Elections in Libya, a Pessimistic View!
Libya is divided between antagonistic forces that controlled the land, and still do, and nothing has actually changed.
There have been so many announcements of candidacy for the presidential elections planned to be held next month in Libya. The number of those who submitted their applications to the Electoral Commission (before scrutiny) reached over 90 candidates. This high candidates turnout may appear to some as an indication that Libya is finally on its way to recovery and restoration of lost sovereignty and unity since the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011. It also seems that there is comprehensive international and regional support for holding the elections, which was a result of long negotiations between the Libyan parties under the auspices of the United Nations, the last of which was the Berlin Conference II in which major powers participated: America, China, Russia, Britain, France, the European Union and the countries of the region, Egypt, Turkey, UAE, the African Union, the Arab League, in addition to, of course, the United Nations.
However, we should not be carried away into positive expectations. Libya is, in fact, divided between antagonistic forces that controlled the land, and still do, and nothing has actually changed. Each of these parties has its relations and links with foreign countries and outsiders that have their own agendas and interests that do not necessarily coincide with the interests of the people of Libya. It is ironic that these international parties participated in the Berlin conference and acted as if their sole concern was the stability of Libya and the prosperity of its people, when in fact they are the ones who fuel conflicts and wars in it by supporting certain parties against others.
In Benghazi, Tobruk, and the east of Libya, General Khalifa Haftar, who considers himself the leader of the "Libyan National Army" and who gave himself the rank of “Field Marshal”, is in control by force and imposes a strict military regime on it. He has opened all the doors to receive support, funding, armament, and mercenaries from many countries, starting with Egypt and ending with Russia, passing through the UAE and France.
In the other part of Libya, Tripoli, Al-Zawiya, and Misrata in the West, there is a “National Unity Government” in it! However, that government is basically a political front before the international community. On the ground, there is a wide variety of undercover “Islamic” militias affiliated with the Salafi Jihadism and its branches from Al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia, and Afghani-Arabs, or with the Muslim Brotherhood and its global extensions, in addition to local clan groups, all under the auspices of Erdogan’s Turkey, with its Ottoman dreams, who sent to them troops from its army along with Syrian mercenaries.
As for Sirt and mid-Libya region, most of the people there lean to Gaddafi and fondly remember his days in power, despite the presence of outposts and certain areas under the control of Jihadists from al-Qaeda and ISIS. Southern Libya, Fezzan, and Kufra are mainly controlled by Tebu tripes, Tuareg, and Chadians.
That is the land–control map of Libya as of today. It does not appear that any of the dominant forces on the ground is ready to relinquish its control and influence in favor of a central government in Tripoli or elsewhere. All of those parties consider that the areas under their control were taken by force, armed effort, and sacrifices, and therefore should not be "lost" voluntarily and benevolently. Each of the main conflicting parties in Libya is running in the elections, provided that it is the winner!
Even if we assume that the elections have already taken place with integrity and transparency, and the international supervision teams were able to reach all Libyan regions and the voters cast their votes freely without pressure (and this is highly unlikely), then who can guarantee that the election results are accepted and respected by the losing parties?! Is it possible to imagine Khalifa Haftar accepting the victory of a rival who belongs to or is linked to the Islamist groups in Tripoli?! Would he hand him power in the East?! The answer is well known: NO. If Haftar loses, he will challenge the integrity of the elections and will announce that they were rigged for the benefit of his opponents, and therefore he will reject the results, and the situation will remain as it is today; several governments, armies, and parliaments opposing each other.
There is a history of failure for the understandings and agreements that were concluded under international supervision for Libya, most notably the “Skhirat Agreement”, which, despite all the positive hype that accompanied it, did not lead to real solutions to the country’s problems (last year Khalifa Haftar announced the “cancellation” of it altogether!).
What we said about Haftar also applies to the Islamist groups in Tripoli and Misrata, who would never accept a victory of Haftar or Saif al-Islam Gaddafi if it happened.
Even if the losing parties in the elections were compelled to go along with the international community and accept the results, this will be conditional on maintaining their control over the land as it is. That is, the winning president in the elections, at best, must accept to be a figurehead without real control over the land if he wants to take over the presidency (and everyone remembers how Fayez al-Sarraj was a nominal prime minister while the “Islamic” militias have the say and control over the land). The foreign parties also have their say (does Egypt or the UAE accept the victory of a candidate belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, for example?!).
And there is the possibility that elections will not take place in the first place or be postponed until further notice due to the procedures and formalities related to the electoral law and the candidacy conditions (Haftar holds US citizenship, Saif Gaddafi has judicial rulings on him, and Dabaiba is still in office) and due to logistical challenges that may not allow the deadline to be respected (24 December 2021).
The situation in Libya calls for pessimism. The United Nations will not be able to impose on the Libyans, with their militias and divided leaders, a real solution. Changing the reality on the ground needs a long time, and perhaps a new generation of Libyans freed from the legacy of the past and its complexities.