Suicide Bombing in Tripoli Highlights Difficulties Facing Libyan Elections
On Wednesday morning, two suicide bombers opened fire on employees at the High National Election Commission (HNEC) in Tripoli, Libya before detonating their explosives. The attack, which the Islamic State (IS) claimed as their own, killed at least a dozen people and came as the international community is trying to push for fair elections in order to reduce turmoil in the country. IS says that the attack was a response to a call by its spokesman this month that targeted polling stations in the Middle East.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya wrote on Twitter that “Such terrorist attacks will not deter Libyans from moving forward in the process of consolidating national unity and building the state of law and institutions.” However, a quartet formed by the UN, African Union, Arab League, and European Union stressed that “the conduct of such elections requires a conducive political and security environment.”
Libya continues to have a large population of IS fighters, with about 500 cells as of December, which include capable leaders and planners. U.S. military forces are conducting air attacks and using special-operations personnel based in the western city of Misrata, but IS remains a large regional threat that poses a problem to Libya’s planned elections and future efforts to achieve a strong democracy. Recently, IS militants have been targeting security checkpoints and government buildings in other cities. The attack’s goal seemed to be to harm Libya’s ability to hold elections this year in light of their comment that they dispatched the suicide bombers to “target the apostate ballot stations.”
After the attack, the electoral commission’s director, Emad al-Sayah told a news conference that “This breach targeted democracy, not just the HNEC. The choice and future of Libyans were targeted.” The future of Libyans and nearby countries seems even more uncertain in light of U.S. and other Western intelligence that indicates that IS is seeking to regroup and gain ground in countries such as Tunisia, Mali, and Niger.
Western leaders do not have confidence in Libya’s ability to become secure enough to hold a vote. When Khalifa Hifter, a powerful military commander, was rumored dead this past month, a succession struggle nearly began. Furthermore, an election on its own will not create stability. In addition to reducing IS’s presence in the region, the East and West Libyan competing governments must be more willing to cooperate and work toward political stability, or else elections are unlikely to result in any real political or institutional change.