Campaigning for Libya's first elections in four decades is underway ahead of the 7 July polls. While it remains difficult to predict the final outcome of the elections, voting will likely be influenced by tribal and regional affiliations. The Muslim Brotherhood's recent success in Egypt will also likely bolster their Libyan affiliates.
On 26 June a small bomb detonated outside the main gate of the Tunisian consulate in Tripoli, days after Qadaffi's former Prime Minister, Al Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi was extradited from Tunisia to face trial. Media reports claimed that Al-Mahmoudi had subsequently been beaten in custody, a claim denied by the Libyan authorities.
Militia forces aligned with the federalist Interim Cyrenaica Council (ICC) are reported to have established road blocks on the main Tripoli to Benghazi highway in the area of Wadi Al Ahmar, a move likely connected with the ICC's recent statement of boycott of the forthcoming elections. As yet, Tripolihas not responded militarily to the roadblocks.
Late June has seen renewed clashes in the west of Libya between members of the al-Mashasha tribe and militia from the al-Zintan area, part of a rolling campaign by Zintan-based militias to extend their control throughout southwestLibya. There was further skirmishing in the southeast in the oasis town of al-Kufra between pro-government Arab militia's and Tabu fighters.
The overall security situation in Tripoli and Benghazi remains stable, following the two high profile attacks against consulate targets in Benghazi in early and mid June. Protestors ransacked an election office in Benghazi on 1 July, calling for a review of the allocation of seats in the new assembly. Both Tripoli and Benghazi are likely to see further political gatherings and protests in the run in to the 7 July elections.
Campaigning for Libya's first national election in four decades is underway ahead of the 7 July polls to choose the countries new national assembly. Voter registration in May saw around 80 per cent of eligible voters sign up to participate and observers expect a high turnout. The elections are being contested by around 140 political groupings and over three thousand candidates for seats on the 200 member General National Congress (GNC) that will assume power from the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC). Of the 200 seats, 80 will be allocated to political parties, with the rest going to independent candidates. In addition to the current problems faced by the NTC, which include rebel integration and the issue of federalism, the GNC will also be responsible for the task of drafting a new constitution and overseeing future executive and legislative elections.
While it remains difficult to predict the final outcome of the elections, it is likely that voting will be shaped by tribal affiliations and post revolutionary groupings, as much as specific political agendas or ideologies. Three main groups are expected to be the frontrunners in the polls. The first are secular modernists bidding for the centre ground under the banner of the National Forces Alliance. The second, the National Salvation Front, is based on political groups set up in opposition to Qadaffi in the early 1980s. The third are the Islamists, who cover a wide spectrum. The group closest to the Muslim Brotherhood - the Justice and Development Party - is likely to benefit from the recent success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
The distribution of seat in the new assembly remains a contentious issue between the east and west of the country, with pro-federalists in the east threatening to boycott the elections. The continued fragile security environment in the al-Kufra area in the southeast of the country has also cast doubts on local polling taking place. The potential for localised protests is likely to increase as the election date draws near, as demonstrated by the 1 July protests in Benghazi. While foreign nationals are unlikely to be directly targeted in election related disturbances, personnel should remain vigilant during the election period and avoid the areas of large political gatherings or protests, including polling stations on the 7 July.
The recent ceasefire in the west of the country between fighter from the al-Mashasha tribe and militia members from the al-Zintan area is reported to have broken on 25 June, resulting in renewed clashes in the areas of Mizdeh, Shagiga, and al-Zintan. According to reports from the al-Zintan area, the ceasefire collapsed after al-Mashasha fighters tortured and killed a Zintani prisoner. A separate report has claimed that al-Mashasha fighters have called on international organizations to investigate the alleged use of gas by Zintani fighters during the shelling of Shagiga on 17 June; claiming that over two hundred people suffered cases of asphyxiation.
In a recent media interview, the Director of National Security for Tripoli claimed that the overall security situation in the city was much improved, due in part to better coordination between local security agencies. While Olive Group personnel within Tripoli would agree that the overall security situation in the capital remains relatively stable, recent month have seen an increase in petty crime such as theft and car-jacking. The risk of criminality to foreign personnel in the cities main commercial areas remains relatively low, the risk increases in some of the outlying regions particularly during the hours of darkness.
On 25 June a government official responsible for reconstruction in Libya was kidnapped by armed men from his office in the Ghut Al Shaal area ofTripoli. While the motivation for the abduction is unknown, it demonstrates an ongoing threat of adduction within the city. On 26 June a small bomb detonated outside the main gate of the Tunisian consulate in Tripoli, causing minor damage. The incident came two days after the announcement that Qadaffi's former Prime Minister, Al Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi had been extradited fromTunisiato face trial in Libya. It is likely that the attack against consulate was conducted by Qadaffi loyalists protesting Al-Mahmoudi's extradition, rather than Islamist elements responsible for recent attacks against the US and UK consulate targets in Benghazi. The lawyer acting on Al-Mahmoudi behalf subsequently claimed that his client had been beaten by Libyan security forces, resulting in broken ribs and a possible punctured lung. A claim vehemently denied by Libyan government officials.
Tripoli will be one of the focal points for election activity over the forthcoming period and will likely see an increase in political rallies and a reduction in access to government institutions in the run in to the election. Political offices and large scale gatherings should be avoided due to the potential for attack or more likely protest activity. The post election period will also likely see large gatherings in support of, or protesting against the results. Post election celebrations will also see an increased threat of 'celebratory fire' in Tripoli and other major cities.
Gulf of Sidra
Militia aligned to the federalist ICC are report to have positioned road blocks on the main highway from Tripoli to Benghazi in the area of Wadi Al Ahmar, 100km east of the costal city of Sirte. A recent statement by the ICC founder, Abu Bakr Boueiri, claimed that the roadblocks are intended to restrict electoral material into eastern region of Cyrenaica and in particular into Benghazi. The ICC recently called for a boycott of the forthcoming elections in protest to the proposed distribution of seats in the new national assembly. An ICC spokesman was quoted as stating that trucks carrying oil, food, medical, and humanitarian supplies would however be permitted through the roadblocks.
While NTC controlled forces have not responded to the road blocks, there remains a potential for confrontation should they persist. Government security forces may be reluctant to openly confront the issue due to the real possibility of escalating the situation prior to the elections. Should the situation persist however, Tripoli may be forced to re-impose its authority on the main coastal transit routes.
Late June has seen renewed clashes in the town of al-Kufra in the southeast of the country between pro-government militia's and Tabu fighters. On the 28 June media reports claimed that eighteen people were killed and over eighty wounded after renewed clashes in the town; separate reports also claimed that both sides had used tanks and other heavy weapons in the recent clashes. Unconfirmed reports claimed that a Libyan Air Force plane evacuated up to sixty wounded personnel from al-Kufra airport in late June. Tabu fighters have demanded the replacement of the 'Shield of Libya Brigade' currently operating in al-Kufra, by regular units from the National Army, however the brigade has stated that in order to maintain security, it cannot vacate the area until the arrival of regular units.
Media reports in late June citing doctors at the Atiyehal-Kaseh Hospital in al-Kufra claimed that 'chemical weapons' may have been used during recent clashes. The report claimed that several injuries displayed chemical burns but gave little further details. Government officials continue to negotiate for an end to fighting in the al-Kufra area, but it is likely that in the short term at least, we will see continued clashes between government-aligned Arab militias and Tabu tribal fighters. The reported use of 'chemical weapons' remains unconfirmed and might reflect the use of CS gas or incendiary munitions or simply be an attempt to attract international by local factions: use of the deadly blister or choking chemical agents stockpiled by the Qadaffi regime is unlikely.
Following the two high profile security incidents in Benghazi in June, targeted against US and UK consulate facilities and their representatives, the overall security situation in Benghazi remains stable. In late June, gunmen were reported to have assassinated a retired colonel associated with the Qadaffi regime in a drive-by shooting in city. Security sources in Benghazi confirmed the assassination.
Benghazi will likely be the focal point of any attempt by Islamist or pro-federalists groups to disrupt the 7 July election. On 1 Jul around 300 protesters ransacked the offices of Libya's electoral authority inBenghazi, burning ballot boxes and election papers in the streets outside the offices. The protestors called for greater autonomy for eastern Libya and a larger share of the allocation of the 200 seats in the forthcoming election. Local media also reported that a number of smaller demonstrations took place in Benghazi on 1 July and that a similar protest targeted the election commission offices in Tobruk in the northeast of the country. Further demonstrations of this nature are likely in the forthcoming week as the election date draws near.
Gary Sandiford is Olive Groups Dubai based assessments manager. Olive Group personnel have been working in Libya throughout the current crisis. You can access the Olive Group website here.
(Source: Olive Group)