The U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Libya, Stephanie Williams, has accused the country’s politicians of being a corrupt class who rather stay in power than leading Libya toward elections.
Williams, who rarely spoke in criticism of Libyan politicians during her time in office, made her remarks during an interview with Al-Arabiya TV Channel, which aired on Friday, just two days before she stepped down from her role.
“The current political class wants to keep transitional governments ongoing,” she said, adding that same class have “hijacked the political future of Libya.”
The Libyan elections, originally scheduled for December last year, collapsed after the Government of National Unity, led by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, failed to organize the vote. Furthermore, Dbeibeh himself violated a pledge not to run for president which he made after being picked for premiership by the U.N.-backed Libyan Political Dialogue Forum.
However, Williams notably did not take any responsibility for the failure of elections, which comes at a sharp contrast with her criticism of the Libyan political class since the latter was partially a product of the U.N.-sponsored political process that brought Dbeibeh to power in 15 February 2021. A process which in itself is tainted with corruption.
The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, whose members were handpicked by the U.N., selected Dbeibeh only for the world to discover that his legitimacy, and by extent the process that brought him into office, has been thrown into doubt by a U.N. inquiry finding that he allegedly gained power after his supporters offered bribes as high as $200,000 to attract votes.
It is not as though Williams could not have possibly foreseen this outcome nor that the allegations were not under her radar. The rumours of bribery at the dialogue forum were rife at the time and have been common knowledge in Libya for two months prior to Dbeibeh’s appointment. Nevertheless, Williams chose to proceed with the process and did not take any punitive actions against Dbeibeh, not even after the findings of the U.N. inquiry were leaked to the news agency AFP in March 2021.
Elham Saudi, the director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya and a member of the forum, said at that time: “The situation we are in today is the result of the UN prioritising expediency above all else and at the expense of due process.”
“The root cause of this is there was a rejection of any meaningful criteria to those standing concerning their record – and the allegations against them – concerning human rights and corruption. That approach is now risking undermining the credibility of the whole process.” Saudi abstained at the forum due to her concerns about the process.
The Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, a coalition of human rights organisations, wrote to the UN secretary general, António Guterres, in March last year to say: “The shocking news of bribes challenged the whole integrity of the forum process.” They warned that any failure either to publish the results the investigation, or to remove those involved from office, will undermine the whole dialogue process with potentially dire consequences for future elections.”
Indeed, Libya’s failure to achieve its people’s aspiration for democratic leadership through elections is closely tied to the trajectory of the United Nations, represented by Williams.
“I have warned everyone after the elections were cancelled that what I expect of the political class to do, rather than steer the country back on to the electoral path, is to play the musical chair,” the U.N. diplomat told Al-Arabiya TV Channel on Friday.
As her time in office comes to an end, she fails to acknowledge that Libya’s political class were already playing the musical chair long before the elections were cancelled. She chose not to hear the music, thus making her last statement, much like her legacy in Libya, tone-deaf.