Aref Ali Nayed is close to Marshal Khalifa Haftar and has been aspiring to become the Libyan head of state for several years. The president of the Ihya Libya (Reviving Libya) movement first ran for office in 2017, before reaffirming his ambition following the Paris agreement in 2018. As the country struggles with reunification, Ihya Libya is running a campaign marked by its opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood.
But the December 24 vote seems more than uncertain, even as Aref Ali Nayed tries to ensure that it is held on time. For its part, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s government believes that the time frame for holding the elections is too short, while the head of the house of representatives, Aguila Saleh, is pushing for a constitutional review beforehand. But Aref Ali Nayed has not failed to castigate the head of government, who he accuses of having “installed cronies as undersecretaries.”
Aref Ali Nayed will be using his interpersonal skills when he faces his future competitors; and as a theologian by training, he will be relying on his think tanks – the Libyan Institute for Advanced Studies (LIAS) and Kalam Research and Media, based in Tripoli and Dubai respectively.
He is also strongly connected to the United Arab Emirates, sponsor of Khalifa Haftar, where he was Libyan ambassador from 2011 to 2016. At the local level, he can count on his base in the east – where he was born – and on two important tribes to which he belongs: Warfalla (on his father’s side) and Tarhuna (on his mother’s side).
The ‘tyranny of the minority’ that has made Libya a failed state and an ‘ATM’ of Islamists across the region, must end.
“We at the Ihya Libya movement expect and hope that the Berlin II conference, will reaffirm the Berlin I conference outputs. It is an important opportunity to check real progress on all the outputs of the first conference, on all the various tracks established in Berlin I. We also expect Berlin II to reaffirm the latest UN Security Council resolutions regarding Libya, especially the withdrawal of all foreign forces as well as the holding of direct presidential and parliamentarian elections,” he says.
What do you think of the French proposal for the withdrawal of foreign forces? It does not mention the withdrawal of Syrian forces that took part in the fighting on the side of Khalifa Haftar. Is the acceptance of a ceasefire between the two rival camps consistent?
The French proposal is a much appreciated, professional, and fair assessment of all forces on the ground – regular and mercenary. It also intelligently organises and tabulates the balanced sequential existence of all forces from all Libyan territories.
What conclusions do you draw from the government of national unity from its four months in office?
Despite the corruption charges that marred its inception, many desperate Libyans optimistically viewed this government as a temporary mechanism for national unification and diligent preparation for direct presidential and parliamentarian elections in December. Unfortunately, the new government has failed to meet many of these expectations.
On one hand, he [Abdul Hamid Dbeibah] acted beyond its mandate by reaffirming and signing foreign treaties and agreements; and on another hand, he held military parades that included known terrorists. He also failed to act to stop terror attacks by Zawiyah militias whose leaders it [the government] previously honoured. Such serious violations deeply disappoint many Libyans and make their demands even more urgent: to abide by the date of direct presidential and parliamentarian elections. This government must not be allowed to procrastinate the expiry of its legitimacy by a single day.
The process of reunification of institutions is sluggish. What do you think are the reasons for the blockage and what would be the proposed solutions for implementation?
It is very clear that the majority of the ruling political class has become very comfortable with the vast wealth and power accumulated over the past decade. Despite all the divisions, there is unity amongst the corrupt, across the country. This unacceptable situation can only be rectified by respecting the will of the Libyan people in the direct presidential and parliamentarian elections. A duly elected president and parliament will be able to effect true unification of all Libyan institutions. Unity should not be a prerequisite for the elections: it will be the result.
Do you think that the elections can take place in December?
Yes, and they must! After a decade of dispossession and marginalisation, the vast majority of Libyans need to choose their own leadership and representatives. The ‘tyranny of the minority’ [editorial note: referring to the islamists] that has made Libya a failed state and an ‘ATM’ of Islamists across the region, must end.
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We are encouraged by the international consensus that we [conduct] – for the first time – the presidential and parliamentarian elections on time. We are also encouraged by the last two resolutions of the [UN] Security Council.
You will be announced as a candidate for the presidential election. What are your ambitions for the country?
Now that there is a local and international consensus on holding the presidential elections, I have reaffirmed my intention to run for Libya’s presidency. My ambitions for Libya are the ambitions of over 70 young female and male Libyan technocrats and experts who have come together at the Libya Institute for Advanced Studies (LIAS.ly) to formulate a comprehensive Vision 2030 for Libya.
What relationship do you have with Khalifa Haftar?
As a matter of fundamental principle, I have always supported Libya’s duly elected parliament from its inception in 2014 as well as all institutions stemming from it. I have also systematically and diligently supported the legitimate Libyan government, headed by Abdullah al-Thani, and the legitimate Libyan national army, headed by Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar.
As ambassador of Libya, national security advisor to the PM and special envoy of the Libyan house of representatives, I have always strived to discharge my national duties to the fullest. I have always believed and supported institutions, the legitimacy of which is based on free and fair direct elections.
What is its future in the process of ending the crisis according to you?
It is vital that Libyans refresh their sovereignty and the legitimacy of their institutions through direct presidential and parliamentarian elections, on time. That is the only genuine way to end our current artificial crisis – caused by the ‘tyranny of the minority’ – from which Libya has been suffering for the past decade.
A duly elected president and a duly elected parliament, held responsible by an independent judiciary and independent media, can transform Libya into a unified, sovereign, and thriving country. We have a clear vision for that and we feel confident of our chances in the upcoming election.
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