Libyans hope a new political transitional can unite the country and bring about a reconciliation process – but many hurdles remain.
Recently, delegates from opposite sides at a UN-sponsored forum voted for Libya’s interim prime minister and a three-member presidential council with the aim of holding national elections in December 2021.
Libyan delegates in Geneva elected Abdul Hamid Dbeibah from the western city of Misrata, as prime minister, and Mohamed al Manfi from the east as the head of the presidency council.
Choosing a new interim government seems to be a significant move towards unifying the oil rich country, which has been divided since 2014 between two parallel institutions, one in the east backed by Khalifa Haftar and the other in the west, the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez al Sarraj and established through the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA).
The election is part of a UN-backed settlement process and follows a ceasefire deal on 23 October 2020, after the collapse of a fourteen-month assault led by the warlord Haftar who controls much of the east, aimed at taking over the capital, Tripoli, from the UN- backed GNA.
With Turkish support, the internationally recognised government in Tripoli has managed to fend off and claw back territory from Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, France and Russia.
On Saturday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone with Dbeibah and Manfi to congratulate them and stated that “Turkey would continue its efforts for political unity, territorial integrity, stability, peace, security and prosperity in Libya, and further enhance its cooperation with Libya in the new period”.
Dbeibah recently said that “Turkey is an ally, friend, and a brotherly state, and it has huge capabilities to help the Libyans achieve their real goals. Turkey is considered a real partner to Libya”.
The long road ahead
Heading towards the December election would be an important step forward if it takes place. However the situation remains fragile, as many factors and dynamics surrounding the political settlement could still derail the process.
First, the House of Representatives (HoR) must approve the newly selected executive authority in three weeks, and if the HoR fails to do so, the decision would go to members of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).
Given that the Libyan parliament has been divided since 2015 and hasn’t held an official session for years, it seems likely the decision would go to the LPDF, which doesn’t bode well for a smooth transition.
That various armed groups, both in western and eastern Libya, will actually respect the results also remains to be seen. As part of last October’s ceasefire agreement, foreign fighters and mercenaries were supposed to leave the country in three months. That deadline passed, but reportedly they are still on the ground.
A by-product of the civil war, the increasing involvement of foreign powers and the continuing insecurity and presence of mercenaries are detrimental to Libya’s oil industry. Providing significant support for a new interim government from the UN Security Council and NATO could lead to the removal of mercenaries from the country.
Despite being out of the political scene, Haftar is hoping to remain a player in a military capacity. While comparatively weaker since April 2019, he still has enough power to disrupt ongoing peace negotiations on account of the UAE’s vital support.
Reportedly, foreign capitals had selected their preferred lists to jockey for advantage. In this regard, Cairo, Paris and Moscow invested in local allies such as Aguila Saleh, who ended up losing. At this point, it’s not clear whether they will genuinely accept the outcome.
This new unity government could provide a fresh hope to pave the way for a more democratic and peaceful transition of power in the near future. However, there is a long way to go before the slated December election.
It is crucial to see how militia groups on the ground and their external backers play their hands. Going forward, foreign actors including the new US administration should coordinate their approach to support UN efforts, providing a safe environment in a way that would encourage Libyans to take part in the process of reconciliation and to support paths of reconstruction and development.
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