The former UN envoy to Libya, Dr. Ghassan Salame, continued to reveal the facts in an exclusive interview with 218News, in which he narrated details that were told for the first time about his tenure as the head of the mission, and his continued support of the mission as an advisor after his resignation for health reasons.
Ghassan Salame said that after months of the war in Tripoli, and the departure of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces from western Libya, the Americans intervened so that the Libyan war would not turn into a Turkish-Egyptian conflict, and the Sirte-Jufra line gradually began to emerge, and Salame knew at the time that someone wanted to convert the ceasefire into a legal understanding.
He added: “I refused to convert the ceasefire into a legal understanding, and the military supported me on both sides. The United States basically interfered, and the ceasefire on the Sirte-Jufra line became practical.”
Vigilance of the military … a glimmer of hope
He revealed that the military from both sides expressed their resentment at the role of mercenaries, and the possibility of turning the ceasefire from realistic to legal through which the country would be divided, and they also expressed their willingness to meet on condition that the mission invites them, and upon their arrival in Geneva they went to dinner together.
Salame stressed that if the Military Committee did not agree on a ceasefire, the implementation of the Berlin decisions and the cessation of external interference; the Tunisia-based dialogue wouldn’t have taken place, adding that he only bet on the patriotism of Libyans, and there would have been no progress in the political and economic tracks without the agreement between the military parties, at a time when most countries were betting on the failure of the political dialogue.
He continued: “Coronavirus played a positive role because many of the meetings were held virtually and played a negative role because Tunisians were afraid of not monitoring the epidemiological situation in Libya. The reason behind choosing the number of members of the dialogue committee is the Coronavirus pandemic, because it is much easier to transfer them if the number is 150.”
Regarding the reason for his optimism in the success of the dialogue, Salame said that he was optimistic because he knew that the countries that could obstruct the agreement agreed to the result, indicating that he contacted Stephanie after the success of the military agreement and told her that it is possible to start the political agreement, as there was a safety net in Berlin, and everything was ready, as the three tracks had begun before the fighting intensified.
He believed that the financial track at that time was very important, and for the first time the two central banks met and agreed on a single exchange rate and a unified budget.
In the summer of 2020, the military and the rest of the elders knew that major powers would not allow Haftar to enter Tripoli, and would not allow the Western powers to penetrate the route eastward, according to Salame’s description.
Partition or Berlin solutions
The former UN envoy said that Libyans understood two things, either to expose their country to division, or to go to the ready-made solution since Berlin, and chose the second solution, so this was due to their patriotism and awareness.
He continued: “Al-Sarraj called me and Stephanie and said he wanted to leave his post, and a large number of Libyans told me that it was a maneuver. I think Al-Sarraj was honest because I got to know him during the three years I spent in Libya, and I was close to him.”
The willingness of Al-Sarraj, who is internationally recognized l, to leave his post, encouraged the mission to go on with the Tunisia meeting process, and Salame explained that “there are unresolved issues in the road map and issues that have been resolved, and I say to those who criticize, come with an alternative and what the Libyans agree on.”
Ghassan Salame believed that the road map was solid, and until now, it produced the unity of the two governments and the central bank, as well as the establishment of a new authority.
Regarding the elections, Ghassan Salame stressed that the importance of the unprecedented presidential elections in Libya lies in the type of political system that has been chosen.
Entities afraid of change
Ghassan Salame said: “When I went to Libya in 2017, each party assuming its position was afraid of change and wanted it not to happen, or if it happened to be in its interest. The Speaker of the House of Representatives wanted to be president of the Presidential Council and would not allow any change if he was not its president, and the President of the High Council of State, Khaled Al-Mishri, had political ambitions, and he wanted to make sure that any change would not harm these aspirations.”
He added: “The president and members of the Presidential Council insisted on staying in their places and Al-Sarraj was afraid of any change and tried to reach an understanding with Haftar to prevent this change. There is a party I called the de facto party that seeks power and differs on the face of it, but in essence it agrees not to change.”
Salame emphasized that the thousands of Libyans he met did not want these parties to remain in the political scene, indicating that he tried the mechanism of change through the House of Representatives and the High Council of State in 2017 and was obstructed because the High Council of State insisted on the fait accompli, and the delegation of House of Representatives “got mad” in front of him.
The UN envoy said he then realized that he would not reach a result except through the National Conference he called for from the first day, but the attack on Tripoli and Coronavirus did not allow that.
Skipping hurdle of two boards
In late 2020, the UN mission was able to gather representatives of the House of Representatives and the High Council of State, and it came out of the families of the two chambers, and gave the Libyans a voice to speak through them, according to Salame, who added that the most important decision taken by the Tunisia dialogue was to set the date for the elections on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Libya.
According to the former UN envoy, Libya has a great opportunity for democratic transition, stressing the need to emphasize the content of democracy represented in freedoms and not its slogan. What happened in the US taught us that democracies could be affected by populist movements, and a president could appear and say I am staying like what Trump did .
He continued, saying: “Democracy is a goal, not a gain, for a person to say I am a democrat. The number of countries living in a democracy has declined in the last ten years, after its number increased in the 1990s; What made democracy currently in a state of self-defense, not only in peripheral countries, but even in developed countries.
The first draft of the roadmap that Salame was going to present in Ghadames, carried a code of honor to respect the peaceful transfer of power, and after that, Salame said that he found someone in Tunisia to guarantee the agreement on the peaceful transfer of power, which he found no one to guarantee in Libya.
Ghassan Salame confirmed that the mission does not see the reports of the United Nations experts that are submitted to the Security Council every three months, and that there is no name mentioned in the report of the expert committee on bribes provided in the political dialogue.
On this issue, the former envoy revealed that there are a few people who contacted the committee after the outcome of the “Geneva” elections, which may be different to what they want and this weakens their argument, stressing that he does not know if there is corruption in the political dialogue and that Stephanie does not have any argument about that.
I saw with my own eyes
Ghassan Salame revealed the extent of the corruption that accompanied him in Libya, which he described repeatedly as “systematic looting,” stressing that his conscience was more relaxed when he said that what is happening is not corruption but plunder, and that Fayez Al-Sarraj cried three or four times when he spoke to him about the situation and it may be his crying resulted from his helplessness.
He said, “I saw with my own eyes a convoy of petrol being smuggled into Tunisia and letters of credit issued by the Central Bank, and I saw the extent of the waste, and I saw hundreds of unwell Libyans in Istanbul and Tunisia acting on them by the Ministry of Health, and I saw with my own eyes hospitals outside Libya which inflated the numbers to get more Libyan money.”
The former UN envoy indicated that a number of countries contacted him upon his arrival in Libya demanding money to treat the Libyans there, adding that Libya produces more oil and gas than Kuwait and its people live a life of poverty.
Turkey “branched out”… Israel is more dangerous
Turkey recently learned from the Russian and Iranian models, and it was connected to the Muslim Brotherhood and tried to do what the Russians and Iranians are doing, according to Salame’s narration.
The former UN envoy said that Iran “branched out” against the Arabs and no one stopped it, and Israel did not stop branching out and no one stopped it, stressing that Israel has become more dangerous than Iran and Turkey as it has a desire to settle and annex lands other than the Iranians and Turks.
Salame affirmed his adherence to the Arab idea because it is the most beautiful modern idea launched by the Arabs in the nineteenth century, but if the Arabs remain on this lethargy and “childish” disagreement, nothing will remain for them.
He added, “I am a proponent of openness with Israel and with the land in exchange for peace and stopping settlements as a prerequisite. What is happening in Palestine is a daily digestion of lands, and settlement increases day after day.”
A book about the experience of Libya
At the conclusion of the dialogue, Salame said that Libya has become his second country, and that he will follow its affairs daily to see how it will advance towards more stability, and revealed to 218 that he will write a book with Stephanie Williams about their experience together in Libya, which is expected to be released in the summer.
He pointed out that he chose to treat his health and that his plan for Libya ended the day Jan Kubis came to it, stressing that he would be provided with advice if requested from him, reminding that returning the mission to Libya after it was in Tunisia is one of the achievements he is proud of.