In early 2021, Libyan politicians agreed on terms for a national unity government bringing together what had been two administrations in Tripoli and Tobruk. The accord was another step toward lasting stability following the October 2020 ceasefire between the two rival militaries. Unifying national institutions is taking time, however, and several possible pitfalls lie ahead. Through research and advocacy, Crisis Group aims to keep the national unity agreement intact and the various associated processes on track, encouraging dialogue among Libyans and vigorous engagement on the part of the UN and external powers with influence in the country.
Libyan politicians have moved with salutary speed in 2021 to reunify their divided country. With UN help, the new government should hasten to clear two last hurdles: establishing a legal framework for elections and clarity about who holds supreme command of the armed forces.
Registration of polarising presidential hopefuls amid heated controversy over electoral framework could presage mobilisation of rival forces around 24 Dec polls. Several controversial figures submitted presidential candidacies to electoral commission throughout Nov: son of late dictator Muammar Qadhafi, Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, who is wanted by International Criminal Court, 14 Nov; eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar 16 Nov; and PM Abdulhamid Dabaiba 21 Nov. Election commission 24 Nov disqualified 25 out of 98 registered candidates, including Qhadafi. Qhadafi’s lawyer late-Nov tried to appeal decision, but Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) forces impeded access to Sebha courthouse where appeal should be filed; LNA 30 Nov reportedly withdrew. Tripoli court 28 Nov accepted appeal submitted by presidential hopefuls against Dabaiba’s candidacy, while Benghazi court same day rejected appeal against Haftar’s candidacy. Electoral Commission expected to release final list of presidential candidates in early Dec. Meanwhile, several Tripoli-based anti-Haftar and anti-Qadhafi constituencies voiced opposition to presidential and parliamentary election laws unilaterally adopted by House of Representatives (HoR) in Sept-Oct. Notably, some 25 mayors 9 Nov signed petition against electoral framework; in following days, some 40 HoR members, and separately military coalition of anti-Haftar forces, endorsed petition. French President Emmanuel Macron 12 Nov hosted international conference for Libya; world powers reaffirmed need to hold elections on time and vowed to push for sanctions against anyone who disrupts electoral process, but some cracks appeared among foreign stakeholders and within UN over current electoral framework. Both UK and Italy’s representatives stressed need for consensus on election legislation, while Egypt and France did not express any concern on current electoral framework. UN Sec-Gen António Guterres same day urged Libyans “to come together in a spirit of national unity” and “forge a consensus on the legal framework for the elections”; statement departed from line of UN Envoy Ján Kubiš, who in recent weeks rubberstamped HoR’s electoral laws; Kubiš 23 Nov offered his resignation which Guterres accepted. UN Security Council next day threatened sanctions against those “obstructing or undermining the elections”.
Though overdue, the 23 October Libya ceasefire deal is worthy of applause. With help from the UN and their foreign backers, the warring parties should now close the loopholes in the agreement’s text, lest rival interpretations derail movement toward peace.
Turkish intervention in Libya’s war stopped the besieged Tripoli government from collapsing. But fighting with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces has since escalated, threatening a protracted conflict. Both Ankara and Haftar’s regional backers should urge their allies toward a return to negotiations and a ceasefire.
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s march on Tripoli has ground to a halt in a war of attrition with the internationally recognised government’s forces on the city’s outskirts. The parties should conclude a ceasefire including Haftar’s partial withdrawal as a prelude to renewed UN peace talks.
An under-reported banking crisis threatens to exacerbate deadly fighting in Tripoli, ignite a protracted resource war and deepen the country’s east-west divide. A way out requires agreeing to a ceasefire in Tripoli and ending the four-year split between the Central Bank’s rival branches.
Adherents of a Salafi school, the Madkhalis, are gaining prominence on both sides of Libya’s divide, causing concerns about puritanical agendas imposed through military and religious institutions. Negotiators should ensure that rebuilt security forces are politically neutral and secure the Madkhalis’ pledge to respect pluralism.
There’s a palpable fear ... that candidates [for the presidential election in Libya] that are very polarizing will contest the results either if they run or don’t run, if they lose or if they win.
This is the first time that Libya has held presidential elections, and the powers attributed to the president in the current elections law are huge.
The Libyan parliament and the executive were not able to drive the [peace] process forward alone. This was why tensions between rival groups had increased again in recent times.
There is not doubt that if [Egypt and Turkey] find a way to work together [...], this will reflect in pushing forward political stability in Libya.
If you start with the NATO-led intervention, the big lesson learned was that this planted the seeds for the disarray that followed [in Libya].
The simple fact that [Libya’s new government] able to get a vote of confidence from rival members of the House of Representatives is a massive step forward.
Online Event to discuss International Crisis Group’s fieldwork and recent report “Libya Turns the Page”
Reviving the Iran nuclear deal could help alleviate the threat of nuclear proliferation and cool regional tensions. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2021 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to support the Biden administration in re-engaging with Tehran and to facilitate trade between Europe and Iran.
This Briefing Note provides up-to-the-minute analysis of attempts to end Libya’s almost decade-long civil war through talks focused on reunifying the country’s government, oil-based economy and security forces. It is the third in a series of regular updates.
This Briefing Note provides up-to-the-minute analysis of attempts to end Libya’s almost decade-long civil war through talks focused on reunifying the country’s government, oil-based economy and security forces. It is the second in a series of twice-monthly updates.
This Briefing Note provides up-to-the-minute analysis of attempts to end Libya’s almost decade-long civil war through talks focused on reunifying the country’s government, oil-based economy and security forces. It is the first in a series of twice-monthly updates.