn North African nation fail to make headway
  • Government of National Unity is tasked with carrying Libya into elections in December

DUBAI: Since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled from power in 2011, Libya has been mired in chaos. A decade on from the protests that led to his downfall, the oil-rich country is wracked by political instability, violence, economic chaos, and, since last year, an explosion in COVID-19 infections.

On Sept. 21, Libya’s eastern-based parliament passed a vote of no confidence in the country’s Government of National Unity, which was installed earlier this year. The provisional body, established to replace two rival administrations that had long fought each other, is supposed to carry the country into national elections scheduled for December 24.

Thus, just as Libya seemed to be making progress toward peace and stability, it again risks sliding into civil war, with fierce clashes breaking out between rival factions in the capital Tripoli.

Foreign involvement is arguably the main reason why Libya has been unable to move on and establish a unified, stable administration. By sponsoring their preferred side in the conflict, experts say external actors have periodically added fuel to the fire.

“The main problem that stands against Libya’s stability is foreign interference and the existence of foreign forces and mercenaries fighting on its soil,” Dalia Al-Aqidi, a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., told Arab News.

“In a country like Libya, achieving security and political stability requires the unity of the different major political players. However, when you have local politicians with foreign agendas and loyalties, it makes it difficult to unite around one shared goal.”

Indeed, experts believe Libya has become little more than a playground for competing foreign interests, with the spoils of war — oil, arms contracts, and strategic influence — up for grabs.

“The extra energy to conquer others has come from foreign support and it is this external support for different groups, patrons, and clients that has kept the conflict going, as has the war economy of smuggling, corruption, bribery, protection rackets, control of critical infrastructures like airports and seaports and oil terminals,” Jonathan Winer, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a former US special envoy for Libya, told Arab News.

The only way such a corrupt and factious system is replaced, says Winer, is with a “unified civilian government that divides up the spoils in a way that is inclusive and provides something for (nearly) everyone.”




Libyan demonstrators lift placards and national flags during a rally in Martyrs Square in the capital Tripoli, to protest the deteriorating political, security, and living conditions in the country, on October 2, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Things did not look so bleak for Libya when Gaddafi fell. Inspired by events in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, young Libyans took to the streets in Feb. 2011 demanding an end to his 42-year rule. But when his security forces launched a deadly crackdown, the movement grew into an armed revolt.

Fearing the regime would slaughter the protesters to maintain its grip on power, the US, France, and Britain sent warplanes to support the uprising. As the conflict turned against him, Gaddafi fled Tripoli but was soon captured and killed by rebels on Oct. 20, 2011.

In Aug. 2012, the rebel-led National Transitional Council handed power to an authority known as the General National Congress, which was given an 18-month mandate to establish a democratic constitution.

Instability persisted, however, with a string of major terrorist attacks targeting foreign diplomatic missions. In May 2012, an assault on the US consulate in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi left US ambassador Chris Stevens and three American staff dead.

Responding to the threat, a Libyan-American military officer Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive against armed groups in Benghazi in May 2014. He named his forces the Libyan National Army and soon won the backing of Arab countries that saw him as their best possible partner in curbing the spread of political Islam, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood.

Although they have both supported UN mediation efforts in Libya, France and Russia have also offered Haftar their backing, the latter allegedly green-lighting the use of mercenaries, a claim that Moscow denies.




Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh (L) gives a press conference; Libyan General Khalifa Haftar (R) writing on a paper at his desk in Benghazi. (AFP/File Photos)

Elections were held in June 2014, producing the eastern-based parliament, or the House of Representatives (HoR), dominated by anti-Islamists. However, in August that year, Islamist militias responded to the result by storming Tripoli and restoring the GNC to power. The Haftar-affiliated HoR took refuge in the city of Tobruk.

As a result, Libya was left with two governments and two parliaments.

In Dec. 2015, after months of talks and international pressure, the rival parliaments signed an accord in Morocco establishing a Government of National Accord. In March 2016, GNA chief Fayez Al-Sarraj arrived in Tripoli to install the new administration.

However, the HoR did not hold a vote of confidence on the new government and Haftar refused to recognize it.

Then, in Jan. 2019, Haftar launched an offensive into oil-rich southern Libya, seizing the region’s capital, Sabha, and one of the country’s main oilfields. In April, he ordered his forces to advance on Tripoli. By the summer, however, with Turkey deploying troops to defend the Tripoli administration, the two sides had reached a stalemate.

What had begun as a popular uprising had degenerated into a proxy war, predominantly centered around competing Turkish and Russian interests in the region.

A UN-brokered ceasefire deal was finally reached in Geneva on Oct. 23, 2020, followed by an agreement in Tunis on holding both parliamentary and presidential elections in December this year.




Fayez Al-Sarraj, former Libyan Prime Minister (GNA) speaking in 2019. (AFP/File Photo)

The Government of National Unity, which is headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, was approved by lawmakers on March 10, 2021.

However, on September 9, Aguila Saleh, the parliament speaker, ratified a law governing the presidential election that was seen as bypassing due process and favoring Haftar. Subsequently, parliament passed the aforementioned no-confidence vote in the unity government, casting the upcoming elections and the hard-won peace into uncertainty.

As a result of this prolonged political discord and internecine strife, ordinary Libyans have seen their living standards collapse and critical infrastructure crumble. Earlier this year the dinar crashed and consumer prices surged.

Fuel shortages and power outages have become commonplace, and even clean water is rare in a country that was once one of Africa’s richest and remains the continent’s second-biggest oil producer after Nigeria.

“Libya is a damaged society but not a wretched one,” Karim Mezran, director of the North Africa Initiative and a resident senior fellow with the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council, told Arab News.

“The biggest problems are the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that the country serves as a major hub of African migration to Southern Europe. Yet, with a modicum of stability, Libya is and should be a wealthy state, given the copious oil and other natural resources it has combined with a relatively small population.”

Instead of emerging from the Gaddafi era with greater openness, economic growth, and productive engagement with the international community, Libya has experienced lawlessness and institutional collapse, becoming something close to a failed state.




Former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi salutes soldiers during a five-hour military parade in Tripoli on Sept. 7, 1999, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Libyan Revolution that brought him to power. (AFP/File Photo)

“A decade of violence and unrest, a struggling economy, and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the challenges faced by all those living in the country,” Tom Garofalo, the International Rescue Committee’s Libya country director, said in a recent statement.

“Today, an estimated 1.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance — a 40 percent increase compared to 2020.”

Experts agree it is leadership that is lacking in Libya. In Winer’s view, the UN needs to be “much stronger, firmer, tougher, and steadier” if it hopes to stabilize the country.

“There needs to be consequences when countries say one thing, like promising to support peace and withdraw their forces and do another, like supporting their clients and keeping their mercenaries and military support in place,” he said.

Jan Kubis, who was appointed UN special envoy to Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya in January, is yet to openly press all parties to force a resolution. “Though it is hard to blame him, given Russian and Turkish reluctance to move forward with removing their mercenary forces, as they promised to do,” Winer said.

Undoubtedly, there has been significant progress in the past year toward resolving Libya’s divisions. Still, many Libya experts, including Al-Aqidi, believe making sure elections take place is paramount.

“December elections represent the best opportunity for Libya to finally achieve peace and stability,” she told Arab News. “It is the one and only way for Libya to recover from violence and chaos.”

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

 


Israel stops plan for contentious east Jerusalem settlement

Israel stops plan for contentious east Jerusalem settlement
Updated 19 sec ago

Israel stops plan for contentious east Jerusalem settlement

Israel stops plan for contentious east Jerusalem settlement
  • The decision to halt the Atarot settlement plan came in the wake of heavy US opposition to the project
  • Plans for the Atarot settlement called for building 9,000 housing units marketed to ultra-Orthodox Jews

JERUSALEM: Jerusalem municipal officials on Monday froze plans to build a contentious large Jewish settlement at an abandoned airport in east Jerusalem.
The decision to halt the Atarot settlement plan came in the wake of heavy US opposition to the project.
Plans for the settlement called for building 9,000 housing units marketed to ultra-Orthodox Jews in an open area next to three densely populated Palestinian communities, one of which is behind Israel’s controversial separation barrier.
The municipality’s planning commission said that it had been favorably impressed with the plan but that an environmental impact survey should first be conducted before it could be approved.
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, a deputy mayor, said the process is expected to take about a year.
The anti-settlement group Peace Now had waged a public campaign against the plan, citing the proposed settlement’s problematic location.
“Let’s hope they will use the time to understand how illogical this plan is for the development of Jerusalem and how much it damages the chances for peace,” said Hagit Ofran, a Peace Now researcher who attended the meeting.
Earlier on Monday, Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, indicated the Israeli government was in no hurry to approve the plan.
Speaking to reporters, Lapid said the plan ultimately requires approval by the national government, with “full consensus” of the various parties in the coalition.
“This will be dealt with at the national level and we know how to deal with it. It is a process and will make sure it doesn’t turn into a conflict with the (US) administration,” he said.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which Israel also seized in that war.
Israel views all of Jerusalem as its unified capital and says it needs to build housing to address the needs of a growing population.
The Palestinians view the continual expansion of Israeli settlements as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace, a position with wide international support. The Atarot project is considered especially damaging because it lies in the heart of a Palestinian population center.
The Biden administration has repeatedly criticized settlement construction, saying it hinders the eventual resumption of the peace process, but Israel has continued to advance settlement plans.
More than 200,000 Israeli settlers live in east Jerusalem and nearly 500,000 live in settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank. Israel’s current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is a strong supporter of settlements and is opposed to Palestinian statehood.
There have been no substantive peace talks in more than a decade.


Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon

Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon
Updated 14 min 20 sec ago

Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon

Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon
  • Interior minister says steps will be taken to prevent smuggling and combat the drugs threat

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Monday held a number of meetings designed to help restore Arab trust in Lebanon, and the country’s diplomatic and economic relationships with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

It followed an agreement, announced in Jeddah on Saturday, by French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to work together to help the people of Lebanon.

The participants in extended meetings at the Grand Serail, the prime minister’s headquarters, included Defense Minister Maurice Selim, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Bou Habib, Agriculture Minister Abbas Hajj Hassan and Industry Minister George Boujikian.

Other officials who took part included Acting Director-General of Lebanon Customs Raymond Al-Khoury, Mohammed Choucair, the head of the Lebanese Economic Organizations, and representatives of the Federation of Lebanese-Gulf Businessmen Councils.

Choucair, who is also a former minister, stressed the need for the organizations to work on resuming exports to Saudi Arabia and said: “We discussed new ways of doing that.”

During the meeting, Mikati said that “Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are fed up of hearing slogans that are not implemented.”

A number of people who were present told Arab News that Mikati stressed the “need to address the gaps,” and that “some issues the Gulf states are complaining about are right. We must recommend measures to address them, such as the establishment of additional towers on the borders with Syria in order to control the border.”

Mawlawi said that discussions had focused on the issue of exports to Saudi Arabia and concerns about smuggling.

He said: “We will take practical measures for anything that might pose a threat to our relations with the Arab states, and I will follow up on all judicial proceedings related to smuggling and combating drugs and captagon.

“We must all take prompt action to control the borders, airport, port and all crossing points, and we must (address) the smuggling happening through Lebanon. We do not disclose all smuggling operations we bust.”

Mawlawi added: “We intercepted a captagon-smuggling operation on Saturday. We are following up on it, and the people involved have been arrested.

“We will give practical answers to the smuggling taking place, and what might pose a threat to our relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in this regard.”

He also noted that “in the case of seized narcotic substances, even if they are manufactured outside of Lebanon and brought to Lebanon to change the manufacturing company’s name and repackage them, the company’s license will be revoked, its work discontinued and its name announced.”

Regarding a call for the restriction of weapons to Lebanese state institutions as a condition for the restoration of Saudi-Lebanese relations, Mawlawi said: “We are implementing the Lebanese state’s policy and highlighting its interests.”

Nicolas Chammas, head of the Beirut Traders’ Association, said that “the biggest problem remains contraband.” He added: “We will work to make Lebanon, once again, a platform for the export of goods, not contraband. We are required to take swift, serious measures and we will take successive measures in this regard.”

Fouad Siniora, a former president of Lebanon, described Saturday’s Saudi-French statement as being “of exceptional importance in these delicate circumstances.”

It “resolves the controversy regarding many issues raised in the Arab region, especially with regard to Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon,” he added.


Egypt to avoid future water crises through investment, minister says

Egypt to avoid future water crises through investment, minister says
Updated 06 December 2021

Egypt to avoid future water crises through investment, minister says

Egypt to avoid future water crises through investment, minister says

CAIRO: Egypt will avoid water crises through investment and construction, Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Aty has said.

In a presentation of the ministry’s strategy through 2050, Abdel-Aty also denied the “black propaganda” which asserts that “Egypt takes the lion’s share of Nile water.”

He said: “97 percent of our water resources come from the Nile and the rest is low percentages of rain and other outlets. Everyone must be aware of the importance of preserving water.”

As part of state efforts to avoid future water crises, the 2017-2037 strategy requires $50 billion in investment and financing, he added, saying that due to population growth, that figure could exceed $100 billion over the coming decades.

Abdel-Aty said: “The new legislation for the Water Resources Law was very necessary, and the executive regulations for this law are being prepared, and they may be completed for issuance within two or three months.”

Egypt’s water needs exceed 114 billion cubic meters annually, according to ministry statistics. Total water resources accounting for reused water numbers 80 billion cubic meters per year, while the total amount of water from renewable resources measures 60 billion cubic meters.

The ministry’s strategy will involve four main areas: Rationalizing water use, improving water quality, providing additional water sources and creating a climate for optimal water management.

“There is no doubt that the water crisis will worsen with time, but the state will not allow a water crisis to occur in Egypt. We will contribute to raising awareness of the importance of rationalizing consumption. There is an optimal utilization of water resources,” Abdel-Aty said.

“We are facing black propaganda that Egypt takes the lion's share of the waters of the Nile, and this is not true.”

He added that Egypt’s climate means that it does not have sufficient access to green water, unlike Ethiopia. “They also have more blue water, and there are lakes in Ethiopia that contain 50 billion cubic meters of water.”

Abdel-Aty said: “Efforts made by the state on the issues of good water management and rationalization have not happened since the days of Muhammad Ali. The political leadership is keen to take all measures aimed at the good management of water resources.”


Arab coalition carries out biggest operation in Marib in 24 hours

Arab coalition carries out biggest operation in Marib in 24 hours
Updated 06 December 2021

Arab coalition carries out biggest operation in Marib in 24 hours

Arab coalition carries out biggest operation in Marib in 24 hours
  • Action comes as the Arab coalition forces have been eliminating militia assets in recent weeks

RIYADH: More than 280 Houthi militia members were killed in one of the largest operations targeting the Iran-backed group in Marib in just 24 hours, the Arab coalition said Monday. 
The Arab coalition said it conducted 47 operations against the Houthi militants in Marib, during which34 Houthi vehicles were destroyed as well as ammunition storage sites, Al Arabiya TV reported.  
The action comes as the Arab coalition forces have been eliminating militia assets in recent weeks, including weapons and personnel.


UAE’s Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed meets with Iranian leader

UAE’s Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed meets with Iranian leader
Updated 06 December 2021

UAE’s Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed meets with Iranian leader

UAE’s Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed meets with Iranian leader

TEHRAN: Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the UAE’s National Security Adviser, met with Iranian president Ibrahim Raisi on Monday, state news agency WAM said in a report.
During the meeting, both sides discussed bilateral relations between the two nations and potential ways to enhance these ties. 
Al-Nahyan and Raisi also exchanged views on several issues of common interest.