Implementation of the UN-mediated 2015 political deal that established the Presidency Council and Tripoli-based interim government has been hindered by claims of illegitimacy by rival political forces. Although the framework of the deal is the only viable path to resolving the Libyan conflict, Crisis Group encourages all parties to negotiate a new government with nationwide legitimacy. Important steps were taken in July 2017, when rivals President al-Serraj and General Haftar agreed to a ceasefire agreement and to hold elections in 2018. Yet Libya remains deeply divided and failure to implement the agreement could adversely affect regional security as well as increase migrant flows into the European Union. Crisis Group aims to inform the international community, as well as national and regional actors, about the importance prioritising economic development and basic political consensus as the main stepping stones for sustainable peace.
The surprise electoral defeat of one Libyan leader and the hospitalisation of a rival show the error of relying solely on individuals to achieve national reconciliation in Libya. All sides in Libya’s conflict should focus instead on making institutions more representative and improving governance.
Hospitalisation of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar prompted fears of fragmentation in his military coalition and possible mobilisation of his enemies in both western and eastern Libya seeking to reverse status quo in Benghazi in east; election of Khaled Mishri, member of party linked to Muslim Brotherhood, as president of Tripoli-based High State Council (HSC) strengthened opposition to dialogue among eastern constituencies. Field Marshal Haftar, commander of Libyan National Army (LNA), hospitalised in Paris 9-24 April, allegedly after suffering stroke. His opponents in west launched misinformation campaign claiming he was incapacitated or even dead. Haftar returned to Benghazi in east 26 April and addressed supporters, dispelling false rumours. Khaled Mishri, member of Justice and Construction Party (JCP), linked to Muslim Brotherhood, 8 April elected president of HSC, body loyal to UN-backed Presidency Council and rival to Tobruk-based parliament House of Representatives (HoR). Mishri and HoR President Aghela Saleh met in Morocco 23 April, but eastern constituencies remained opposed to overtures to HSC and Muslim Brotherhood, which they see as terrorist organisation. In east, LNA commander Salah Bulgheib 8 April survived assassination attempt and LNA chief of staff 18 April survived car-bomb attack in Benghazi, one civilian killed. LNA 21 April said it had killed and injured dozens of “terrorists” in Sdada area near Misrata, 200km east of Tripoli. In south, inter-tribal clashes fuelled by national rivalries continued, albeit more sporadically; mortar attack on Sebha airport set civilian aircraft on fire 24 April. Pipeline carrying crude oil from Waha oil field into country’s biggest export terminal Es Sider shut down for several days after it was set on fire 21 April. Unidentified militants fired rockets at Mitiga airport in capital Tripoli 19 April, damaging arrivals hall and passenger aircraft belonging to state-run Libyan Airlines. Two armed groups aligned with Presidency Council’s Interior Ministry, Central Security Brigade (Ghaniwa Brigade) and Eighth Force (al-Nawasi Brigade), clashed in Tripoli 30 April, several reportedly wounded. UN political mission 5 April launched series of preparatory meetings for national conference, one pillar of UN Action Plan for Libya.
The principal gateway into Europe for refugees and migrants runs through the power vacuum in southern Libya’s Fezzan region. Any effort by European policymakers to stabilise Fezzan must be part of a national-level strategy aimed at developing Libya’s licit economy and reaching political normalisation.
The UN-brokered peace process in Libya has stalled, leaving unresolved pressing issues like worsening living conditions, control of oil facilities, people-smuggling, and the struggle against jihadist groups. New negotiations are needed to engage key actors who have been excluded so far.
The imminent collapse of Libya’s economy could impoverish millions, foster chaos and more radicalisation. At the heart of Libya’s misery is frenzied competition for control over the country’s oil resources. Ongoing UN-led talks should urgently prioritise economic governance, local ceasefires and armed defence of oil facilities.
The Sahel’s trajectory is worrying; poverty and population growth, combined with growing jihadi extremism, contraband and human trafficking constitute the perfect storm of actual and potential instability. Without holistic, sustained efforts against entrenched criminal networks, misrule and underdevelopment, radicalisation and migration are likely to spread and exacerbate.
After six months of worsening clashes, Libya is on the brink of all-out civil war and catastrophic state collapse. All parties must press the two rival authorities to join a national unity government, resolutely uphold the UN arms embargo, and persuade regional actors to stop fuelling the conflict.
It’s a sign the Qaddafists are mobilizing, trying to have their say [for the first time since 2011]. Libya’s getting more complicated. A breakthrough doesn’t seem imminent.
[Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar does not have] sufficient strength or support [to take power in Libya]. He faces particularly strong opposition from (rivals in) the west, especially in Misrata.
[A U.S. military] strike [against ISIS positions in Libya] seems to indicate Libya is mainly an anti-terrorism file and only subsequently a political file [for the U.S. government].
Now the problem is that those [political] factions [across Libya] have fragmented internally. It's even more difficult to solicit representative views.
The smuggling business [in Libya] is a business. It’s all about money.
Several members [of the Libyan Presidency Council] think [Faiez al-Serraj] is not fit to lead–that he does not have the knowledge, charisma or decision-making capability.
How can the dizzying changes, intersecting crises and multiplying conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa since the 2011 Arab uprisings be best understood, let alone responded to? This long-form commentary by MENA Program Director Joost Hiltermann and our team steps back for a better look and proposes new approaches.
The fraught history of the military intervention shows that EU engagement in Libya should first and foremost be guided by strategic vision.
Originally published in Körber-Stiftung
A recent dramatic decrease in migrants reaching Europe may be partly explained by payoffs to armed groups in Libya. In this video, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Libya, Claudia Gazzini, warns of the risks associated with short-term solutions to the flow of migrants reaching Europe through Libya.
A recent dramatic decrease in migrants reaching Europe may be partly explained by payoffs to armed groups in Libya. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Libya, Claudia Gazzini, warns about the risks associated with this policy, arguing that while working with armed groups may be necessary in the short term, any durable solution requires putting Libya’s economy and politics back on track.
Our Senior Analyst Claudia Gazzini travels to southern Libya and finds neglect, smugglers, a gold rush, and simmering tensions among a patchwork of ethnic, tribal and militia actors on the edge of the Sahara Desert. She also discovers much longing for a united, well-governed Libya.