Libya’s peace remains fragile as election disputes defy resolution

Special Libyans protest at Martyrs’ Square in the capital Tripoli after Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi, son of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, announced his candidacy in the upcoming presidential election. (AFP)
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Libyans protest at Martyrs’ Square in the capital Tripoli after Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi, son of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, announced his candidacy in the upcoming presidential election. (AFP)
Special Libyans protest at Martyrs’ Square in the capital Tripoli after Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi, son of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, announced his candidacy in the upcoming presidential election. (AFP)
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Libyans protest at Martyrs’ Square in the capital Tripoli after Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi, son of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, announced his candidacy in the upcoming presidential election. (AFP)
Special A billboard along a street in Tripoli urges LIbyans to register and vote. (AFP)
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A billboard along a street in Tripoli urges LIbyans to register and vote. (AFP)
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Updated 10 January 2022

Libya’s peace remains fragile as election disputes defy resolution

Libya’s peace remains fragile as election disputes defy resolution
  • Splits over electoral rules and who can run for office dog first presidential election since Muammar Qaddafi’s overthrow 
  • Further election delay seen as a blow to the international community’s efforts to reunite the war-weary country

DUBAI: Libya occupies a sensitive position for the security of Arab and European countries and in managing the Mediterranean region’s migration flows. Yet a road map for the restoration of the oil-rich nation’s security and stability continues to elude the international community. 

Libya’s first presidential election since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 was due to take place on Dec. 24, amid hopes of finally unifying the war-torn North African country after years of bitter upheaval.

However, just two days before the UN-sponsored polls were due to open, the vote was postponed amid logistical hurdles and ongoing legal wrangling over election rules and who is permitted to stand.

Libya’s electoral board called for the election to be postponed for a month, until Jan. 24, after a parliamentary committee tasked with overseeing the process said it would be “impossible” to hold the vote as originally scheduled.

Even now, 10 days into the new year, it is unclear whether the election will go ahead at all. Many fear that the fragile peace in the country could collapse if disputes over the election are not resolved quickly. 

Any further delay would deal a significant blow to the international community’s hopes of reunifying the country.

“This is a critical moment for Libya and the indications are increasing, day by day, that we are running out of time to have a free and fair election,” Ben Fishman, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News.

“The multiple court cases against leading candidates has limited the campaign season. This all shows that these elections are not being run on an agreed constitutional basis. More time is needed to resolve fundamental issues, not just on who is able to run but also on what the powers of the president will be.”

 

Without an agreement concerning those powers, Fishman said, the election could result in an “increasing recipe for more polarization, as well as an increasing potential for more violence and not less.”

One particularly controversial candidate to emerge ahead of the vote is Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of Muammar Qaddafi and a strong contender for the presidency.

On Nov. 24, a court ruled him ineligible to run. His appeal against the decision was delayed for several days when armed militiamen blocked the court. On Dec. 2, the ruling was overturned, clearing the way for him to stand.




A handout picture released by the Libyan High National Commission on Nov. 14, 2021, shows Seif Al-Islam Qaddafi (right) registering as presidential candidate. (AFP/Libyan High National Electoral Comission)

A Tripoli court sentenced Qaddafi to death in 2015 for war crimes committed during the battle to prolong his father’s 40-year rule in the face of the 2011 NATO-backed uprising. However, he was granted an amnesty and released the following year by the UN-backed government. He remains a figurehead for Libyans still loyal to the government of his father.

Qaddafi is not the only divisive candidate. Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who in September temporarily suspended his command of the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army to run for office, also faces legal proceedings for alleged war crimes.




Khalifa Haftar submits documents for his candidacy for the Libyan presidential election at the High National Election Commission in Benghazi on Nov. 16, 2021. (AFP)

According to Jonathan Winer, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a former US special envoy for Libya, the chances of success for the election were seriously undermined from the beginning when the Haftar-affiliated House of Representatives devised the rules.

“These elections have become increasingly chaotic,” he said. “The process over who gets disqualified and who doesn’t is, at least, somewhat flawed, imperfect, and with so many candidates the idea that anyone would get a majority is ludicrous — no one will get a majority.”

Given the ongoing disputes, Dalia Al-Aqidi, a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C, believes even Jan. 24 is overambitious for a rescheduled vote.

“Despite all the continuous calls for the importance of holding the Libyan presidential elections to help the country to cross to safety and prevent a new wave of violence, the possibility of this happening is slim due to the lack of agreement between the major key players, divisions on the ground, and foreign interference,” Al-Aqidi said.

“Holding elections in January is a difficult task since none of the obstacles that led to postponing the electoral process were addressed or dealt with by local leaders nor the international community.

“Less than one month is not enough time to solve all the issues that prevented the Libyans from casting their votes and that includes the conflict over the nomination of candidates.”

FASTFACTS

Factions continue to disagree over basic electoral rules and who can run for office.

Parliamentary committee said it would be “impossible” to hold the vote as scheduled.

Al-Aqidi is concerned that factional fighting could resume if foreign interference continues. “The likelihood of violence and chaos is very high, especially with the increase of the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts in the country due to its loss everywhere else in the region,” she said. 

“The group, which is supported by Turkey, is looking at Libya as an alternative to Tunisia, which was its last stronghold.”

The Washington Institute’s Fishman also doubts the election will take place later this month, but remains cautiously optimistic that a serious uptick in violence can be avoided if dialogue continues.

“It appears now that an immediate threat of violence is less likely as different actors are talking about next steps,” he said. “Because of these talks, the date is likely to be extended beyond late January, or even several months after.

“The international community should support these internal Libyan talks and UN-brokered conversation and not take a specific position right now on the timing of elections until a better consensus is more clear.”

The appointment on Dec. 7 of Stephanie Williams as UN special adviser on Libya offers some hope of getting the process back on track. Williams led the talks that resulted in the October 2020 ceasefire in Libya.

“She’s deeply immersed in the issues and knows all the parties, and can hopefully pull a rabbit out of a hat and do what her predecessor was not able to do and come up with a game plan and a timeline,” said Fishman.




Stephanie Williams, UN special adviser on Libya. (AFP)

The road to the presidential election in Libya was never going to be easy. In August 2012, after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, 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, including a string of major terrorist attacks targeting foreign diplomatic missions. In September 2012, an assault on the US consulate in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi left US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.

Responding to the threat, Haftar launched an offensive against armed groups in Benghazi in May 2014. He named his forces the Libyan National Army.




Smoke rise in Tajoura, south of Tripoli, following an airstrike on the Libyan capital by forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar sometime in mid-2019. (AFP file photo)

Elections were held in June 2014, resulting in the eastern-based parliament, the House of Representatives, which was dominated by anti-Islamists. In August that year, however, Islamist militias responded by storming Tripoli and restoring the GNC to power.

The House of Representatives took refuge in the city of Tobruk. As a result, Libya was divided, left with two governments and two parliaments.

In December 2015, after months of talks and international pressure, the rival parliaments signed an agreement 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 House of Representatives did not hold a vote of confidence in the new government and Haftar refused to recognize it.

In January 2019, Haftar launched an offensive in oil-rich southern Libya, seizing the capital of the region, Sabha, and one of the country’s main oilfields. In April that year he ordered his forces to advance on Tripoli.

By the summer, however, after Turkey deployed troops to defend the administration in Tripoli, the two sides had reached a stalemate.

A UN-brokered ceasefire was finally agreed in Geneva on Oct. 23, 2020. It was followed by an agreement in Tunis to hold elections in December 2021.




A Libyan man registers to vote inside a polling station in Tripoli on November 8, 2021. (AFP)

A provisional Government of National Unity, headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, was approved by lawmakers on March 10, 2021. On September 9, however, Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the House of Representatives, ratified a law governing the presidential election that was seen as bypassing due process and favoring Haftar. (In November Saleh himself threw his hat into the ring.)

Subsequently, the House of Representatives passed a vote of no-confidence in the unity government, casting the election and the hard-won peace into doubt.

Even if an election does take place in January, Libya still has a long way to go before a stable administration is formed and a durable peace is achieved.

___________________

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


EU worries may not cross ‘finishing line’ to revive Iran nuclear deal

EU worries may not cross ‘finishing line’ to revive Iran nuclear deal
Updated 30 June 2022

EU worries may not cross ‘finishing line’ to revive Iran nuclear deal

EU worries may not cross ‘finishing line’ to revive Iran nuclear deal
  • “Iran has yet to demonstrate any real urgency to conclude a deal, end the current nuclear crisis and achieve important sanctions lifting,” Richard Mills said

UNITED NATIONS: The European Union said on Thursday it was worried it may not be possible to strike an agreement to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal after indirect talks between the United States and Iran ended this week with no progress.
“I am concerned that we might not make it over the finishing line. My message is: Seize this opportunity to conclude the deal, based on the text that is on the table. The time to overcome the last outstanding issues, conclude the deal, and fully restore the (agreement) is now,” European Union Ambassador to the United Nations Olof Skoog told the UN Security Council.
The Security Council met to discuss the latest report by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the implementation of a 2015 council resolution that enshrines the nuclear deal, under which Iran limited its nuclear program to make it harder to develop an atomic weapon in return for sanctions relief.
“Iran has yet to demonstrate any real urgency to conclude a deal, end the current nuclear crisis and achieve important sanctions lifting,” Richard Mills, Deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations, told the meeting.
Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage the nuclear pact ended in Qatar without the progress “the EU team as coordinator had hoped for,” EU envoy Enrique Mora tweeted on Wednesday. 


Four killed in Sudan as protesters rally on uprising anniversary

Four killed in Sudan as protesters rally on uprising anniversary
Updated 30 June 2022

Four killed in Sudan as protesters rally on uprising anniversary

Four killed in Sudan as protesters rally on uprising anniversary
  • Security forces fired tear gas and water cannon as they tried to prevent swelling crowds from marching towards the presidential palace
  • Some protesters carried banners calling for justice for those killed in previous demonstrations

KHARTOUM: Four protesters were shot dead in Sudan on Thursday, medics said, as large crowds took to the streets despite heavy security and a communications blackout to rally against the military leadership that seized power eight months ago.
In central Khartoum, security forces fired tear gas and water cannon as they tried to prevent swelling crowds from marching toward the presidential palace, witnesses said.
They estimated the crowds in Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Bahri to be at least in the tens of thousands, and to be the largest so far this year. In Omdurman, witnesses reported tear gas and gunfire as security forces prevented protesters from crossing into Khartoum.
The protests mark the third anniversary of huge demonstrations during the uprising that overthrew long-time autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir and led to a power-sharing arrangement between civilian groups and the military.
Last October, the military led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan toppled the transitional government, triggering rallies that have called on the army to quit politics.
Some protesters carried banners calling for justice for those killed in previous demonstrations. Others chanted, “Burhan, Burhan, back to the barracks and hand over your companies,” a reference to the Sudanese military’s economic holdings.
Earlier, protesters barricaded some of the capital’s main thoroughfares with stones and burning tires.
June 30 also marks the day Bashir took power in a coup in 1989. “Either we get to the presidential palace and remove Al-Burhan or we won’t return home,” said a 21-year-old female student protesting in Bahri.
It was the first time in months of protests against the October coup that Internet and phone services had been cut. After the military takeover, extended Internet blackouts were imposed in an apparent effort to hamper the protest movement.
Staff at Sudan’s two private sector telecoms companies, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities had ordered them to shut down the Internet once again on Thursday.
BRIDGES SHUT
Phone calls within Sudan were also cut and security forces closed bridges over the Nile linking Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri — another step typically taken on big protest days to limit the movement of marchers.
In recent days there have been daily neighborhood protests.
On Wednesday, medics aligned with the protest movement said security forces shot dead a child during protests in Bahri. Thursday’s four deaths, all in Omdurman, brought the number of protesters killed since the coup to 107. There were large numbers of injuries and attempts by security forces to storm hospitals in the capital where they were being treated, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said.
There was no immediate comment from Sudanese authorities.
The United Nations envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes, called this week on authorities to abide by a pledge to protect the right of peaceful assembly. “Violence against protesters will not be tolerated,” he said.
Military leaders said they dissolved the government in October because of political paralysis. As a result, however, international financial support agreed with the transitional government was frozen and an economic crisis has deepened.
Burhan said on Wednesday the armed forces were looking forward to the day when an elected government could take over, but this could only be done through consensus or elections, not protests.
Mediation efforts led by the United Nations and the African Union have so far yielded little progress.


Joint Egyptian-Bahraini statement stresses depth of relationship and need for coordination

Joint Egyptian-Bahraini statement stresses depth of relationship and need for coordination
Updated 30 June 2022

Joint Egyptian-Bahraini statement stresses depth of relationship and need for coordination

Joint Egyptian-Bahraini statement stresses depth of relationship and need for coordination
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa conclude Manama talks
  • Both countries affirmed the “unity of a common position and destiny toward all regional and international issues and developments of common interest”

CAIRO: In a joint statement at the conclusion of talks between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Egypt and Bahrain stressed the depth of the two countries’ relations, and the need for coordination and cooperation to confront the challenges of the region, maintain its security and achieve stability. 

The joint statement was issued after bilateral talks at Sakhir Palace in Manama.

Both countries affirmed the “unity of a common position and destiny toward all regional and international issues and developments of common interest,” and an “increase in the pace of economic cooperation for broader horizons that would support the common interests of the two brotherly countries.”

The two sides agreed to “coordinate joint efforts to combat terrorism and its organizations and prevent its financing, and to spare the region the dangers of destabilising activities.”

They also stressed “support for Arab efforts to urge Iran to abide by international principles of non-interference in the affairs of Arab countries, to preserve the principles of good-neighborliness, and to spare the region all destabilising activities, including supporting armed militias and threatening maritime navigation and international trade lines.”

Both countries highlighted “supporting international efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, ensuring the peacefulness of Iran’s nuclear program, strengthening the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency, maintaining the non-proliferation regime, and the importance of supporting efforts to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.” 

With regard to the Renaissance Dam crisis, Bahrain’s ruler expressed “the Kingdom of Bahrain’s full support for Egyptian water security as an integral part of Arab water security,” and urged Ethiopia to abandon its unilateral policy in connection with international rivers, and to abide by the international laws related to filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

He also stressed “the necessity of negotiating in good faith with Egypt and Sudan to reach a binding legal agreement in this regard, in implementation of the presidential statement issued by the Security Council in September 2021, in a way that averts the damage caused by this project to the downstream countries and enhances cooperation between the peoples of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.”

The Bahraini side expressed its full solidarity with the Arab Republic of Egypt in all the measures it takes to protect its national security.

On the Yemeni issue, the two sides affirmed their support for international efforts to find a comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni crisis, in accordance with the approved international references, and the Saudi initiative to end the Yemeni crisis. They also expressed their full support for the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council to perform its constitutional responsibilities “to achieve security, stability and development in Yemen.”

They also affirmed their support for the UN armistice agreement in Yemen and welcomed the announcement of its extension. The Bahraini side appreciated Egypt’s response to the request of the legitimate Yemeni government and the United Nations to operate direct flights between Cairo and Sanaa in support of that armistice and alleviating the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people.

The two sides welcomed the upcoming summit to be hosted by Saudi Arabia between the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Jordan and Egypt, and the Prime Minister of Iraq with US President Joe Biden.


Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback

Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback
Updated 30 June 2022

Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback

Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback
  • Indirect talks in Qatar's capital between Iran and US on reviving 2015 nuclear deal concluded with no progress
  • Iran says a deal could still be reached

TEHRAN: Iran insisted Thursday that a revived nuclear agreement with major powers remains achievable despite a negative US assessment of two-way talks in Qatar intended to reboot the stalled negotiations.
The US State Department said the EU-brokered proximity talks in the Qatari capital Doha had concluded late Wednesday with “no progress made.”
But Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said he believed the talks had been “positive” and a deal could still be reached.
“We are determined to continue negotiating until a realistic agreement is reached,” he said after a phone call with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who hosted the indirect talks.
“Our assessment of the recent round of talks in Doha is positive,” he said.
“I insist on the fact that we are making serious efforts to reach a good, solid and lasting agreement,” said Amir-Abdollahian.
“An accord is achievable if the United States is realistic.”
The two days of talks, in which EU mediators shuttled between Iranian and US delegations, were intended to reboot wider negotiations between Iran and major powers in Vienna which have been stalled since March.
The talks aim to bring the United States back into a 2015 deal jettisoned by the Donald Trump administration in 2018 by lifting the sweeping economic sanctions he imposed in exchange for Iran’s return to full compliance with the limits set on its nuclear activities.
Washington has “made clear our readiness to quickly conclude and implement a deal on mutual return to full compliance,” the US State Department spokesperson said after the talks wrapped up in Qatar.
“Yet in Doha, as before, Iran raised issues wholly unrelated to the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) and apparently is not ready to make a fundamental decision on whether it wants to revive the deal or bury it.”
Differences between Tehran and Washington have notably included Iran’s demand that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from a US terror list.
The talks in Doha came just two weeks before US President Joe Biden makes his first official visit to the region, with trips to Iran foes Israel and Saudi Arabia.


Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations

Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly is currently in talks with Algerian officials. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 June 2022

Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations

Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations
  • Madbouly arrived at Houari Boumediene International Airport in the Algerian capital on Wednesday evening
  • Algerian Prime Minister Ayman bin Abd Al-Rahman welcomed Madbouly

CAIRO: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly is currently in talks with Algerian officials on the advancement of political and economic relations between the two countries during his two-day visit.

Madbouly and the high-level ministerial delegation accompanying him arrived at Houari Boumediene International Airport in the Algerian capital on Wednesday evening to head the eighth session of the joint higher committee between the two countries.

Algerian Prime Minister Ayman bin Abd Al-Rahman welcomed Madbouly, expressing Algeria’s pride in the strong relations with Egypt and its keenness to strengthen cooperation with the country.

It is expected that the visit will comprise meetings with senior Algerian officials and will see the signing of a number of memoranda of understanding between the two sides, especially in the oil and housing sectors. The Egyptian-Algerian Business Leaders’ Forum will also be held to review investment and trade opportunities available in the two countries.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune paid an official visit to Egypt last January, during which he met with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Tebboune said that his talks with the Egyptian president “presented an opportunity to address economic cooperation” and facilitate investment between the two countries.

At the beginning of this month, Algeria and Egypt agreed on the need to transform their historical relations into “reciprocal partnerships” in the oil sector.

This came during official talks between the Algerian Minister of Energy and Mines Mohammed Arkab and the Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El Molla, which took place through a remote meeting.