Libyan citizens, victims of the political conflict between Bashagha and Dabaiba. Conversation with Assad Zhew

By Vanessa Tomassini.

“The political division in Libya is certainly affecting terribly the economic and living situation of the citizen because the budget was interrupted by the recommendation of the International Economic Group of the Berlin Conference and the Parliament refuses to grant resources to the expired Dabaiba government, as described by the Governor of the Central Bank of Libya, who refuses to grant the budget even to Bashaga executive, as he claims that it is also an illegitimate body. In between are citizens who become unable to meet their needs, due to the state of inflation, poor services and the interruption of development projects.” Assad Mohsen Zhew, 37, from Tripoli, says. Assad is a candidate for the Presidential elections of Libya, if ever they will be held. With him, following a meeting in Cairo with the special adviser of the UN Secretary General for Libya, Stephanie Williams, we try to understand the latest developments, or rather regresses, in the North African country.

It’s been a while since our last conversation. How has the situation on the ground changed?

“After the disruption of the elections and the talk about a constitutional path in order to initiate the electoral process, the parliament passed the twelfth constitutional amendment, from which the Supreme Council of State disavowed, the parliament went on to form a government headed by Mr. Fathi Bashagha and that further complicated the situation because we now have two governments, one in Tripoli and the other in Sirte, and this situation has created a division among the parties of civil and military society.”

There is room for the hypothesis of the formation of a new government to lead Libya to the elections. What do you think? Isn’t a third government, after that of Dabaiba and Bashagha, likely to further complicate the situation?

“This plan is largely agreed upon in order to deal with the existent problem of the executive branch and therefore it can be an acceptable option if it is supported by everyone, including the two Governments, the House of Representatives and the State. It is indeed a solution to the current electoral crisis but this solution can only yield positive results if the constitutional situation was seriously dealt with to reach a constitutional rule and agree on a specific date for elections. In this case only, the two governments may accept the handover to a third cabinet because the international legitimacy of Mr. Dabaiba’s government will expire on the 21st of June, the same for its local legitimacy that had ended with the withdrawal of confidence from the House of Representatives. Accordingly, it is probable for it to accept the handover of power to a new government. On the other hand, Mr. Bashaga may accept as well if a specific date for holding the elections is confirmed by an agreed constitutional rule as he is a presidential candidate”.

According to the statements of the Government of National Unity, today we discover that Gnewa Al-Kikli is a legitimate police force and Bashagha a criminal. What did we miss?

“This is normal considered the current dispute, and in conflicts they may even resort to more than that but what must be ascertained is that we are politically addressing the exceptional situation we are experiencing in a not very normal condition”.

What is the responsibility of neighboring countries and the international community in this crisis?

“Unfortunately, I am starting to feel that the international and regional parties want this situation to continue and that a weak and fragile Libya, divided by its internal issues, works for their interest more than a strong, solid and recovering Libya. However, I hope that I am wrong in my estimations and see an international seriousness when it comes to helping Libya to break out of its plight. Libya cannot help the world in controlling illegal migration, smuggling, insecurity and combating terrorism unless it is out of its crisis and plight.”

What do you think about the freezing of oil sector revenues until a way is found for fair distribution? Doesn’t this action risk deteriorate the provision of services to citizens?

“Firstly, freezing the disposition of oil revenues gives us certainty that Libya no longer has sovereignty over its resources and is under international trusteeship. Secondly, I pointed out earlier that what we ended up with was a result of both the division of the executive branch and the weakness of legitimacy. And this will certainly have negative impacts on a citizen’s economic and living status. Therefore, it is important to urgently address and in a serious way the situation in order to find an alternative national executive authority primarily with the task of conducting and facilitating daily life and overseeing the holding of elections as soon as possible.”

In recent days the Libyan National Gathering met Stephanie Williams. What are your impressions after the meeting?

“We met during consultations on the constitutional path in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. The meeting brought together the United Nations mission represented by Mrs. Stephanie, members of the UN mission and members of the Libyan National Gathering Party who were already in Cairo during this meeting. The dialogue was about a number of issues, notably the constitutional path she supports, as well as other topics in various fields such as economy, education, human resources development, local government and other subjects. Stephanie affirmed her readiness to continue the bicameral dialogue until a constitutional rule is adopted. If a constitutional rule is not reached through the bicameral chambers, she will set up a committee of experts, with direct knowledge of the United Nations mission, to prepare the constitutional path”.

Is Libya affected in any way by the war in Ukraine? Have you seen a rise in prices or are there commodities in short supply?

“Obviously, the war in Ukraine has repercussions on the Libyan situation because in Libya, the local community overlaps with the international community and the level of international involvement in Libya is quite remarquable. Therefore, our country cannot be isolated from the rest of the world and must consider the consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, especially as we are an oil-producing country and the existence of foreign troops in our land, also if the same conflicting parties in Ukraine are present in Libya with the same alignments.”

Do you think the Libyans will be able to have legitimate national elections by the end of the year?

“Yes, but on one condition that the United Nations mission can have access to a consensual constitutional rule before the end of the middle of this year. Going to elections will be possible and especially necessary to end the state of division and fragmentation in the country.”