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Ghassan Salame’s Road to Solve the Libyan Dilemma

Ghassan Salame’s Road to Solve the Libyan Dilemma

Friday, 8 December, 2017 - 13:45
Ghassan Salame, UN Libya envoy, arrives for a meeting in Tunis, Tunisia September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

UN Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame said that a solution to the Libyan crisis would need three requisites, namely the constitution, the elections and the national reconciliation.

Salame, a former Lebanese minister and prominent academic, assumed the position of international envoy to Libya last September, and shortly after he submitted a roadmap for a Libyan solution, which received unanimous support from the UN Security Council and General Assembly.

In Cairo, which is currently sponsoring attempts by Libyan officials to unify the army, Salame, 66, listened to officials at the Egyptian defense ministry and expressed his hope that the efforts deployed by Cairo would yield positively on the unification of Libya’s institutions, warning that divisions would further weaken the central government in the country.

Salame spent less than two days in Egypt, where he held extensive meetings with officials at the Egyptian government and the Arab League. Then, he headed to Tunisia, to pursue his efforts towards a solution to the Libyan crisis.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Salame said he was seeking to complete the work of the UN mission, which, in 2015, has succeeded in forging the Skhirat Agreement between the different Libyan factions.

The agreement stipulated, among other items, the formation of a presidential council and an interim government.

After nearly two years of continuous efforts, Libya remains in turmoil. Salame wants to rearrange things, not from outside the political agreement, but from within it. This may require a surgeon’s skill, because the situation is complicated, and the Libyans’ ambitions are big, hasty and also confusing.

A political process, whether in Libya or in any other country, “is like flower in your home... if you do not water it, every day, it withers and dies,” Salame said.

He continued: “I want all Libyans to adopt a political solution, and I do not want the political solution to be monopolized by a certain group.”

“I want all Libyans to accept two things… first, not a return to the past, and second, to build the future in consultation and negotiation, not with weapons,” Salame added.

The UN envoy touched on the role of Egypt in the process of unifying the Libyan army, describing it as “a special role that we want to succeed”.

He also expressed his desire to remain “more clearly aware of what is actually happening on the ground in relation to the security and military situation” in Libya.

Based on his words, Salame seemed to be very concerned with the divisions within Libyan institutions. Even the central bank suffers from a split that negatively affects the economy and the lives of millions of people.

“I never seek quick fake victories. I seek the establishment of permanent institutions of durable nature. So I was interested, for example, in the process of unifying the army, and work hard to unite a large number of other institutions,” he stated.

Salame’s lengthy discussions, both in the Egyptian foreign ministry and elsewhere, have touched on the fear of the spread of illegal weapons in a country without a unified or strong authority.

“If you are a neighbor of a country with 23 million pieces of weapons, and where the government is not able to control this weapon, it is your legitimate right to say, 'I want to protect my border,'” he said

“Egypt’s border with Libya is long, and the Egyptian State pays hundreds of millions of pounds to defend and control its western borders,” Salame noted, adding that Algeria and Tunisia have both expressed the same concerns.

Salame voiced his fear that resorting to elections in conflict-prone countries would be just an escape.

“Sometimes elections are an escape, when a solution cannot be found. I am not a proponent of such escape. I tell you, I was against the first elections that took place in Iraq after the invasion, because I did not find that there was enough freedom for the people to run and vote. There are many similar cases in the world… in Angola, Algeria, and elsewhere,” he said.

In the Libyan case, Salame noted that he was seeking to repeat the Tunisian experience he was involved in three years ago.

“I have a simple, modest experience that I am talking about proudly,” he says.

“In 2014 we were able to gather all the main party leaders in Tunisia. They came to the town hall and pledged before all the cameras in the world to accept the outcome of the elections before they were held ... I will say frankly: Yes, I am seeking this in Libya,” Salame recounted.

In order to achieve this goal, the UN envoy underlined the need to form an interim government that would emerge from the heart of the political agreement. He noted that such government would take care of the living conditions of the people, while managing the political affairs until the end of the transitional phase in September.

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