Libya at a Turning Point? HoR Agrees to Direct Presidential Elections as Fighting Continues Unabated
In a recent episode of ‘Inside Story’ broadcasted by Al Jazeera, Professor George Joffe from the University of Cambridge made the point that ongoing confrontations in Libya represent a major turning point for the country. This is especially true for warring militias that see current events as their last chance to carve up spheres of influence in the country’s economic and political landscapes before the House of Representatives sets out to cancel financial benefits that were previously allocated for them by state institutions. In light of this, it was argued, the international community should stand with all its weight behind Libya’s political institutions and sustain their long term development and role in the country.
With regards to political institutions, during the past few days, the House of Representatives has been going through a series of hearings with State officials at various levels so as to grasp a better understanding of the situation on the ground and of the positions held by relevant actors throughout these months. Among others, Caretaker Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni, Libya’s Army Chief of Staff Abdussalam Jadallah Al-Obeidi and Saiqa Special Forces Commander Wanis Bu Khamada appeared in front of elected representatives. Today instead, the HoR agreed with an overwhelming majority for Libya’s next President to be elected through popular vote, a position that has always been unpopular with the Islamist camp and that will likely increase the antagonism expressed by it towards the HoR, a body Islamist forces already charged with illegitimacy before. Nonetheless, no election date has been set as of yet as the HoR aims to obtain a clearer picture of the current security situation before doing so.
Political developments notwithstanding, clashes continue unabated throughout Libya, a reminder of both the dramatic lack of institutional capability in the country and the inability of any side to prevail militarily. Despite clear orders emanated by the Army Chief of Staff to comply with the HoR ceasefire decision, shelling and targeted assassinations have resumed in Tripoli. As a results, it is now estimated that the number of internally displaced families has topped the 7,000 mark, not to mention the continuous shrinkage of expat communities in the country which has a strong impact on the delivery of aid and assistance work. In the East, after forces from the Shoura Council of Benghazi’s Revolutionaries seemed to have gained the upper hand during last week’s fights for the city, reports emerged that Saiqa troops made their way back into certain parts of town, while air forces belonging to Haftar’s Operation Dignity expanded their field of action to Derna’s port after having repeatedly threatened to shut down Benghazi’s port and attack any ship directed towards it, so far an empty threat.
Finally, to focus on the regional dimension of the crisis, it is worth heading to Al-Monitor to read a translation of a piece written by Nadia B’chir for Business News. This article does a good job of presenting the structural and political differences between 2011 and today from the point of view of Tunisia, highlighting the consequences that this would have in case of a further escalation in the current Libyan crisis:
As the security situation reaches its peak, Tunisia is confronted with the difficult task of managing the massive influx of Libyan, Egyptian and Jordanian refugees fleeing Libya. The number of people registered at the Ras Jedir border crossing ranges between 5,000 and 6,000 people per day. Commenting on the figures at a press conference on the deteriorating situation in Libya, Tunisia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mongi Hamdi said the influx was “normal” so far, and far from the figures registered in 2011. At that time, more than 500,000 people fled to Tunisia. The minister asserted that the 2011 scenario could not be reproduced. The country’s current situation can in no way allow it to happen, due to a difficult economic climate coupled with a vulnerable security situation caused by the spread of terrorism. The national army, which is currently weak and which, in 2011, gave full support to customs and border officers, is focused on the fight against terrorism. The country’s national interest takes priority over solidarity and compassion, despite those things being heavily present. In this regard, Mongi Hamdi explained that given the precarious economic situation in Tunisia and the large numbers of Libyans in the territory (estimated to be over one million), the country can no longer accommodate additional refugees. He did not rule out the possibility of closing the Tunisian-Libyan border if the influx of refugees intensifies.
He stressed that, in such an event, the borders would only be open to Tunisian nationals, whose number was estimated at 80,000, as well as to individuals who had special cases. Regarding refugees coming from Egypt and Jordan, Mongi Hamdi clearly stated that they would be allowed to cross the Tunisian-Libyan border provided they present a flight ticket from the Djerba airport certifying their repatriation, or that their country of origin agrees to send a plane to repatriate them.