Out of 90 candidates, these men stand out in the run-up to the December elections in Libya. The polls are shrouded in controversy for framing electoral laws that allow war criminals to run for the top post.
Libya’s High National Elections Commission (HNEC) recently announced that the candidacy registration process for December 24 elections had been closed. The commission is expected to release the preliminary list of candidates within two days.
However, four weeks ahead of long-waited elections, Libya has been stuck in debates around the elections' reliability, security, and fairness.
The UN’s Special Envoy for Libya, Jan Kubis, also abandoned the ship yesterday with his resignation being made public.
An overwhelming majority of Libyans have expressed their reluctance to vote in an election that neither has a mutually agreed legal basis nor an electoral law. Many Libyans hold the Head of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh, responsible for using his influence to tamper with election laws so war criminals and warlords could contest the elections.
The so-called election laws lack parliamentary approval and are widely seen as an aberration.
Foreign powers like France and Egypt are adding complications to the process by ignoring the issues raised by Libyans with regards to war criminals contesting the polls.
Here are some of the influential as well as notorious figures eying the Libyan presidency.
Born in 1943, Haftar rose to prominence after taking part in the 1969 military coup led by Muammar Gaddafi that toppled Libya's King Idris. Haftar became Gaddafi's top military officer in the following period.
Gaddafi tasked him with invading Chad in the 1980s, where he was captured in 1987 along with hundreds of his Libyan soldiers. Gaddafi was quick to disown him and his troops, denying he had ever sent any soldiers to the region.
Haftar was released, thanks to US intervention, and Washington offered him political asylum in Virginia. He spent the next 20 years there, living close to the CIA headquarters.
In order to support the anti-Gaddafi revolt in 2011, Haftar returned to Libya and contributed to the end of the infamous Libyan dictator.
In recent years, he has embarked in a war against the UN-backed governments and processes in Libya. His so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), which consists of several infamous mercenary groups, is facing grave accusations of war crimes.
In light of the agreements made during the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), dual citizens are not allowed to run for Libya’s presidency. But that agreement was violated when Aguila Saleh, who is known for toadying to Haftar, influenced the election laws and opened the way for the warlord to run for president.
Aguila Saleh is the president of Libya’s pro-Haftar and Tobruk-based House of Representatives and a staunch ally of the warlord.
Saleh previously justified an Egyptian military intervention against the UN-backed government. Many experts have stated that he might be a ‘Plan B’ for Haftar’s supporters if the warlord failed to run for president.
Aguila Saleh has been leading Tobruk-based HoR since 2014. The United States and European Union sanctioned him following his refusal to recognise the UN-backed Government of National Accord.
Abdul Hamid Dbeibah
In 2020, the demands for conducting an election in Libya increased at a UN-led political forum, where a common consensus was that the country could achieve peace by having an elected leadership at the helm of affairs. By February 2020, a transitional government, also called an interim unity government, was formed under the supervision of the UN. It was then that a 63-year-old businessman from Misrata, Abdulhamid Dbeibah, was elected as its prime minister.
When Dbeibah came into power, he promised that he would not run in the December 24 elections as it was one of the main conditions for the interim government. However, his candidacy was announced on November 22.
Dbeibah rose to prominence more than ten years ago during the rule of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was ousted in 2011.
During Gaddafi's rule, he was appointed as head of the Libyan Investment and Development Company (Lidco) as he is an expert and construction engineer who obtained his master’s degree from Canada.
He remained politically discreet until 2020 when the Libya Al Muskakbal (Libya Future) movement was founded by him. His supporters describe Dbeibah as a good choice for the leadership position as he is largely seen as a moderate figure who believes in bringing technocratic solutions to Libya’s problems.
Aref al Nayed has the blessing of the Vatican, the US and the UAE. Often referred to as the UAE's asset in Libya, Nayed was an ambassador to the UAE and has had multiple meetings with the US administration as well.
Despite his previous claims to return to Libya only for preaching and teaching and not with an eye on any position of power, his recent actions suggest that he sees himself as an enabler of the post-war government in Libya, where he would lead the country, an idea he has even presented to the US government.
He portrays himself as a close ally of warlord commander Khalifa Haftar. He claims he has given him personal assurances about holding national elections after toppling the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
He recently announced that he'll run for Libya's presidency. Nayed previously made tall claims that he has the ability to bring all parties together under a so-called “National Unity Government”.
Nayed grew up in Tripoli, studied in the United States and Canada, and did business in Italy. He returned to Libya in the 1990s, pursuing business interests in the country and abroad.
His foremost critics grumble about his family’s contacts with Gaddafi. His father Ali Nayed owned a large business and worked in various sectors, from military installations to construction businesses for the government until Gaddafi confiscated his property in 1978.
When the revolt against Gaddafi started in 2011, Nayed, a so-called Islamic scholar, issued a fatwa and called on Libyans to resist Gaddafi. After a few days, he fled to the UAE, where he manages the Kalam Research & Media.
In the following period, anti-Gaddafi leaders assigned him as an ambassador to the UAE. Afterwards, as he was named a member of the stabilisation team, it provided reassurance for many in the West. The Vatican described him as its “old friend”.
The 59-year-old politician previously served as interior minister for the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). His name also came to the fore to lead a new interim government under the UN-led peace efforts following an October cease-fire last year but was narrowly beaten in elections.
Graduated from Misrata’s aviation college in 1984, Bashagha became a trainer pilot with expertise on fighter jets. In 1993, he quit the Air Force and embarked on a business journey.
In 2011, Bashagha joined the military council as the head of the information and was elected to the eastern-based House of Representatives for his hometown, Misrata in 2014.
Saif al Islam Gaddafi
Born in 1972, Saif al Islam Gaddafi, who is the second of eight sons of the late Libyan revolutionary turned long-time ruler of Muammar Gaddafi, played a key role in Libya's rapprochement with the West between 2000 and the 2011 uprising. In the last few years, various reports have repeatedly emerged that Saif al Islam wishes to run for country’s presidency.
His aides while speaking to The Times previously said Saif al Islam is ready to enter Libya’s political scene and public life and will be soon making a statement in this regard. And, it has happened.
Since his disappearance from public life in 2011, when rebels in the Libyan desert captured him following the killing of his father, Saif al Islam was sentenced to death in 2015 and was freed in 2017. As per the rumours, he went into hiding in Zintan city, located in northwestern Libya.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2017 called for the arrest and surrender of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi on war crimes charges for allegedly suppressing opposition to the rule of his father, former Libya ruler Muammar Gaddafi.