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Fifty Shades of Haftar

With a few logical calculations, we can easily conclude that the international community is making a losing bet on what the next presidential and parliamentary elections can contribute to Libya’s future. The odds of pushing Libya back into the hell of civil war, as a result of disputes over election results, are more likely in light of extreme internal divisions and external interventions, that rely on heavy-armed militia and foreign mercenaries. Needless to mention the shockingly abrupt resignation of Jan Kubis, at such a critical time, from his positions as the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

There is no guarantee that either side of the political conflict in Libya will peacefully accept the voting results without initiating a dispute that may eventually escalate into violence. Iraq is one of the most recent examples of how politically biased militias can turn a country’s democratic practice into a piece of hell. In that sense, there is no guarantee that these elections will not defy the main goal of the political process, which is bringing long-term security and stability to Libya.

Last week, the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) of Libya announced that 98 people, including two women, have already applied to compete in the presidential elections, on December 24th. The huge number of applicants is the result of a flawed and elastic Elections Law that allows almost any person, above 40-year-old, old to run for the presidential seat, regardless of their political experience.

From the positive and somehow rosé perspective, the huge number of applicants is an indication that the Libyan people are eager to practice democracy, regardless of the political and economic miseries they have lived through in the past six years. However, from a negative and more realistic perspective, this is a serious alarm about the extreme divisions among active politicians inside Libya. In other words, the type of candidates and their affiliations show that Libya's political divisions extend deeper than the apparent conflict between eastern and western factions, to sub-conflicts among each group.

Only 25 applications were rejected by HNEC, on a first round of clarifying applicant lists. Among the rejected applications is that of Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, who enjoys great popularity among southern tribes. Gaddafi’s exclusion meant that the presidential elections would boil down to a fierce competition between Abdel Hamid Dbeibeh, the Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU), and Khalifa Haftar, the Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Benghazi. In that sense, there are only a handful number of possible scenarios that may come out of the Libyan elections. Unfortunately, none of them seems to be ideal, and the biggest winner in all of them is Haftar, whether he landslides the majority of votes or not.

In the best-case scenario, these elections could create a system of governance similar to the current one under the Interim Government of National Unity. In other words, there will be a president and a government ruling from Tripoli, with limited or no control over the eastern territories, which will continue to remain under Haftar’s strong grip. The scenario of hiring Haftar as a Minister of Defense under the future government is still unrealistic, especially if Dbeibeh wins the elections and becomes the president. As a result, Haftar will mobilize the eastern militia, under his control, to shake the security and stability of the new government and thus expose the country to a new civil war.

In the worst-case scenario, Haftar could collect the votes of eastern and southern tribes and thus win the presidential seat. As soon as this happens, Haftar will immediately dissolve the military command in Tripoli and take revenge on his long-time political opponents in Western territories. This will further increase the political polarization among militia in Tripoli and turn the country into a space of war, once again. The Tripoli militia leaders had already threatened to ignite violent conflict when Haftar announced that he was running for elections. Now, you may imagine what they would do if he became the president.

The UN Security Council promised, in its monthly session on Libya in November, that those who try to obstruct the elections will be punished. Well! It is not clear what type of punishment that is, and if the UNSC has the power to punish any party inside Libya. However, the international community should not pull its hands out of Libya as soon as the elections are convened. The international community needs to prepare Libya for what may happen after the elections, especially in regard to the fifty shades of Haftar’s potential.

Also, read on The Levant


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