Libya: sand and votes

(To Gino Lanzara)

Libya is an invention, starting with the name. Even for the Ottomans to access the hinterland meant crossing a precise limes, it meant having to face the leones guarding an immense and unknown ocean of sand.

Unlike the colonial powers of more ancient lineage, Rome has lost not only relations, but also and above all the concept and understanding of its fourth shore, contravening the principles on which the foundations of the foreign policy of any country aspire to play a role of both rest. while medium power.

Heirs of a definite colonialism beggar, the Italians have failed to take due account of either the resources or the strategic position of Tripoli, the true clearing house of regional policy; actualizing: if in a geopolitical equation Syria is to Turkey, how is Libya to Italy? What is the price to pay for not following the logic of von Clausewitz who recommends the use of the military instrument for the achievement of political objectives?

The Libyan sand flows both between the fingers and in the hourglass, and in both cases it leaves a void that is impossible to fill; on what was carelessly defined beautiful soil of love and that instead remains, as stated by Prime Minister Dbeibah himself, a country at war, the memories, visions and words spoken by men now transformed into evanescent mirages remain: Enrico Mattei and Muhammar Gaddafi, subjects impossible to compare but certainly to contextualize, whose rise has known dramatic epilogues, leaving gaps here too that must be understood and placed under the political lens of realism.

If Mattei had framed the overall situation at the time, almost advocating for the current ruling class a partial economic vision overwhelming the most complex politics, in 1997 Gaddafi stated that if his regime ever imploded, the Mediterranean would become an insecure sea. , on whose spends chaos and Islamist movements would grow.

It is therefore not surprising that in recent years the Libyan spiral has affected broader issues, such as the world oil market, the fight against terror, the flow of migrants to Europe, the clash over the interpretation of political Islam.1, the destabilization of states such as Egypt, gateway to the broadest and most stormy sea of ​​Israeli issues, and has touched with Greece the quarrel concerning the new Turkish-Libyan outlining of an incongruous and provocative EEZ.

The West has understood what it wanted, however grasping little of both Libya and, in a broader sense, of the Middle East, where it has attempted to export a democracy that is often incomprehensible and only useful for fomenting illusions, basing everything on convictions that they do not take into account either the need to consider the different conception of the passage of time, so similar to that of sand, or to grasp the difference between the granularity of the concepts of too different worlds. In this sense, the statement issued by the US State Department, oblivious to the death of consul Stevens killed in Benghazi in 2012, assumes a comic value, for which Libyan leaders should find solutions creative necessary for the stabilization of the electoral legislative corpus.

So the curtain rises on the upcoming Libyan elections, full of doubts, without a valid security apparatus to which the new unified government has been able to contribute little, weakened by the presence of more or less regular foreign troops2, by thousands of militiamen engaged in the division of power, by jihadist cells of various origins, by the hammer blows inflicted by the pandemic; elections that will take place 30 days after the presidential elections, for which a highly controversial electoral law that requires a majority of 50% +1 of the votes in the first round has been approved, or the ballot between the two most voted candidates.

In the face of oil aims, the obstacles remain numerous, not least the presence of too many external actors, with regional fault points and more extensive global fractures that have exacerbated the clash between Russia, Europe, USA, Turkey, Egypt, UAE, interpreters of presences. so pervasive as to make the Libyan foreign minister in office request, for some, an effective but unlikely withdrawal.

By the way, noteworthy is the position of both Ankara, which does not accept the definition of foreign forces because he believes the presence of Syrian mercenaries under his command legitimized by the agreement stipulated with the previous Sarraj government, both in Moscow and, through the Wagner group, is projected into the Sahel3.

We recall that Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush animated a clash between the presidential council and the government, a clash determined by the minister's willingness to extradite a suspect in the Lockerbie attack, in evident uncoordinated with the principle of collegiality of the executive, so much so as to incur a suspension from office with a ban on expatriation, unless she is reinstated in her functions by the premier.

In the Maghreb, the interest in Libyan stability is of a security type, especially in Algeria and Tunisia, which share extremely porous land borders that have allowed smuggling of weapons, trafficking in cocaine, heroin and amphetamines.

Also not to be forgotten is the role of China which, before 2011, had trade relations with Libya worth 20 billion dollars, having in exchange 3% of the supply of crude oil to the Sinopec oil group.

The tensions between the National Unity Government of Tripoli and the Tobruk House of Representatives remain latent and revived by the return of Haftar, a de facto US citizen and accused of war crimes, on which the American attentions now aimed at achieving a compromise of sidereal political distance with respect to the decisions taken by the Obama administration starting from September 2011 followed in October of the same year by Western operations, which left Libya at the mercy of chaos; a country considered to be a fundamental theater because it is a battleground between great powers, but not so important as to deserve a well-defined strategy.

Athens also wanted to give Libyan significance to the dispute with Ankara for control of the Aegean and part of the eastern Mediterranean, accompanied by the actions of Israel, Egypt, France and Iran, which did not renounce to support Haftar with the intent of hindering the Erdogan's policy.

Regardless of UNSMIL's warnings4, the chorus of these actors only increases the friction between the local alignments in a context in which the various armed factions are destined to influence the more than predictable electoral frictions; it is no coincidence that in September the Government was disheartened by the House of Representatives with, in the background, the continuous disagreements about the future Constitution, the foundation of an uncertain electoral process that feeds the inopportunities to allow the participation of candidates with dual nationality, or who is ill-suited to the weight of their criminal charges; two names above all: Saif al Islam al Gaddafi and Khalifa Haftar. Of course, to solve the problem it was sufficient not to consider the mistrust of UNSMIL, Dbeibah and the High Council of State valid.

The members of the leadership of the sovereign and economic institutions, the Central Bank and the NOC were invited to stone5, the latter intent on collecting the oil revenues directly, both actresses of an internal war that saw the president of the NOC, Mustafa Sanallah, prevail over the oil minister Mohamed Aoun, but with the risk of ineffective management of the eastern oil terminals that they can extinguish the only source of income of Libya, holder of the largest African oil reserves and which until just over 10 years ago was Italy's first Mediterranean ally.

Two critical points of interest: formation and management of the state budget and return of Haftar, determined to maintain possession and control of family assets, and to perpetuate the control of strategic political positions, thus incurring the ire of Prime Minister Dbeibah, a man of consider as a full candidate in the electoral contest in derogation of the previously formalized decisions; a man who enjoys political popularity neo-Peronist founded on subsidies to rain6. It is palpable that Dbeibah, like the other candidates, represents interests and power groups: while the premier and Bashagha are considered similar to the Muslim Brotherhood, Aref Ali Nayed, former ambassador to the UAE, would be functional to the interests of the Gulf countries.

The political clash thus becomes an aspect that the US suggests, only now more attentive to the Libyan events from which they have long been in hiding, the postponement of the presidential elections by 2022, but which others, like Italy, see as a potential obstacle to a regular conduct of consultations which, indeed, are strongly supported by hypothesising sanctions for anyone row against.

Realistically, it is still unclear how it would be intended to lead Russia and Turkey, obviously recalcitrant political subjects, to reason, as evidenced by the attitude held on the occasion of the last international engagements in Paris, and against which neither American nor American initiatives are to be expected. part of the regional powers, including Italy, despite the fact that Moscow's air presence in al Jufrah could alter the NATO balance in the Mediterranean area; in any case the USA, represented by Ambassador Norland, voice of both US-Libya Business Association who already has collaboratively focused his attention on NOC and oil fields, both of the US Chamber of Commerce7, and by General Townsend8, could press for the dispatch of a UN force devoid of European units and Gulf countries, too involved in the recent Libyan past. The American perplexities have however also found an echo in the High Council of State, interpreter not only of a conflict on the principles of law, but also of a clash between powers.

But powers must be able to be embodied; the main players at the moment are the populist Dbeibah, who among other things accused Tunisia, Malta and Belgium of appropriating Libyan assets; Saif al Islam Gaddafi, visible in a widely circulated video in which he appears, visibly disoriented, wear one of the last outfits worn by his father Muammar; the Field Marshal Haftar.

The characteristics common to the last two are interesting: both are subject to heavy charges by the International Criminal Court, and both have used the same Israeli agency to conduct their election campaigns9. Other contenders for the presidential seat are former UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, comedian Hatem al Kour, former industry minister Fathi bin Shatwan.

Let's now change perspective, passing from an analytical form western, to a more tortuous and more roughly realistic.

Although the international community is pressing for the elections to be held on December 24, one cannot ignore a recently approved law, which imposes a 30-day precedence for the presidential elections, and possible ballots, according to the interpretation of the High Council. 45 days after the first shift.

It can be said that confusion reigns supreme, which, moreover, had to be considered predictable, when the negotiation process was launched that led to the formation of a weak executive who has not fully disavowed the past elites and has not shaped a common political consensus, which remained fragmented on multiple local realities.

It is therefore difficult to understand who actually has the advantage also because many, rather than seeking their own victory, have worked for the defeat of others, thanks also to the support of the militias. Paradoxically, the biggest winner could turn out to be the Misuratina Muslim Brotherhood, the most sophisticated and skilled organization in making agreements.

The lack of a strong base and political affiliation leads to having to include such a wide range of factions that only a fragmentary and tribal vision is possible, which however does not exclude the distribution of dividends from the oil trade, the only true glue.

If Mohamed al Menfi10 (in the photo, left), head of the presidential council, has not cut off relations with Haftar and has not turned against him, and if Dbeibah has shown a marked and populist adaptability, Haftar's problem remains that he needs enemies to justify his presence.

Institutionalizing a paperless state unit, the result of agreements made in other times and by other actors, it can only strengthen the hold and position on the part of external hegemons. Any winner of the Libyan west will not get collaboration in the east, while any eastern victor will have to come to terms with the Tripoli militias, which leads to the conclusion that any president without formalized powers will not be able to impose any plans.

Another problem of no small importance will consist in banking management, given the necessary reunification of the central institutions, which are required to distribute profits.

Remaining in paradoxicality, at this moment it is perhaps easier to dialogue with the identifiable Taliban regime than with the pulverized Libyan apparatus, which is truly responsible for the foreign presence on its own territory.

The abrasive objectivity of realism leads us to place the Libyan elections within a double dimension: the Western one, vitiated by a vision that mixes principled assumptions with indelible and tragic memories, and a local one, conditioned by tribalisms, factions, geographical extensions of difficult self-importance. not impossible to control like the Fezzan. It is therefore unrealistic to believe that the electoral consultations, however they take place, will be able to give a definite and future-oriented framework; more realistically we will see the tolerated rise of an agile policy, not much polite, capable of summarizing opposing demands made of backfires of a deposed regime, of elderly hierarchs who not only do not want to but cannot even desist from their intentions, and rampant entrepreneurs who, shaking off the dust of a dangerous past, warn the fascination of political Islam.

There are no alternatives: either a definitive fragmentation of a country that still has to find - if it ever succeeds - a national dimension, or a re-edition, in other ways, of a coexistence made acceptable by the umpteenth, very useful, political subdivision.

In Libya the exception is to find someone who is not a Manchurian Candidate; in fact, there is no political subject that is not heterodirected, just as there is and could not be an evaluation that does not lead us to consider Libya, for Italy, the concrete example of a political debacle that would have horrified Mattei.

The weak multilateralism mediator it remains, in fact, the only tool available and of relative functionality for national interests, for a political class that, once again, sees the Libyan sand flow between empty hands without realizing it.

1 See Turkey and Qatar on the one hand, and Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on the other.

2 In the last meetings in Paris, the withdrawal of the mercenaries still active in the territory was called for, together with the implementation of the ceasefire agreement of 23 October 2020; the measures would concern both Turkish military advisers and Syrian militiamen, as well as the Russian group Wagner deployed in favor of Haftar's forces, as well as other mercenaries of African origin. However, Ankara and Moscow have shown little inclination to withdraw their forces.

3 Najla al-Mangoush, Libyan foreign minister, has repeatedly invited foreign troops and mercenaries to leave the country even during a press conference with his Turkish counterpart, stating that Libyan sovereignty would be preserved in this way. Turkish minister Cavusoglu replied that it is wrong to equate the Turkish military presence in Libya with that of "illegitimate groups". In fact, it appeared that the two ministers therefore publicly disagreed.

4 UN mission in Libya

5 National Oil Company

6 See the decisions to finance young people who want to marry with five thousand Libyan dinars and raise teachers' salaries

7 It is useful to recall the contract signed by Libya Telecom Company with the US company Infinera, concerning the modernization of the optical fiber network for communications.

8 Africom

9 According to the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, the Israeli newspaper reported that both candidates have contacted, albeit separately, an Israeli consultancy firm specializing in staging political campaigns. According to the newspaper, the company had to register a new branch in the UAE so that it could have two separate entities to manage the campaigns.

10 Ambassador to Greece, he was expelled following the Turkish Libyan agreements on the EEZs

Photo: web / Ricardo Stuckert / presidency of the republic of Turkey / Kremlin / Palazzo Chigi