Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Libyans prepare for polls

As Libyans go to the polls to elect a new parliament, the country’s deep political crisis seems intractable as ever, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Libyans residing abroad in 13 countries cast their votes over the past weekend while Libyans at home headed to the polls Wednesday, 25 June, to elect their new legislative assembly. Meanwhile, foreign envoys have stepped up efforts to promote UN-sponsored dialogue between the diverse components of Libyan society in the hope of resolving the country’s acute political and security crisis.

 The parliamentary elections held this week brought a large turnout of Libyan voters abroad. In particular to those residing in Western nations, while the turnout among the Libyan expatriate community in Cairo and Tunis was considerably lower than expected. Domestically, the tense political and security situation inevitably cast a shadow over the polls. Nevertheless, earlier this week, Emad Al-Sayeh, who heads the Supreme National Electoral Commission, expressed confidence that the elections would proceed smoothly and successfully. He noted that more than a million and half voters had registered to cast their ballots in the elections. He added that the electoral commission was strict in applying the regulations regarding voter registration, one of which entailed displaying one’s national identification number. However, many Libyans in the eastern and southern parts of the country do not yet have a national identity card as the lack of security has hampered the government’s ability to perform essential services.

Al-Sayeh said that the commission had completed final preparations for the elections, which included setting up 1,600 balloting stations around the country. He felt that there were positive signs that the elections would proceed smoothly, even in Benghazi where there have been almost daily skirmishes between the forces of retired General Khalifa Haftar and former revolutionaries most of whom are militant Islamists.

The new Chamber of Deputies that Libyans elected this week is a new legislative body created to assume the powers of the General National Congress (GNC) that had been elected on 7 July 2012. Like the GNC, the new legislature will also have 200 members. However, this time the single ticket, as opposed to the party list, system is being applied. In addition, candidates are required to be independent and unaffiliated with any political party or movement. Also, according to the parliamentary election law, formulated by the February Committee that the GNC had tasked with this purpose earlier this year, candidates may not alter their political affiliation after winning in the elections.

The decision to exclude political parties and entities from taking part in the current parliamentary elections was motivated by mounting popular anger against all political parties for having become so bogged down in their power conflicts inside the GNC that they prevented this body from performing the tasks with which it was charged in accordance with the Constitutional Declaration of 2011.

Most political parties in Libya have a militia to support them and to use to impose their will on authorities whenever they wish. A salient example occurred last year around this time when militias, mostly affiliated with Islamist political forces, surrounded the GNC in order to compel it to approve the “political isolation law” banning individuals affiliated with the Gaddafi regime from holding political office. Another instance occurred after the GNC voted to extend its term beyond its stipulated end date in February this year. Militias affiliated with certain tribal groupings surrounded the GNC headquarters in Tripoli and threatened its members with arrest and prosecution if they did not resign within five hours. Given the rule of arms and the balances of militia terror that continue to prevail throughout the country, observers have little hope that official executive, legislative or judicial institutions will be able to successfully assert their authority.

The assessment is perhaps truer than ever in light of the flare-up in armed hostilities after 15 May when General Haftar launched what he termed “Operation Dignity” with the aim of combatting radical Islamist forces. Barely a day passes without the thunder from exchanges in gun and missile fire between Haftar’s troops and the Islamist forces, many of who had taken part in the revolution against Gaddafi. Neither side appears to be gaining ground, however. And international community appears at a loss in how to respond to the situation in Libya. The convoluted, multi-faceted current conflicts with all their diverse and interwoven political, tribal, ethnic, cultural, ideological and regional dimensions seem to defy solution.

In this regard, Al-Ahram Weekly has learned from official and political sources in Tripoli that the British and American special envoys to Libya, David Satterfield and Jonathan Powell, have begun a new round of efforts to mediate between the various Libyan political stakeholders in order to promote a means to reach a solution to the country’s protracted crisis. Last week, Tarek Mitri, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), decided to postpone the extensive dialogue initiative that had been scheduled for 18 and 19 June after having received a barrage of criticisms directed against both the framework documents of that initiative and against himself, personally.

According to the Libyan sources above, Satterfield and Powell are shuttling between the various political factions in the hope of persuading them to come to the dialogue table. One of the main objections that some of these factions had voiced was that the framework documents of the UNSMIL initiative were geared towards ensuring that a certain political faction would have the right to share power even if its candidates lost in the parliamentary elections. It was clear that these factions were alluding to the Islamists whom analysts did not expect to achieve considerable successes in the parliamentary polls.

In another development last week, US Special Forces succeeded in apprehending the Libyan citizen Ahmed Abu Khatala in a covert operation that was carried out in an unspecified area near Benghazi. Khatala, who was wanted for the attack against the US consulate in Benghazi in September 2012, was taken to the USS New York in the Mediterranean preparatory to transporting him to the United States. The operation comes six months after US Special Forces arrested another Libyan, Nazih Abdel-Hamid Al-Raqiei — aka Abu Anas Al-Libi — who was accused of bombing the US Embassy in Kenya in 1998.

According to Libyan official sources, Libyan personnel also took part in the operation that led to the arrest of Abu Khatala. They said that video footage would be made public in the next few days, documenting how he was arrested and how this operation was similar to the one that led to the arrest of Abu Anas Al-Libi on 25 October last year.

While in the US, Abu Khatala’s arrest is seen as a major victory for the Obama administration, in Libya the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, which includes Ansar Al-Sharia, 17 February, Rafallah Al-Sihati and Libya the Free Brigades, accused Haftar’s forces of taking part in the operation. In a statement issued Friday, the council charged that Haftar’s forces had handed Abu Khatala over to the Americans because he was fighting against “Operation Dignity” and because Haftar’s forces “wanted to offer him in down-payment for working as [American] agents”.

Washington denies that Haftar’s forces played any part in the operation that they say was carried out by a small unit of navy commandos and two FBI officers. US sources also report that Abu Khatala sustained some minor injuries in his attempt to resist arrest but that not a single bullet was fired in the operation. When he arrives in the US, Abu Khatala will be subject to intensive interrogation before being handed over to prosecutors on three criminal charges, according to US judicial sources.

Libya’s permanent UN representative, Ibrahim Al-Dabashi, said he did not intend to approach the Security Council on the question of the use of US Special Forces to arrest Abu Khatala without the approval of Libyan authorities. This has been interpreted as a sign that the week government in Libya is not dissatisfied with the operation, even if officials have officially condemned the abduction of Abu Khatala and demand that he be prosecuted in Libya.

In what initially appeared as a purely crime related incident in a country plagued political violence, a massive shipment of hashish — estimated in the neighbourhood of 15 tons — was seized in Benghazi port. The seizure of the shipment, which was being smuggled into the port from Senegal, precipitated armed clashes between forces of the joint security operations room and forces of the Libya Shield, resulting in five dead and 17 wounded. The circumstances surrounding this engagement remain unclear.

In another curious development, former prime minister Ali Zeidan made appearances in Benghazi and Al-Baida in spite of the travel ban issued against him by the public prosecutor. Not only was there no attempt to arrest him, he met with a number of prominent figures in Al-Baida and with Special Forces Commander General Wanis Boukhamada. The public prosecutor has remained enigmatically silent.

Back in Tripoli, the GNC has announced, through a letter addressed by its legislative office to the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, that it would abide by the decisions of Chief Public Prosecutor Abdel-Qader Radwan. The move signals that the Libyan judiciary will soon be dragged onto the centre of the Libyan political quagmire.

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