Libya: Salamé’s challenges


ADDING to the many challenges that confront UN’s Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, as he wrestles with the problem of bringing a measure of stability to this North African country is the insistence of the elders of the powerful Warfalla tribe that the world body should consult them before launching any peace initiative.

The tribe of Warfalla that dominates Bani Walid, the “hilltop town” located 145 km southeast of Tripoli, had been strong supporters of the deposed Muammar Qaddafi and were among the last to join the uprising against the longtime strongman. They still declare allegiance to Qaddafi’s most prominent son, Saif Al-Islam, who made a last stand in Bani Walid before vanishing, Mulla Omar-like, into the desert. The Warfalla who account for 1.5 million out of six million Libyans may not be hoping for a veto power over the peace process, but the presence at the table of a group that expresses its loyalty to the old regime much more openly than in 2011 may distract attention from the real problems facing this North African country.

Reports coming from Benghazi are also not reassuring.

Forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman in Libya’s east, have expelled his rivals from the Khreibish district, one of their last strongholds, in Libya’s second-largest city. His forces moved into the district on Thursday. Gen. Haftar’s army in the east and the UN-backed government in Tripoli are the biggest factions in Libya’s power struggle, but they are also competing with a number of militias, tribal groups and the Libyan branch of Daesh (the so-called IS).

Gen. Haftar who rejects the UN-backed government has been able to assert his control over much of eastern Libya. Recently he has taken an empty desert in the center of the country.

Although Gen. Haftar is not strong enough to take over the whole country by force, he can still frustrate UN efforts to unify Libya and put it under a strong central government.

Libya continues to be in the grip of violence not because there was no peace initiatives. On the contrary, says Ghassan Salamé, “There are six or seven different operations in front of Libyans’ eyes.” But the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in Sukhairat, Morocco in December 2015, is the “only legitimate point of reference we have that is recognized” by UN resolutions, according to him. The LPA, despite its flaws, is the only viable framework at the moment. But it needs amendments. Once the amendments have been adopted, the second stage is a national conference that will open the door to all including those who have been reluctant, for some reasons, to join the political process.

But first Salamé has to solve some problems the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), set up under the December 2015, has been unable to tackle. For example, Libya has an acute liquidity crisis. Public services are collapsing. Even in capital Tripoli, people have at times to endure 35 consecutive hours without electricity. It’s similar with the lack of adequate sewage and garbage collection, which pose health hazards. Healthcare needs to be restored. Libyans ask why they should remain poor in a rich country. After all, Libya produces a million barrels of oil a day.

The question is whether Salamé can get enough number of leaders agree to a halt in fighting and violence so that the work of providing basic services goes unhampered. Another question is whether he can win the full-throated support of the states that have been most involved in Libyan diplomacy.

Unlike his predecessors, Salamé has the advantage of being an Arab. A former Lebanese minister, he has also served as UN’s representative in Iraq and Myanmar. Still, he should enjoy the political backing and resources of a more united and effective international community if he is to succeed in his Libyan mission.