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Stephanie Williams joined the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) two years ago as Deputy Head of Mission at the time, Ghassan Salame. In March last year, she took center stage as the acting UN envoy to Libya after Salameh resigned for health reasons. It left in February, but only after creating “hope” for Libya as she indicated in Article She co-authored with her former boss. The two are now busy writing a book about their experience as UN mediators.
While much of the Libya bailout was already in place, based on Berlin conference Regarding Libya, its implementation was complicated because it involved many conflicting local actors backed by different regional powers. At the same time, the living conditions of the majority of Libyans deteriorated, which added to the moral pressure on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya. The attempt by warlord Khalifa Haftar and his army in eastern Libya to seize Tripoli by force failed after 13 months of the military campaign that displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians and killed hundreds of others in and around the capital.
According to Williams, US President Donald Trump’s April 24, 2019 phone call with Haftar was interpreted as a green light, not a red light. She told me that while we don’t know what was said during the call, we do know how it was understood.
It is clear that Trump expressed his support for Haftar’s efforts to combat “terrorism” while the latter’s forces were besieging Tripoli. Once, US National Security Adviser John Bolton told Haftar that if he can, he should take Tripoli “quickly,” with the fewest casualties. Haftar’s campaign escalated into a bloody and devastating adventure, but it failed completely thanks to Turkey sending Syrian forces and mercenaries to repel his advance. Haftar himself was supported by Russian mercenaries.
Williams supports the Libyan authorities Appointment Calls on foreign forces to leave Libya as soon as possible. After a series of meetings with the new military committee representing eastern and western Libya, I felt that the presence of foreign forces was an affront to the “dignity” of Libyans. Moreover, their departure is a prerequisite for a fair and secure election planned for December 24th. She indicated that achieving this goal is no longer a Libyan decision, but it can be done “with the countries concerned,” referring to Turkey and Russia, although neither of them has yet responded to the Libyan call to withdraw from the country. She noted, however, that it was the Libyan commanders who had requested the foreign forces in the first place. This is an undeniable fact.
The former envoy believes that the renewed US interest in Libya goes beyond simply confronting the Russian presence. She believes that this is part of a “comprehensive policy” toward Libya, and has been encouraged by the “strong stance” that the Biden administration has adopted on Libya over the past few months. This stance is mainly focused on pushing towards the elections as planned.
There were positive indications in support of such an analysis. May 10, President Joe Biden Eye Richard Norland as the United States ambassador to Libya, and a week later, Acting Under Secretary of State Joe Hood Visit Tripoli met with officials, including the Prime Minister. Norland had expressed his support for the exit of foreign forces from Libya on a number of occasions.
Williams disagrees that Washington lost the initiative on Libya during the Trump years. It now appears that the United States has a new agenda in the entire Middle East and North Africa region, and strategically located oil-rich Libya is a part of it. She believes the Biden administration is sincere in its intention to help Libya, at least, by curbing foreign interference. She said, “Washington’s ability to meet and lead internationally will make others follow their example.” However, we must remember that the United States led the destruction of Libya a decade ago.
It is clear that she believes the country is now “heading in the right direction”. Under its leadership, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) regularly held the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) between November 2020 and March 2021. The forum agreed on a roadmap, a newly elected unity government, a package of economic reforms and, above all, a ceasefire that has been in place since the past. October.
I asked Williams why the so-called international community was so conscious of abiding by the law when strengthening the arms embargo imposed on Libya under UN Resolution 1970 in 2011 but recently turned a blind eye, even as the flow of weapons and fighters continued to flow into the country and fueling the conflict. She evaded the question, but drew some parallels between the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2011 military intervention in Libya, where “the lessons of Iraq were not learned.” Libya became outlawed, just like Iraq, after the 2011 NATO invasion. Williams cited what she called “international chaos,” as the UN Security Council was paralyzed by disagreements among its members. Having worked in Iraq before, I saw what [the invasion of Iraq] I did. Without actually saying so, she seemed to imply that the Iraqi invasion was a mistake, as was the military intervention in Libya. The “international chaos” enabled Haftar to launch his attack on Tripoli in April 2019.
She explained, “I have never liked to use the term” international community “because it does not exist.” “What is there is interests, and this was not easy to explain to the Libyans because we are supposed to represent this phantom international community.”
Regardless of the connotations, we must not forget that Libya was destroyed in 2011 in the name of “the international community” and “international law”, just as Iraq was from 2003 onwards.
The 75 strong members of the LPDF serve as a junior parliament. After being elected to the new administration, she crafted an agenda focused on the security of the Libyan people, unifying government institutions, and holding elections in December. I asked why it has 75 members instead of 80, for example. She replied, “Because it was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations.” The historical relevance is not to be missed; Libya Today was created by the United Nations 70 years ago.
She is optimistic that Libya will emerge unified and stable again despite everything she has gone through because she has “young talents and capabilities” who want to unify the country. In fact, the country now has a new unified government and (almost) unified institutions after years of having two administrations, one in the east and the other in the west.
She told me, “Above all, the Libyans celebrated, for the first time in years, the month of Ramadan and Eid without hearing the sound of bombs and gunfire thanks to the ceasefire that was agreed upon last October.” She stressed, however, that the “legitimacy crisis” can only be solved “through the ballot box.”
In conclusion, Stephanie Williams spoke positively about the role of Libyan women in the political process because they “brought new momentum”. However, I was disappointed that Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dabaiba had failed to fulfill his promise to allocate 30 percent of ministerial positions to women. There are only two women in the cabinet, namely, Foreign Minister Najla Al-Mankoush, and Minister of Justice Halima Busafi.
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