On Friday 12 November, a new international conference on Libya begins in Paris, organized by the UN, Germany, Italy and France. The conference, which will also be attended by the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the US Vice-President Kamala Harris, is part of a long and tiring process started some time ago to stabilize Libya: that is, to guarantee the survival of the new institutional structure that emerged after the end of the fighting between rival militias, securing the next elections, and implementing the withdrawal of foreign mercenaries still present in the country, sent by Russia and Turkey.
Expectations are not very high, both for the few successes achieved by the previous international conferences, and for the disagreements between Libyan factions and for the little convergent positions of many of the participating countries.
First of all, the success of the conference seems hindered by the deep divisions between Libyan power centers, due to personal and non-personal rivalries, and in general to the instability of a very young government system.
The current interim government was in fact created only last February, with the aim of leading the country to the next presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for December 24 (an issue on which there is great disagreement in Libya). Its formation had put an end to the existence of two different governments – one in the west, based in Tripoli, and one in the east, in the Cyrenaica region – which had fought for years in a bloody civil war, which ended only after the defeat. in fact, the militias led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an ally of the Eastern government. At the same time, the new government had not resolved the great divisions in local politics, and not just between East and West.
In recent weeks, these tensions have emerged in various circumstances.
Last week the Presidential Council, formed by President Mohamed al Menfi and two vice-presidents, and the government of national unity, led by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah clashed for the umpteenth time (the two bodies form the interim government mentioned in precedence).
Behind these clashes there is also the fact that the Presidential Council challenges the national unity government to do things that are not within its competence, such as representing Libya abroad (the government is mainly in charge of internal affairs). At the center of the last discussion was the Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush, who will also be present at the Paris conference: Mangoush was suspended by the Presidential Council because she was accused of developing Libyan foreign policy without coordinating with President Menfi, but was then reinstated in its role by the national unity government, which had defended it.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, president of Libya, at the Elysee palace in Paris (AP Photo / Michel Euler)
The Presidential Council’s attack on Mangoush was also aimed at weakening the position of Prime Minister Dbeibah, who according to some rumors could run for president in the December elections.
In recent months, Dbeibah has in fact gained good popularity thanks to the introduction of measures defined as “populist”, such as economic aid for young people who want to get married and huge investments. His eventual candidacy, however, would be a violation of the commitments made by him and by the ministers of his government with the UN, which provided that the members of the government of national unity would remain neutral and would not stand for election; it could also provoke further disagreements with other prominent Libyan politicians, equally interested in becoming the next Libyan president.
A few days ago the High Council of State, an advisory body based in Tripoli, and the House of Representatives, that is the Libyan parliament based in Tobruk, in the east of the country, also clashed.
The head of the High Council, Khaled al Mishri, called on the population to boycott the vote on December 24, to protest against the candidacy for president of what he called “criminals”, such as Marshal Khalifa Haftar (who is not particularly loved in Tripoli, a city he had tried to conquer for several months in 2019, failing). The House of Representatives, on the other hand, stressed the need to hold elections regularly.
To the difficulties of coexistence between Libyan politicians, the Paris conference will be joined by divisions and disagreements between the participating countries, which during the civil war were not all on the same side; and we will have to face the problem of who has decided not to participate, in particular Turkey.
Among others, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi will be present, who has long been a supporter of the militias led by Marshal Haftar and who now would like to re-establish his influence in Tripoli. Russia, also a supporter of Haftar, will be there, but not with President Vladimir Putin: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will participate in the meeting. On the other hand, there will be no Turkey, which in the war supported the government of Tripoli and whose military intervention had changed the fate of the conflict, effectively sanctioning the defeat of Haftar’s militias. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyp Erdogan, explained his absence by citing the presence of Greece, Israel and the Greek Cypriot administration, all opponents of his government.
The Turkish absence is no small thing. In fact, in Libya there are still thousands of Turkish soldiers, or pro-Turkish Syrian militiamen recruited in northern Syria, who had gone to fight alongside the Tripoli government. Also present are the mercenaries of the Russian group Wagner, who instead had been sent from Russia to fight alongside Haftar.
The withdrawal of foreign fighters is one of the objectives of the Paris conference, not least because some Libyan politicians, such as President Menfi, have expressed their opposition to elections being held before Libya’s sovereignty is fully restored (i.e. until the foreign fighters will leave). However, it will be difficult to reach some kind of agreement.