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Libya’s path to stability: Matters arising from next presidential election

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By MAURIZIO GERI

Barring any last-minute surprises, which seems more and more possible, Libya will hold parliamentary and presidential elections on December 24.

The country has been in transition since the end of Gaddafi era in 2011. From dictatorship to a semi-democratic process that ended with a civil war, Libya is now trying to restart its own democratization aiming to have peace and stability. But as every transition it cannot be done in a rush.

 Democratization takes long time, and many efforts, at local and international levels, to tackle the political, economic, social empowerment, and capacity building needed to make a transition sustainable and lasting.

The almost one-year life of the Government of National Unity, guided by Mr Dbeiba, a businessman-turned-politician, former associate of Gadhafi, shows the good will of Libya to be on the right track. But things could get bad quickly after Presidential elections given the judicial and political controversies surrounding the eligibility of candidates, that allowed divisional leaders like Gaddafi’s son and Haftar to run for the presidency.

But what is the path that Libya should take after elections, when these problems of candidacies will be solved, and the elections will be taken, even if not completely free and fair but at least in its best way?

The first thing that Libya must think to will be a new Constitutional construct, that clarify the divisions of powers, the administrative and political structure of the country, defining the principles upon which the state will be based and the procedures in which laws will be made. In all countries of the world, this would constitute the basics of democracy and state building.

Second, territorial integrity and political unity of Libya should be maintained at all costs. Giving autonomy to some regions, with a federation or confederation, will allow to keep the unity of the country and at the same time allow for decentralization of power and recognition of differences. The risk of separation in two parts has to be avoided, not only for the war that often require to do that, but secessions are not beneficial to anyone, given the difficulty to give economic rights besides political rights from scratch by a new state building, as South Sudan and other cases do.

As a third step, it will be fundamental that after elections the winner in one way or another will include the actors that didn’t win, in some form of democratic power sharing or consociationalism that would avoid the risk of majoritarianism, exclusion and renewed internal conflict. Already we saw the experience of Egypt how it ended.

“a stable, prosperous, and democratic Libya would be a bridge between the Europe and Africa”

A democratic power-sharing form of government in fact would allow the major internal divisions, along ethnic, political, and social lines of Libya, to be controlled and remain stable due to consultation among the elites of these groups. Furthermore, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica would remain together in a united country. But, as said, this will also require a new state structure, a political consensus maybe on a federation, or some form of autonomy to the different regions, to guarantee the survival of the power-sharing arrangements, the sustainability of a democratic republic, and avoid the risk of split of the country.

It will be important also to have a united Libyan army, and this will have to pass from uniting different armed groups, making Security Sector Reforms and processes of Demobilization Disarmament and Reintegration of militias, training also the new army with the support of regional organization, first African Union, that has been quite absent in helping the stabilization of Libya.

Also, Libya will have to be cleared of foreign forces, currently in the country, from Turkey, UAE, Russia etc. There is no sustainable democratization without the control of the monopoly of force by a sovereign state, which must be guaranteed by a legitimate government and a national army under civilian authority, without external interferences.

Finally, Libya is not only a place where there are problems of terrorism, migration, or energy disruption, that has often been considered at an international level. These are issues that are very important for the regional stability so the new government should deal with them, but to think only about that is a narrow perspective.

“Libya will have to be cleared of foreign forces, currently in the country”

Libya should be considered for what it is: an important country geopolitically, politically, and socially, with great potentials and opportunities not only risks and threats, for all the North African and the Mediterranean region.

The region changed beyond recognition in the last 20 years. After the failure of the Arab Spring, with the following proxy wars, the regional fragmentation has reached an unprecedent degree. The emergence and multiplication of non-state actors, the regional arms race and geopolitical competition among global and regional powers, the mass migrations, the technological disruptions of new weapons and the current crisis of climate change and of Covid-19, have raised the instability and complexity of the region to unprecedent levels.

Therefore, a stable, prosperous, and democratic Libya would be a cornerstone, together with Tunisia and Egypt, to create that bridge between the European continent and the African one, that will be more and more interrelated, for good or for bad, along this century.

MAURIZIO GERI is a fellow of the Center for Media and Peace Initiatives

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