Signs that Libya’s new transitional authority had Russian-Turkish stamp of approval
The two leaders of the transitional executive authority in Libya chosen Friday by Libyan delegates in Switzerland are figures known for their loyalty to Turkey.
The two interim leaders who emerged from the vote are Misratan businessman Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, who is close to Ankara. He will serve as prime minister till elections are held in Libya by the end of the year. He is a former ambassador to Greece, who was expelled by Athens after the signing of the maritime border demarcation agreement between Libya and Turkey. Mohammad Younes Menfi will head the presidential council.
The vote by the members of the Libyan Dialogue Forum, sponsored by the United Nations and held in Chavannes de Bogis, near Geneva, resulted in the victory of a list that included Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, as prime minister, and Mohammad Younes Menfi, as head of the presidential council. The winning list also included Musa Al Kouni, who is a member of the resigning presidential council, and Abdullah Hussein al-Lafi. Both will serve as members of the new council.
Dbeibah’s list won 39 votes against 34 votes for the competing list which included Aguila Saleh, who sought the presidency of the presidential council, with Osama al-Juwaili and Abdul Majeed Saif al-Nasr, who ran for membership of the council, while Fathi Bashagha was a candidate for the office of prime minister. Many Libyans welcomed the election of a new executive authority. They felt this formula dispels fears of a new outbreak of war, as the outcome is bound to satisfy Ankara, the most prominent regional power that has intervened openly, in including militarily, in the Libyan conflict. A number of activists expressed sharp criticism of this winning formula, which they said did not take into account the political and geographical balances in the country, considering that Menfi is a displaced person from Cyrenaica and is known for his opposition to the authorities in the east of the country.
There have been, however, many indications that representatives of the Libyan National Army Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, in the talks, voted in favour of the list headed by Dbeibah. This is believed to be a reflection of Haftar’s acceptance of Menfi. It also reinforced speculations that the list was agreeable to Russia.
Those objecting to Dbeibah’s election seem to be among the supporters of Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, who was running for the presidency of the presidential council.
Political activist Sulaiman al-Bayoudi said, commenting on the election of the new executive authority, “The new authority will not be a tool of war or one of its causes. Rather it will be a basis for comprehensive national stability.”
He added, “I do not expect the collapse of the situation and drift towards return to war, even if there are expectations of short-lived outbursts of violence sparked by political anger.”
Political analyst Muhammad al-Jarih, who opposed the results of the vote, said that “any delegate who asks Libyans to accept the results of the vote coming from the Dialogue Forum follows his personal interests or is influenced by ideological reasons or by a misunderstanding of the situation and inability to read it properly, because these results mean the end of the Libyan entity as we know it. It cannot be accepted. Everyone must reject these results”.
Political activist Nevin Al-Swehli, who supports Fathi Bashagha, said that “Menfi is based in Tripoli and does not represent the eastern bloc. This list will increase the pace of recruitment of mercenaries, and no one will leave, and the 5 + 5 committee will fail.”
Activists had spoken in recent days about a visit by Abdul Hamid al-Dabaiba to Rajma and his meeting there with Haftar, which strengthened speculation about the existence of understandings between the two parties about the executive authority.
The failure of the list, which included Aguila Saleh and Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, surprised many observers, as they were expectations of an international and regional agreement in favour of the two figures’ leading the new executive authority.
But a victory of the Aguila -Bashagha list was difficult from the start despite local and external support, as it seemed that the talks were under the control of Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah and his uncle Ali Dbeibah, the Libyan billionaire, who was accused at the beginning of the talks of offering bribes to buy the votes of the members of the Forum. But he denied the allegations calling upon the UN mission’s acting chief to open an investigation into the charges.
It is possible, according to sources, that the failure of Aguila -Bashagha’s proposed list was caused by lack Russian support, which has reinforced speculations that Russia will continue to side with Haftar despite talk during the last period of a cooling in relations between both sides after Turkish-Russian understandings forced the army to withdraw from Tripoli.
It is clear that the reason for Russia’s rejection of the Aguila -Bashagha formula was Fathi Bashagha, who was mentioned in the news at the end of last year as mulling a visit to Moscow. Since the visit did not take place, it was presumed that was facing strong Russian objections.
Aguila Saleh, who has encountered disagreements with Haftar during the last period, will be one of the biggest losers from this settlement formula. He had himself promoted the formula hoping to head the new presidential council. But he will be now removed from the position of parliament speaker in and replaced by a figure from the south (Fezzan).
Newly-elected President Abdul Hamid Dbeibah will have 21 days to form his government and submit it to the house of representatives for approval. If parliament does not approve it, the government will be submitted for approval by the 75 members of the Dialogue Committee.
The UAE and Turkey were among the first countries to welcome the success of the Libyan factions in choosing a new Libyan authority.
(A version of this article was originally published by The Arab Weekly and reproduced by permission.)