UN envoy decries continued political stalemate in Libya


The oil-rich nation has grappled with multiple challenges since the overthrow of President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The postponement of national elections, originally planned for December 2021, has further deepened the crisis.

Last November, UN Special Representative Abdoulaye Bathily invited leaders of Libya’s five key institutions – the Government of National Unity, the House of Representatives, the High Council of State, the Libyan National Army and the Presidency Council – to talks in efforts to break their impasse.

“I call again on them, really, to have a sense of history…to think about the future of their country,” he told UN News.

Mr. Bathily also discussed the dire situation of Libya’s population and renewed geopolitical interest in the country on the part of some regional and international powers, sparked by crises including conflict in Ukraine and neighbouring Sudan, and instability in the Sahel.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Abdoulaye Bathily: Libya has been undergoing different transition regimes since 2011, and all have decided at one point or another to create conditions for elections so that there will be peace and stability in the country. However, what we have seen over the last decade is that those have just been good intentions which have been proclaimed, but not implemented.

Libya is not a poor country; there are enough resources for every Libyan to live in prosperity

Moreover, we have seen that all those transitional leaders in Libya continued their rivalry, and they were not actually interested in elections taking place. They were not interested in stabilising the country and fuelled tensions in the country, and even fuelled rivalries among their supporters – the armed groups – which support them, respectively. Also, we have seen that they are very happy vis-à-vis the current situation whereby they can share the fruits of government among themselves.

Libya is not a poor country. Despite this crisis, Libya still produces 1.3 billion barrels of oil a day. There are enough resources for every Libyan to live in prosperity. However, what we have seen is that the ordinary Libyan has become impoverished over the last 10 years.

UN News: You warned that the renewed scramble for Libya among internal and external players is rendering a solution elusive. Why are we seeing this scramble being renewed recently?

Abdoulaye Bathily: At one point during the conflict, there was some degree of consensus among international and regional players that they should help the Libyans strike a deal for a consensus, for a political settlement, which will bring together all the Libyan leaders, unite the country and, of course, bring back peace and stability.

However, what I have seen over the past months is that on account of the impact of the Ukrainian crisis on Libya – both in terms of wealth, oil and gas, but also the military and geopolitical position of Libya in the central Mediterranean – this geographical position of Libya has renewed a kind of geopolitical interest of a number of regional and international powers.

The Ukrainian crisis has brought a new dimension to the Libyan crisis because of the economic and geopolitical consequences. At the same time, the war in Sudan has also had an impact over recent months on both the security situation and economic situation.

Beyond the immediate southern border of Libya, you have the crisis in the Sahel, which also has worsened over the last months in Mali, Burkina Faso and, of course, the refugee situation in Chad. All this has impacted tremendously on the internal situation in Libya.

© UNICEF/Mostafa Alatrib

People gather outside a flood-damaged apartment building in Derna, eastern Libya.

UN News: In a statement this month, UN Security Council members expressed their gratitude to you and reaffirmed their commitment to an inclusive, Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process facilitated by the United Nations. What’s your take on this?

Abdoulaye Bathily: I welcome this statement and hope that what we call a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned process will be carried out by good faith Libyan actors. This is a problem we always had in Libya because as long as those leaders who have been unwilling to engage in an inclusive negotiation process for a peaceful settlement can continue to monopolise the political process, I’m afraid we cannot have a solution in Libya.

UN News: What are the latest efforts by UNSMIL to reverse the intentional defiance to engage in earnest and a tenacity to delay elections in Libya?

Abdoulaye Bathily: The High State Council, Presidential Council, Government of National Unity and the Libyan National Army are the structures today that can make peace or make war in Libya, who are at the heart of problem in the country. This is why, for us, this was seen as an inclusive mechanism which could bring a peaceful settlement, if they are willing to do so.

Unfortunately, some of them have put conditions or preconditions. Also, they have been unfortunately supported by some outside players who have taken parallel initiatives which tended to neutralise our initiatives. As long as those same players are supported in one way or the other by outside players, we cannot have a solution.

This is why I said to the Council that it is important that all the international players and all the regional players not only speak the same language, but also act accordingly to support a peaceful and inclusive process in Libya.

A boy runs past damaged buildings, defaced by shelling during the conflict, on his way home from shopping, in the city of Sirte. (file)

© UNICEF/Giovanni Diffidenti

A boy runs past damaged buildings, defaced by shelling during the conflict, on his way home from shopping, in the city of Sirte. (file)

UN News: While the political stalemate in Libya persists, the economic situation is becoming severely strained. What are your latest observations in that respect?

Abdoulaye Bathily: The deterioration of the economic situation is obvious for everybody. The Libyan pound has been really going down against the dollar. The purchasing power of citizens is becoming lower and lower, and there are a lot of complaints among citizens about this. Despite the country’s huge wealth, the majority of the population do not benefit.

Today, Libya has gone backward. There is more poverty and insecurity and less democracy and security for the bulk of the population. This is the reality in Libya today, unfortunately.

UN News: You also voiced concern over the presence of armed actors and heavy weaponry in the capital, Tripoli. Can you tell us more about the security situation there and in Libya in general?

We all know that Libya today is almost an open supermarket of arms; Libya is increasingly becoming a sort of mafia state

Abdoulaye Bathily: We all know that Libya today is almost an open supermarket of arms, which are used for internal political competition among armed groups, but also used in the arms deals, in the arms race and in the arms trade with their neighbours and beyond.

The security situation is more and more concerning for the citizens because all these groups are competing for more power and more access to the wealth of the country, and therefore, their rivalries heighten the tensions throughout Libya and particularly in western Libya.

UN News: Another issue plaguing Libya is the dire situation of migrants and refugees. Can you tell us more about this?

Abdoulaye Bathily: Migration is one of the burning issues in Libya today. As we know, there is a lot of human trafficking. Unfortunately, because of the security situation, there is no hope that we can think of this situation improving in the mid-term or even long-term.

Libya is increasingly becoming a sort of mafia state, which is dominated by a number of groups involved in trafficking gasoline, migrants, metals such as gold and drugs. All this trafficking is interlinked and conducted by the same groups of individuals who are clearly identified in different areas of Libya, in the neighbouring countries and across the Mediterranean.

UN News: As you prepare to leave office, what would be your final message to the key Libyan stakeholders who, as you said before, have not budged from their preconditions to attend the talks you invited them to last year?

Abdoulaye Bathily: I call again on them to have a sense of history and to think about the future of their country. They have to take the moral responsibility before their country. I would also extend a call to their mentors, to those who support them in continuing to keep this stalemate which is detrimental to the interests of the Libyan people and to the region, not only North Africa, but the Sahel.

It is time that the Libyan people, who have been aspiring for peace and stability, to have access to that peace and stability they have been longing for.

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