What appointment of new interim government amid political deadlock in war-torn Libya looks like

First time in history since years of violence and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s long-divided parliament.

First time in history since years of violence and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s long-divided parliament, on March 10 approved an interim government by a vote of 132-2 to bring the fractured country together. Many political experts believe that the parliament’s approval of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh’s new cabinet might be a positive step towards a resolution of the decade-old conflict. The billionaire businessman had submitted his 33-member cabinet lineup to parliament for approval last week.

In 2011, Gaddafi was overthrown as a result of nine-year military intervention aided by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Following repeated failed attempts to control Libya’s growing militia, violence, disputed and long-delayed elections, and divided administrations, this is the first time more than 130 legislators met for a vote regarding the endorsement of a national unity government appointed to replace both Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the rival Libyan National Army (LNA) in the east led by General Khalifa Haftar. The interim government is also tasked to prepare and lead the country to presidential and parliamentary elections in December this year.

As per sources, post-formation of the new cabinet, the interim government has some immediate challenges to address which include unemployment, inflation, and economic crisis among others. This brings to the fore several speculations as to whether the new cabinet would be able to break the political deadlock in the country.

Break the impasse: At the UN-assembled, Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), Dbeibeh talked about solving major issues in the war-torn country such as holding timely elections, dealing with the electricity crisis, providing support to development projects, creating employment opportunities, and enhancing public services.

Vowing to support the outcomes of the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission, Dbeibeh had announced a plan to establish security zones within the governorates and talked about a program to help integrate the youth from armed groups into the workforce.

However, in an article, Tim Eaton, Senior Research Fellow, Middle East, and North Africa Programme and Hala Bugaighis, co-founder, Jusoor Center for Studies and Development, Libya write, “February 2021 conjures images of the same period in 2016, when the unity government produced by UN-mediated talks, the GNA was unable to overcome the institutional divides that had emerged in 2014.

“And now, five years later, it appears that the speaker of the House of Representative’s eastern faction, Agila Saleh, is setting conditions for the recognition of the GNU that are highly unlikely to be met.”

Parallels can also be drawn in terms of the appointment process given the limited mandate (39 votes). The appointment of both Dbeibeh and Mohamed Mnefi, president of the presidential council shows that the new political process was based on a “power-sharing formula” rather than aiming for national reconciliation.

For the new interim government to succeed where GNA failed, it must refrain from repeating what Haftar and opponents had done in terms of accepting foreign military support, in which the international community should put substantial pressure on key foreign actors invested in the Libyan conflict.

Powerplay: Since Haftar launched an offensive to seize control of Tripoli, UNSC’s bid to maintain ceasefire has been foiled with numerous foreign actors jostling for influence in the North African country.

GNA’s armed forces consist of Libya’s official military and local militias, with more than 30,000 fighters and receive significant military aid from Turkey, Italy, and Qatar. On the other hand, LNA has the support of Egypt, France, the UAE, and Russia and comprises around 25,000 fighters.

Two years back, the LNA had launched an assault on Tripoli which gave it control of large portions of Libya’s east and south. On the other hand, in April, last year, Haftar claimed military rule over eastern parts of the country. But it did not materialize due to opposition from the GNA forces. In the meantime, the UAE has backed the LNA with armed drones, while Russia has allegedly sent mercenaries. In January, the LNA shut down state oil production and exports, which cost Libya over $4 billion.

Then there is the House of Representatives (HoR), the legislature which came into existence in 2014 after the parliamentary election in the country as an advisory body till a constitution could be written. It strongly supports Islamists and condemns the GNA. The HoR relocated to Tobruk when Islamist militias overran Tripoli. “House Speaker Aguilah Saleh heads the rival government and tapped Haftar to lead the LNA in 2014, branding it the country’s official armed forces, though experts say the HoR has little control over Haftar,” as stated by Kali Robinson of Council of Foreign Relations.

According to analysts, the fact that not a single critical international stakeholder has put down their feet even during the political process led by the UN, Libya’s stability looks even more fragile; they have just increased their military standing and investment in the country.

Even though the political atmosphere within the country has relatively been smooth due to the decline in violence and military exchange, the appointment of the transitional government does not mean a sustainable truce between the warring parties. However, many experts are of the opinion that with the global support which LPDF has and with the possible backing of the interim government, it might be possible to de-escalate the hostilities in the region.

It needs to be seen how the GNU’s key actors respond. There is also an assumption that Haftar and his sponsors will try to keep a strong hand in the military and it would not be acceptable to many actors in the western part of Libya. Apart from this, political analysts are also skeptical about Russia’s reaction to the new political process as it is strengthening its presence in Sirte and Jufra.

However, there is a broader agreement among the members of the LPDF on maintaining a shared political future in the coming years. But the question remains–how the stakeholders will be prevented from turning into spoilers if, post-election, they do not agree with the terms of the permanent settlement. For instance, while Turkey’s capital Ankara, one of the stakeholders has a positive reaction to the decision, it will be hard to keep strong contenders like Bashaga, Saleh, Haftar, and his supporters out of the equation.

Above all, failure to address the drivers of institutional bifurcation in the country will simply portray the new interim government as another dummy to preserve a sloppy status quo and means to distribute the country’s wealth.

 

 

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