Head of the Presidential Council of Libya Mohamed al-Manfi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah attend a press conference on Libya in Paris

Elections in Libya should be part of a larger process toward peace, analyst says

A summit in Paris on Libya's future is focused on ensuring that the country stays on track for planned elections in December. Emadeddin Badi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, tells The World's host Marco Werman that pushing for these elections at any cost is problematic.

The World

Vice President Kamala Harris is in Paris this week with a few assignments. Today, she represented the US at a peace summit on Libya.

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One goal of the summit is to bolster support for free and fair elections there in December. But many analysts are skeptical that elections can actually stabilize Libya.

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Libya has been mired in a civil war since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

Emadeddin Badi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, spoke with The World's host Marco Werman from Toronto about the situation and future of Libya.

Marco Werman: In 2011, let's remember, longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in uprisings that were part of the Arab Spring. Who has been in charge since then and who are the main players fighting over power right now?
Emadeddin Badi: There have been successive transitional governments since 2011, but I would say that a major flashpoint occurred in 2014, when, effectively, the country relapsed into another civil war and has become effectively institutionally divided with an interim government in eastern Libya and a government in western Libya that was UN recognized. That situation of institutional division persisted until, in 2019, Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to take control over the western capital of Tripoli.
And Haftar is kind of a general, right?
Exactly. Haftar is a general from eastern Libya that effectively leveraged before his territorial control over the interim government, and after the failure of the offensive due to, primarily, Turkish and Russian stalemate, a political dialogue happened and a new government came in that was supposed to unify the country. Now that roadmap, which brought that government, also stipulated that elections would happen on Dec. 24. And the basis for these elections now are contested, and that's what, part of the reason why this Paris summit happened, is to reinforce the international consensus that they should happen.
We're talking about the ability of elections to stabilize Libya, but I'm wondering if you think Libya can even hold an election right now? I mean, how is that going to work?
There are a lot of other structural assets that would affect an election being held. First of all, we don't have a strong judiciary. Media is definitely not independent. The High National Election Commission cannot enforce a lot of the rules that have been put in place for the elections; aside [from the fact] that, obviously, as I mentioned earlier, the military is not unified, which comes with its own set of problems even in terms of securing the elections in a de facto divided country. So, there are a lot of structural problems that haven't been dealt with domestically.
So, Vice President Harris is in Paris at the summit. But what else can the White House, the Biden, administration do at this point to bring stability to the country?
I think the problematic aspect of the US is it's also pushing these elections at any cost, which is quite a problematic track. I think, ideally, the US could have been the levelheaded player, which isn't directly affected by Libya, but Libya still matters to it by virtue of its geographic location, and actually reconvened either the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum or the political players in some way, shape or form to actually address this contested basis for elections.
Emadeddin, what I'm hearing you saying is that elections are not the answer for Libya. Not right now, anyway. So, if holding elections won't bring stability, what or who can?
That is actually the problem, is that the equation became elections on Dec. 24 being the answer. And elections aren't an endpoint of a policy. They should be part of a larger process. There should be some substance behind them. There should be some agreements as to what should be done before or after about their constitutionality. And I'm just saying this, both domestically, but also internationally, because the international kind of dimension and the foreign players are as guilty almost as a lot of the Libyan stakeholders that have tanked the transition. So yes, through elections, but not in the way that they're currently being engineered, which would actually be counterproductive on several fronts.
What will that mean, further conflict for Libya?
I think all the parties are actually positioning themselves to either profit from flawed elections or rehabilitate themselves with a new raison d'être or by virtue of these elections collapsing. I think by virtue of the foreign intervenors, ironically, being present, the prospect of a full-blown conflict in urban towns is kind of dashed. But that doesn't mean that the situation can't become worse, because a lot of these foreign interveners also don't care about the country being effectively governed. So, you could end up with a de facto partition or a actual real partition, a state of institutional division where the actual citizens of the country bear the brunt of the nefarious effects of that, basically. So, I wouldn't say that the issue will be another conflict, unless, let's say, Turkey, Russia and the UAE decide that an open confrontation is beneficial to them, but I don't see that happening.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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