The Libyan elections are heating up. Following the deadline for the Presidential nominations closing on 24 November, the electoral commission has been busy removing many of the 98 candidates from the list. Saif al-Islam Gadhafi has been disqualified for his previous conviction, whereas the former Prime Minister and Human Rights Lawyer, Ali Zidan, lost his place for continuing to hold more than one nationality.
There is an appeal process and the UN is worried that the court deciding Saif’s case, in the south-west city of Sebha, was raided by an armed group soon after he submitted his appeal.
Meanwhile, the Head of the UN Support Mission In Libya, Jan Kubis has resigned his post claiming that the headquarters must return from Tunisia and re-establish itself in Tripoli. With less than a month to go to the elections, this is a brave move and is very significant because it could help reintegrate Libya into the international community. However, there are plenty of risks attached to this relocation since there are still many internal and external actors who do not want to see the UN succeed and so the Mission will have to drastically improve its security to remain for the long term.
There is an irony in Saif al-Islam Gadhafi registering as a presidential candidate in Libya ten years to the week that he was captured near the Nafusa mountains. Meeting the the lawyers and elders outside the Zintan prison, I was informed that Saif would not be released to the International Criminal Court, but little did I suspect that he would survive a decade, let alone gather enough support to return to the political arena.
Although he has drawn the headlines, there are in fact six other registered candidates, all of whom were born in Cyrenaica (Eastern Libya), or Misratah. They include the military leader, Khalifa Hafter, a senior officer in the revolution who was snubbed by the transitional government in 2012, as well as a respected scholar and distinguished political leaders.
Inevitably, we will see a great deal of misinformation and interference in the next month as external actors promote their preferred candidates and denigrate their rivals. Given that Libya remains in the top ten countries for proven oil reserves, there is much to play for as we approach the elections on the 70th anniversary of independence.For more comment on the future of the country, see Chapter 16 and Jason Pack’s Afterword in Liberating Libya.
If you were wondering why the Heads of State of France, Germany and Italy (and the Vice President of the USA) were not at COP26 in Glasgow on Friday, it is because they were attending the International Conference For Libya in Paris. The declaration that was published at the end of the conference has received scant attention in the media, but it is probably the best work on Libya since the Pandemic began because it deals equally with the political, security and economic lines of activity, as well as highlighting the humanitarian needs. However, just like the COP26 statement, it is not the talking, but the doing that will make the difference; and the first doing is the free and fair elections that will take place on the 70th anniversary of Libyan independence next month.
Thinking about Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday this week, my focus has been on commemorating the 10,000 Allied casualties from World War II who were killed in Libya.
Hundreds of thousands of British citizens have a grandparent or a family relation who are buried in the four Commonwealth War Cemeteries at Tobruk, Knightsbridge, Benghazi and Tripoli. Perhaps the most iconic of these is the burial ground for those who died during the nine month siege of Tobruk, which was as much a symbol of defiance as Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain because it was the first occasion that the German Blitzkrieg war machine was defeated in battle.The fortress, as it was known, was relieved in November 1941, when six Victoria Crosses were awarded to British and Irish soldiers (four of them posthumous). The many acts of incredible bravery are covered in Part 3 of Liberating Libya, including the near-suicidal advance on foot of the Black Watch, who were “played-in” by Pipe Major Rab Roy against Rommel’s well-sited artillery and machine guns.
For people who are reluctant to pay tribute to soldiers who gave their lives for today’s freedoms, it is worth remembering the 270 innocent people killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, which is also in the news again. With a major international conference on Libya beginning this week in Paris, I am sure the continued pursuit of those responsible for the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher and the bombing 33 years ago will be highlighted more by the Media than the 80th anniversary of the Relief of Tobruk, but they are all part of the same Anglo-Libyan tapestry that deserves our attention.