Despite the efforts of the international community, the Berlin II conference on Libya on 23 June faces major obstacles that will be extremely difficult to resolve.
Last week the House of Representatives (House) met in Tobruk to continue its discussions about the revised budget that was resubmitted by the Government of National Unity (GNU). The meeting was called after behind-the-scenes compromises were agreed between the House and government. Rather than achieving any breakthrough, however, the meeting resulted in major tensions including an actual fistfight between MPs over the controversial presence of Turkish military forces in western Libya.
Libya was a prominent item on the agenda of both the recent G7 and NATO meetings that were respectively held in the UK and Brussels, as well as the Russia-US bilateral summit meeting in Geneva, with leaders reiterating their support for a peaceful transition to democracy. In both the multilateral and bilateral encounters President Joe Biden expressed the Western view that the parliamentary and presidential elections should go ahead on 24 December as scheduled by the UN roadmap.
The problem, however, is that Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah does not appear to be in tune with these goals. Reports suggest that he has been seeking international support for the elections to be delayed until 2022, and there are rumours that he may have obtained backing for this approach from some European powers including the Italians. There are also a number of influential status quo politicians who want to delay the elections for their own personal benefit.
Egypt’s General Intelligence Service chief, Major General Abbas Kamel, made unannounced visits to Tripoli and Benghazi on 17 June to try and ease the escalating tensions between the Libyan Arab Armed Forces’ (LAAF) commander Khalifa Haftar and Dbeibah. According to media reports, Kamel told GNU officials that Haftar is ready to reach an understanding with the interim government and has requested that his ‘fate be left to the Libyan people.’ This, however, is seen as further proof that he intends to run in the presidential election which is anathema to the majority of the Tripoli-based militias and the capital’s population.
Last week France’s President Emmanuel Macron pitched a plan to the US and other countries to remove foreign fighters from Libya. The plan proposes a six-month timeline — beginning with the withdrawal of the Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, followed by Kremlin-linked Wagner Group’s Russian mercenaries, and then regular Turkish troops — which would be followed by the reunification of Libya’s own military forces.
The LAAF has become increasingly provocative in both its words and actions. On 14 June it declared, for the first time, that it no longer recognises Dbeibah as the Acting Defence Minister. Then, on 17 June, the LAAF General Command announced a new military operation in the southwest which it claims will focus on combating terrorist groups in the region. The Presidential Council has declared that these manoeuvres, which may be an excuse for Haftar to demonstrate his continuing control over large and sparsely populated regions of the country, are illegal.
The latest National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) statistics are that there has been a cumulative total of 191,253 COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic in January 2020, with 3,181 deaths and 176,649 recoveries, and 11,423 active cases.