Women activists in Libya urge politicians to stick to election timetable


Female Libyan activists demand that their country’s largely male political class stick to their commitment to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on December 24, the 70th anniversary of Libya’s independence.

Their call came as fears grow that ‘dinosaurs’ of Libyan politics will try to cling on to power, as some in the political elite seem to be stalling the process.

Ministers in the interim government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, none of whom would be allowed to stand in December, are announcing populist policies in a sign that they are trying to embed themselves.

Zahra’ Langhi, a leading member of the 75-member Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), the UN body formed to choose the interim government, said: “There are political factions in Libya – an elite – that make money out of the status quo, staying in power and so do not want elections”.

“It’s another Lebanon. They are the people the previous UN special envoy Stephanie Williams called ‘the political dinosaurs’. The whole idea is we must have a political reset in Libya so we have to have new elected legitimate institutions.”

Langhi, an expert on gender, conflict resolution and peace-building, is part of a women’s bloc in the LPDF, which is due to meet in Tunis this week to press home its demand for elections.

The female activists, many of whom are lawyers or civil society campaigners, are a newly empowered element challenging the previously male-dominated Libyan politics. They are determined to ensure the old political class, which has often seen public office as a means of plundering Libya’s wealth, is not able to manoeuvre to stay in power.

Only 12% of Libya’s councillors are women, and many women in the past who have put themselves forward have been abducted or assassinated.

In a sign that they are still at risk Haneen al-Abdali, the daughter of the human rights lawyer Hanan al-Barassi, who was murdered last November, was “arrested” by militia in Benghazi in March.

She was seized hours after going on Facebook to name her mother’s alleged killers – identifying close associates of eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

Currently only five of the 33-strong cabinet members in the Libyan government are women. But one is the country’s female foreign minister, Najla al-Manqoush, and another the justice minister.

In one of her first steps Manqoush used a central bank audit to reduce the number of embassies abroad from 150 to 70, part of a move to cut the bloated public sector payroll.

The LPDF, and the women, are now under pressure to fade away, and have had to fight tooth and nail with the new UN special envoy, Ján Kubiš, to continue to be recognised.

Langhi said calls by some members of the interim government for a summer referendum on a new constitution are part of a delaying tactic and that the LPDF must “remain as the guarantors and monitors of the roadmap towards elections, meeting every month to ensure there is no backsliding”.

Williams has also refused to let her legacy, including the role of women, be eroded by her departure, and some have even suggested Joe Biden should appoint her the US special envoy for Libya.

Speaking to the BBC, Williams said: “Here is the message the political class needs to hear: the overwhelming desire of a large majority of the Libyan population – you see poll numbers from 75% to 87% – want national elections to take place on 24 December.”

“The existing institutions, the High State Council has been in office since 2012, the House of Representatives since 2015. Their natural expiry date has passed. They should listen to their people. They can set the framework for these elections.”

“The clock is ticking,” she added. (Source: The Guardian)