Ahead of the December 24 elections, the UN announced a change of the special envoy to the country. On December 6, UN Secretary General António Guterres appointed U.S. diplomat Stephanie Williams to lead a mediation mission in Libya.
The announcement followed the news that Jan Kubis was leaving the post of UN special envoy for Libya.
Libya, plunged into war since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, will finally officially hold its long-awaited elections on December 24. But new U.N. appointments could jeopardize the security of the electoral process in a volatile environment.
The abrupt change of the UN representative at such an important time seems strange, to say the least. Kubis, by a strange coincidence, left the leadership of the project just three weeks before the crucial elections in the North African country. He argued that he could not be on the ground in Tripoli, since the diplomat himself resides in Geneva.
Interestingly, Kubis’ residence in Geneva did not embarrass him all of his 10 months in office – before suddenly becoming a problem right now. This raises the suspicion that Kubis was specifically asked to leave and has been replaced with a figure guaranteed to bring chaos to the Libyan elections. Williams is figure who had already discredited herself by supporting radical Islamist politicians in Libya and trying to take control of the main political institutions in the country.
Who is Stephanie Williams?
Williams is an American diplomat who was the deputy head of MINUSMA, the acting special envoy to Libya on political issues. Williams previously worked for the U.S. State Department, which suggests she is engaged in U.S. foreign policy doctrine hawks.
In 2018, the Middle East Monitor interpreted Williams’ appointment as special envoy as an increase in U.S. interest in Libya. “The return of this list with previous works at the US embassy in Tripoli is evidence of the return of the US Department of State – at least behind the scenes – to take care of Libyan affairs,” the publication noted.
Criticism of MINUSMA
MINUSMA, previously led by Ghassan Salame, was designed as a “peace plan” encompassing the mediation of intra-Libyan political negotiations and security in Libya. Meanwhile, Williams’ curatorship of the corresponding Forum for Political Dialogue in Libya showed the opposite: the priority on the platform was given to politicians close to Islamist circles and the Muslim Brotherhood, and part of the Libyan audience soon left the forum voluntarily.
In addition, the forum was criticized for being corrupt:
“We call for a full transparent investigation, with a record of the findings made public as well as the immediate exclusion of members of this forum found to be involved in the alleged bribery… shocking news circulating of the involvement of some participants in the forum to “buy” votes for some candidates aspiring to hold positions in the government and in the Presidency Council, places the integrity of the entire dialogue process into question.”
Thus, the attempt to hold an intra-Libyan dialogue (not in Libya and without all Libyan representatives) turned out in practice to be an attempt to strengthen Washington’s position in the internal affairs of the North African country.
At the same time, the attempt to support some candidates and “crush others” reveals a biased American approach to domestic Libyan politics.
One of Libyan politicians, Khaled al-Mishri, Chairman of Libyan High Council of State, spoke out in a December UWI webinar about the unconstructive nature of the UN mission in Libya. He also criticized the upcoming elections on December 24: which are flawed in the current circumstances – because, he said, they are organized by “weak and illegitimate entities”. At the same time, he noted that the electoral commission “does not control the ballots and the voter lists,” and that the security situation in Libya leaves much to be desired.
U.S. interests in Libya
Libya is a strategically important country for the U.S. (as well as for other foreign policy players) for many reasons. These include influence in the North African region, access to energy resources, the ability to control illegal human trafficking, and pressure on political opponents (including Turkey, Russia, European states and Libya’s neighbors).
According to al-Mishri, the United States “supports scheduled elections to get a President that forces Russia out of the country”.
Williams’ assumption of the key position proves this once again. The same applies to displacing Turkey and building the Mavi Vatan concept in the region.
U.S. peacekeeping ambitions in Libya are only bewildering. One gets the feeling that everyone has forgotten that it was the U.S. and NATO that brought Libya to its current fractured state in 2011.
At the same time, in words, Washington continues the same outward game of democracy. The day before, the United States called on all sides to reduce tensions and respect Libya’s ongoing legal and administrative electoral processes. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland said on Twitter that the United States shared the concern of Libyans and the international community that armed force and the risk of violence could not threaten the elections scheduled for December 24 and the desire of millions of Libyans to vote. Meanwhile, in parallel, Stephanie Williams stated that Libya is a “priority” for U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, and indicated that she sees no shortcomings in the American leadership with regard to the Libyan dossier. Williams also emphasized the importance of the Middle East and North Africa region strategically and geographically for the United States.
Many experts are already noting that Western intervention in Libya could provoke renewed conflict or even bloodshed, amid the risks of the electoral process. According to a Washington Post article, although Libya has not been among the top foreign priorities of the Biden administration, officials are redoubling diplomatic efforts in the country. The publication cites Williams’ appointment in Libya as an example.
Solution for Libya
Libya’s problems can only be solved by the Libyans themselves, given both the withdrawal of foreign troops and U.S. negotiating agents. The latter are even more dangerous than armed foreigners, since they set the stage for long-term destabilization of the region.
The joint efforts of countries really interested in Libyan stability – Turkey, Russia – could help restore peace in northern Africa. Their activism and assistance to Libyans can counter U.S. attempts to interfere in the political process.
Libya is still fragmented into several institutions. A peaceful election on December 24 could be the key to stability in the region. This is why it is so important that Libya be handled by Libyans, not Americans.