The resignation of UN Special Envoy Bathily in Libya and the resilience of political interests hostile to the transition


The UN Special Envoy for Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, resigned on April 16, publicly announcing his decision to the press shortly after reporting it to the Security Council. He had been appointed to the post only eighteen months ago, in September 2022, following the resignation of his predecessor Jan Kubis.

Bathily’s choice was motivated as a consequence of the UN’s inability to successfully support the political transition process that the international organization had long been trying to foster in the country, and the former special envoy was keen to point out that this inability was determined by the willingness of Libya’s various political actors to place their own personal interests and ambitions above the collective interest, frustrating any UN initiative.

Bathily bluntly described as lacking “good faith” the position of the leading national politicians, rendering any UN initiative futile and ruling out the possibility of any alternative solution to the mere continuity of the current political phase, which in its chaotic instability represents the ground for the continuity of individuals’ personal interests, to the detriment of the country’s stability.

Particularly frustrating for Bathily, after almost two years of continuous initiatives systematically boycotted by the parties, has been the need to postpone the national reconciliation conference, initially scheduled for April 28 and now postponed indefinitely, amid a general disinterest that demonstrates how the UN initiatives have resulted in more discontent than expectations within Libya’s increasingly polarized political framework.

Bathily’s criticisms are clear. Although a relative calm has long since returned to the country, this has not been functional for the resumption of national dialogue and the start of the necessary transition process to organize the hoped-for elections, leading on the contrary to a freezing of the balance of power of the different factions. A condition that has crystallized the multiple interests of the different political actors, who over time have consolidated their individual spheres of power, which they are now unwilling to give up by initiating an unpredictable transition path to elections that could subvert the status quo.

The web of individual political interests, moreover, is closely linked to a variegated framework of parallel interests that pass through the control of the economy, corruption, the management of the various militias that disorganizedly control especially Tripolitania, and, last but not least, the deep ties with organized crime, which runs trafficking of all kinds in Libya.

A set of rents of position that has allowed the emergence of real political fiefdoms, firmly entrenched to their own spheres of interest and unavailable to any formula for changing the current balance. A somewhat rigid framework in this way within which to try, for the UN, to facilitate a transition process, and shaped over time by a political posture toward Bathily characterized at once by a willingness to be open and the concomitant systematic indirect torpedoing of any initiative.

Bathily described the attitude of Libyan political leaders as driven by a “selfish determination” aimed at defending their individual interests, perpetuated underhandedly through the adoption of systematic maneuvers aimed at impeding the transition process through political and administrative expedients. In particular, Bathily’s criticism is directed at the five key figures in Libyan power whom the UN special envoy had often described as the “big five”: General Khalifa Haftar, Mohammed Takala, Mohamed al-Menfi, Aguila Saleh and Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. Five political figures to whom the UN fails to offer any prospect of incentive through of transition process, which on the contrary in the would severely limit the current ability to control the political system and the national economy.

Bathily’s resignation thus demonstrates how the role of the U.N. special envoy to Libya has become frustrating and devoid of real prospects over time. In 2020 Ghassam Salame resigned, after two years in office and officially for health reasons, although he expressed deep disappointment at how the transition process initiatives had been systematically opposed by both local actors and outside influences. He was succeeded by Jan Kubis, who in turn resigned in 2021 without clearly specifying the reasons, although even on this occasion it was clear how these had been determined by the impossibility of fulfilling the mandate given.

It now remains to be understood how and whether the United Nations intends to pursue its commitment in Libya by appointing a new special representative, which, according to some, could be identified at this stage in Stephanie Koury, currently the vico head of the UN mission in Libya, who would take up the post on an interim basis pending new guidelines from the Security Council.

Nevertheless, no replacement hypothesis seems to have at this stage any possibility of changing the current framework of political stasis in the country, as well as of varying the capacity of the UN special envoy in an ameliorative sense.

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