Among energy and food crisis Libya could internationally play a greater role, will it be up for? Conversation with Faisal Feituri

By Vanessa Tomassini.

“I was born in Benghazi in 1961, though my family origins are in Western Libya in the coastal city of Zliten. I was educated in Alexandria at Victoria College and lived in Lebanon before immigrating to the US in 1978. I studied at Oxford and University of Puget Sound before beginning a career in global corporate and investment banking. I am the founder of the Libyan-American Coalition, a non-partisan association working across political and geographic boundaries to promote economic development and security reform in Libya. As founder of the coalition, I’m working to strengthen the bonds between my beloved adopted homeland, the US, and my native land Libya”. Tells about himself, Faisal Feituri, with whom we try to summarize the situation in Libya and the posture of the main foreign players, including Europe, Russia and the United States.

 How you see the current political situation in Libya? Are elections still possible in the short term?

 “The Libyan people overwhelming want elections. They recognize it is their right to decide their future. We saw this with the number of Libyans who registered to vote, more than 2.8 million in December. But the situation is difficult; At this time the political elite do not have the will to see elections through. Government officials and parliamentarians have overstayed their mandate, and most of them have lost credibility with the people. Personal and tribal interests are being put before the national interest. So to answer your question; I do not think that there will be an opportunity to hold elections in the short or medium term. At first, we would need to see serious steps towards resolving internal and regional issues like national security, the economy and the distribution of Libyan oil wealth for the people regardless of political affiliation”.

In your Facebook, you wrote that Libya will become a new State after America added it in its 10 years executive plan and you also mentioned all corrupted figures will be held accountable, is that a confirmed information or your personal analysis?

 “I think what we are seeing is that, even with the war in Ukraine drawing so much attention, there is a special American focus, along with that of the international community, on Libya and ensuring stability as it works towards its democratic transition. The country is part of NATO’s southern flank, and no one knows this better than Italy. It also ranks in the top 10 countries globally for proven oil reserves. With the energy crisis today, and the move we are seeing in Europe away from Russian oil, Libya is well-positioned to take advantage of new opportunities. It’s strategic location in the Eastern Mediterranean puts it right at Europe’s doorstep. This region is going to be a hub for energy in the coming decades, even with the transition to renewable sources. The commitment from the US and its partners to Libya is real. That was evident April 1 when the US designated Libya as one of five countries that would receive long-term support over 10 years in the form of diplomatic, developmental, and security sector engagement. The plan is focused largely on promoting stability. That will make Libya a safe destination for major international investment. Discussions are already underway for rehabilitating the oil sector with an eye towards increasing production and attracting multinational companies to the Libyan economy. Corruption is the enemy to economic transformation. It distorts the political space and keeps foreign companies away. In a global world, if Libya wants to be competitive it must address corruption. The Libyan-American coalition has been energized by the US’s commitment to Libya under the 10-year plan and is actively working on fighting corruption. We have cooperated with the Judiciary and the Libyan attorney general to help prepare more than 89 files on corruption cases to hold individuals and businesses to account for the wealth that has been plundered from the Libyan people over the past decade”.

 What is the international power balance between Fathi Bashagha and Dabaiba? Who supports who?

 “It’s a complicated situation, and it’s important to remember there are both internal and external forces at play. Fathi Bashagha has received support from the Parliament in the East and the State Council in the West, but has been unable to start a new government. Dabaiba has been able to persuade the international community so far that he can achieve the promises made in his earlier roadmap to elections. Dabaiba’s support from Turkey, a major force on the ground in Libya, has helped secure his position. When it comes to the US what they are focused on is holding elections. The UN has been careful not to wade into the domestic politics, maintaining channels with both men as they push for a roadmap to elections”.

 Some people say that you are a Hafter lobbyist in the US and you help his lawyer team. Is that accurate? If yes what his situation is in the American courts?

“The Libyan-American coalition is working to promote security in Libya and economic opportunities for the Libyan people, regardless of their political affiliation or geographic location. We believe a prosperous Libya, aligned with the West and Democratic values is in the best interests of the Libyan people and the United States. As part of our work to enhance economic opportunities and promote security reform we have engaged with actors in both the East and the West of Libya, including general Haftar on issues of security reform. As we work to promote the joint interests of the US and Libyan people, we believe it is best to maintain open channels of communication with all sides in Libya. To be clear, the Libyan-American coalition is not registered as a foreign agent and does not engage in lobbying for any party. We also have not taken any donations from political groups in Libya”.

Libyan Islamists, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood lobbyist, are well organized in the US at the institutional level and politics. Where are the rest of Libyans in the US? Why they don’t give the right advise to stabilize their homeland?

 “You are right. They are well organized in the US, especially on Capitol Hill, although I would add that their support in Libya and amongst the Libyan people is quite low and would be almost zero without supporting militias. You raise a very interesting point about the rest of Libyans in the US. I would say this, the brotherhood is by nature political and steeped in the inner workings of activism. That’s in-part because it has so little to say on economic issues and the bread-and-butter topics that matter to average Libyans. Another factor is that Libyan Americans have assimilated well in the US. They are entrepreneurial and well educated. So, while they love Libya and are proud of their heritage, they are focused on creating a better future for themselves and their families, as opposed to following the inner workings of politics each day, like the brotherhood, which creates nothing. This is exactly why the Libyan American coalition is so important. We want to energize the Libyan diaspora to play a greater role in their homeland and help strengthen the bonds with the US. We are focusing on economic opportunities. Libya is a big country with a small population. It is also blessed with natural resources, the most important of which is not its oil, but its successful and hardworking diaspora. So, we want to help organize them, and really be a home for them. As immigrants they are patriotic Americans who know the true value of freedom and that’s the energy, we want to help them bring back to their ancestral land, which serves the interests of the US and Libya.” 

What do you think, is the problem of Libya security, social, political or economic, and what is the solution in your opinion and how can it be implemented?

“The hopes that went along with the fall of the former regime clearly have yet to materialize. And supporters of the September and February camps have been unable to resolve their differences. The situation worsened with a succession of inept and corrupt governments unable to meet the needs of the people.  To make matters worse these leaders have failed to relinquish power, so there has been no accountability for their failure. Europe and the US can help Libya in its transition, but as we’ve seen across the region, the will must exist with the people and political leaders inside the country to be successful. The Libyan people must have the opportunity to choose their representatives and leadership through democratic elections without attempts to influence voters through terrorism, military militias or foreign interference.”

How can Europe rejoin its influence on the Libyan file with America, after it failed to manage the dossier in the past?

 “The US role is important even it is late in Libya, it will unite international efforts to participate in developing Libya, and presents Europe with a golden opportunity to compensate for the mistakes of the past. The active American presence in Libya supports the democratic transformation. It also gives major credibility to the country’s economic development; therefore, there is an opportunity available to all companies; American, European, regional and neighboring, to participate in the economic recovery and development.”

Why is America excluding a large part of Libyans? I refer to those from the former regime who still in the list of international sanctions and the Isolation political law? Do you think that these people might support Russian agenda in Libya, and are they are a large section of the Libyan people?

“I speak from experience here. Most of my family’s wealth was captured by the Qadhafi regime. But I believe the participation of all Libyan parties in the process of democratic transformation is very important. There also needs to be a greater effort to make sure those on the international sanctions list are not being unjustly targeted. There is obviously, and correctly a concern about those who engaged in gross human rights violations, and corruption in the former regime, but there are also those who have been wrongfully targeted. I believe the right balance can and should be found. But when we talk about exclusion from the political process, I think the larger issue is also generational. The median age in Libya is 28, but look at who is vying for power today and the top political figures. Young people, and I’m not just speaking about the children of the elite, represent a sizable voting bloc. It’s also important to focus on the role of women in the political process. Libyan women are extremely well educated and successful, despite this their voice is underrepresented. On Russia, I think the lesson for those considering that is clear. Russia is isolated on the global stage. Putin has even ostracized himself from countries once sympathetic to him. Not only has Russia invaded a sovereign country, and we see the actions that it is taking there, it is failing in its invasion. So just from a purely strategic standpoint I don’t see how anyone thinks Russia could be a valuable ally now. I may add that Libya has a golden opportunity to emerge as a pillar for energy security in Europe and beyond that, economic cooperation. Europe is rich market for Libya. Russia has oil, but Libya already has that, so the benefits of aligning with Putin, whether based on principle, security, or economic lines makes no sense.”

Maintaining those sanctions lists and travel ban is not against the reconciliation project?

“As I said, those listings should be reviewed, not only to support the overall reconciliation project but also to ensure equitable representation of all parties to the political and popular equation in the country”.

After the surge of awareness experienced by the youth of Libya and the world, do you think that America’s betting on the current of political Islam will benefit it in the long term?

“I think the US, lawmakers in particular, still struggle to understand the region. I believe their intentions are generally good, but a member of congress really has no chance to walk the streets of Benghazi or Tripoli and speak with a shopkeeper, speak with the layman on the street in a free setting. So, a lot of what they hear comes from lobbyists, and we understand who is more organized on that front. But as you said, people in the region are demanding more from their politicians, especially as economic conditions become harder. And the Islamist parties, which have really become part of the elite at this stage, are suffering from the lack of support. I believe in the medium and long term the emergence of moderate political parties that look to address the concerns of young people will impact how those in the US see the region.”

You wrote something interesting about Mrs. Stephanie Williams, how you evaluate her job and who can succeed to her as UNSG special envoy?

“Stephanie Williams is a distinguished diplomatic figure and has no special or private goals. She has served her in her role under tough and complex circumstances with a local political scene that changes almost daily. So that is a challenging position for anyone to be in. But it’s clear that the goals which were set out didn’t match the end results. Elections have not been held. To be sure, it’s her fault, the lack of a local political consensus, squabbling amongst Libyan politicians, and security fears prevented a vote. I believe that the failure of the former Arab international envoy and the limited success of Stephanie will prompt the UN to choose a European or American as the next envoy. It has to be someone that can deal with all the parties in Libya and build on what is achieved already, taking in consideration that the ten years plan proposed by the United States has an increased acceptance of every one day after day”.

Would you like to add something to my questions?

“Just that the recent international circumstances after the Corona pandemic and war in Ukraine and economic crises give Libya the opportunity to play a much bigger role in the world stage. Energy security is paramount, and so is the stability of Europe along NATO’s southern flank. There are enormous opportunities for Libya that didn’t exist 3 or 4 years ago. I also think that regional countries such as Israel will cooperate with Arab countries and coordinate with military leaders in the region more after the signing of Abraham peace agreements. There are interesting opportunities for Libya on this front as well”.

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