Jordan can compete for niche in Libya rebuild, but competition fierce

Graphic: Jordan News
AMMAN — As Libya strides towards political stability and hundreds of billions in investments are up for grabs, experts and Libyan officials point out that Jordan “can and must find its niche” in order to benefit from the rebuilding of the conflict-ravished country. اضافة اعلان

First things first, according to politicians, who need every support to render the political process a success, as the rebuilding process hinges on stability and security. 

In remarks to Jordan News, Najwa Wehbe, spokesperson of the Libyan Presidential Council said that the new leadership in Libya seeks Jordan’s support of the political track, “which will help the unity and security of Libya. The council sees that resumption of diplomatic representation is a necessity for the citizens of both nations, and sends messages of assurance in favor of Libya’s stability.”

These remarks came days after His Majesty King Abdullah received a phone call from the Head of the Presidential Council Mohammed al-Menfi. Discussions covered the “strong ties” between the two countries and means to bolster them, according to a Royal Court statement.

Soon after, Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi had a phone conversation with his Libyan counterpart, Najla Al-Mangoush, over the same issues. 

The formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) and the Presidential Council was considered to be a “historic moment” in a conflict that lasted a decade, following three decades of dictatorship. However, political fragility, security challenges, and fierce competition among regional and international powers could see Jordan’s chances to take part in the reconstruction of Libya thinning. 

“Jordan’s negative or positive effect on Libya is not the same as that of Egypt, Russia, or Turkey. Speaking to an American diplomat, he said ‘these guys are not going out easily; Russia wants to leave the party with something and the same thing goes for Egypt and Turkey. They are just not going to leave after investing so much money, weapons, and lost a few of their men’, the presidential council has to convince everybody who is interfering and has influence in Libya that we are going to forgive you and you are going to get a piece of the pie”, said Sami Zapatia, editor-in-chief of the Libya Herald in an interview with Jordan News.  

Lingering challenges 

After 10 years of civil war, resolutions are still “fragile and incomprehensive”. Political, economic, and social challenges along with deep rooted issues plaguing infrastructure, and unity of military institutions are among the main challenges that might tip Libya towards instability again. 

Emadeddin Badi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council said: “We have three tracks: the economic, security, and political. The political track has had its own breakthrough with this new government, but on the economic and security fronts, there is no progress. On the economic side, not much has been done, and regarding on the security situation the joint military committee has in theory agreed on so many things but has very little leverage to accomplish them.”

The goals set regarding the file include merging military institutions into one national body and the departure of foreign militias. 

“It is clear that the security and economic aspects of stability need to catch up with the political track, which is also fragile,” Badi said. 

Islam Al-Atrash, a Libyan journalist agreed. Libya, he said, “is not completely stable, especially since the new government is still trying to unify the military institutions, an important aspect to maintain stability in Libya.”

According to the Arab Center Washington DC (ACW), “Armed groups have been part of Libya’s instability since the collapse of the Qaddafi regime in 2011. No sustainable solutions were formulated in the last decade and the nature of the militias has evolved and changed.” 

ACW argues that “some 20,000 foreign troops and mercenaries are present on Libyan soil, posing one of the greatest threats to the country’s security. All outsider combatants were bound to leave Libya before January 2021, as per the Geneva Ceasefire Agreement. Yet, unfortunately, this agreement was not honored and the presence of foreign forces in Libya has not ended.”

Badi highlights another serious threat: terrorism. “Obviously the Islamic State footprint has significantly receded post 2016. Territorially speaking, there are no longer aspirations of having a caliphate, but it still retains a footprint in Libya. The same applies to Al-Qaeda in Maghreb, and other radical groups,” which take advantage of the instability and the deteriorating socio-economic situation to recruit more combatants, according to Badi.  

Head of Communications and Advocacy at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Libya Alexandra Saieh told Jordan News that “Libyans desperately need stability. The most recent round of conflict in Libya, which ended in June 2020, saw hundreds of civilians killed, many missing, and thousands displaced. Throughout the conflict in Libya, we’ve seen countless violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses.” 

Libyans need to be assured that this page has been turned and that those who have committed abuses will be held accountable, according to the activist. 

“Libyans need access to the resources, including livelihood opportunities, to be able to rebuild their lives after a decade of conflict. The economic crisis in the country has been devastating. They also need areas to be cleared of unexploded ordinances, homes to be rebuilt, and basic services to resume,” Saieh told Jordan News in an email.

A decade-long civil war has took its toll on Libya’s infrastructure. Water, electricity, health care, roads and telecommunications have all deteriorated, rendering Libyans in need for political solutions to survive in order to restore basic elements of life. 

“The infrastructure situation is pretty bad, yet it varies from city to city. But overall, it has significantly deteriorated, and there haven’t been a lot of projects since post-2011,” Badi said.

The only sector that was up to international standards, in terms of the infrastructure, was the oil sector, he added. Other sectors, such as housing and water infrastructure all have deteriorated, while the electricity grid is getting dismantled and sold as scrap.

“The health sector is really bad as well, no new hospitals have been built, and expensive private clinics actually boomed post 2011,” the expert said.

On the economic front, NRC in Libya reported that more than 270,000 Libyans continue to be displaced, and this is being prolonged by concerns over insecurity, including fears of reprisal attacks. 

As a result of the shrinking income and other economic woes, households’ resources are depleted. 

“Now we are in a transitional phase, from the very centralized economic system to capitalism and free market economy … The private sector is being suffocated under the state-dominated economy. So we are struggling to transit the system since the revolution,” said Zapatia. 

“Ideally, economic cooperation should come through the private sector, but that’s very difficult since we still have Qaddafi era laws and we are yet to have a parliament to change them because they are essentially socialist laws and this de-incentivizes investment and business,” added Zapatia. 

Parties aspiring to jump at the opportunity are not looking at Libya to invest in their countries, but they want to do business in Libya and the state pays them, which leaves room for cronyism and corruption, according to Badi. 

According to ACW “the Libyan treasury is short on cash due in part to the financial crises and the division of Central Bank of Libya.” However, the think tank sees that the oil sector is expected to recover and export over a million barrels per day, which should funnel almost $20 billion annually into the Libyan economy.       

How can Jordan help?

The Tripoli-Amman communication has not touched on Jordan’s role in the rebuilding of Libya, but both parties are talking ties and will get there, according to the presidential council.  

“There are opportunities for discussions and exchange of views over bilateral issues through high-level visits between both nations … to open the path of investments and trade,” said Wehbe, from the presidential council.  

Libya’s conflict and COVID-19 have crushed the infrastructure of the country, on its economy, health sector, and state capacity. 

For his part, Omar Raddad, a security analyst, highlighted the geostrategic dynamics taking part in resolving Libya’s conflict. 

“Libyan actors are taking steps to reconcile with different sides involved in the conflict. Needless to say, Libya’s stability will reflect primarily on neighboring countries.”

However, he continued, Jordan has a serious chance to take part in the reconstruction process, especially through Egyptian counterparts. Jordan can provide training and capacity building services and provide the knowhow to rebuild Libyan institutions,” Raddad added. 

NRC told Jordan News: “The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a massive toll.” As of April 2021, Libya had registered more than 174,000 cases of coronavirus with around 2,900 deaths, amongst a population of almost 7 million people. However, due to a lack of testing capacity, the actual number of Covid-19 cases and deaths is likely to be much higher, according to the agency. 

Libya’s healthcare system was struggling even before the pandemic, and Covid-19 has only exacerbated the situation, NRC said, adding that hospitals and clinics have been destroyed by the fighting. 

Jordan was helping, receiving patients and injured Libyans in its hospitals, with a bill amounting to at least $220 million.

Water and electricity shortages in medical centers are common, reducing the quality of the care provided. The system continues to be under-resourced. Half of the health facilities that were operational in 2019 are no longer functioning due to the security situation and lack of government funding. And “while Libyans continue to face challenges accessing healthcare, the situation for the half a million migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, is even more challenging.”

Zapatia argues that Jordan’s health system, dynamic, and expertise is something that Libya is “desperate for”. 

“Jordan has nearly a world-class health system, while Libya is desperate. If Jordanians know how to play that card and help Libya in health issues, there are articles from the health ministry in Libya that say they need management from foreign countries.”

There is competition, of course, according to the editor.

“The health minister has spoken to the German ambassador and the North Korean ambassador, so they are very desperate in the health issue, many people have flown to Egypt, and richer people go to Europe for treatment.

“There is a niche for it, yet we don’t have to have high expectations for the government, because it cannot fix issues that previous governments didn’t fix since 2011,” said Zapatia.

The journalist pointed at the possibility of Libyan market offering job opportunities for neighboring and Arab countries.  

“They (Libyans) don’t like to be called workers, they want to be managers in air conditioned offices. Before the revolution, we had maybe one or even two million Egyptians, hundreds of thousands of Tunisians and Sub-Saharan Africans, our health sector relied on Filipinos”, added Zatipa.

Whether it’s rehabilitating the health sector, helping rebuild institutions, strong entry into the Libyan market, or finding jobs for Jordanians, it requires a “political will,” according to veteran diplomat and analyst, Hassan Abu Nemeh.

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