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.
This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood asks Crisis Group experts how the Ukraine war has affected peacemaking elsewhere, notably Nagorno-Karabakh, where Moscow plays a major diplomatic role, and Libya, where the Kremlin backs one of the conflict’s main protagonists.
Crisis of two govts dragged on as UN-led talks failed to forge consensus on constitutional basis for elections. House of Representatives (HoR) 15 June passed Sirte-based PM Fathi Bashagha’s proposed govt budget. Bashagha unlikely to be able to tap into state funds, however, as Tripoli-based Govt of National Unity (GNU) immediately rejected budget, and Central Bank of Libya Governor Siddiq Elkebir, who is in charge of making disbursements into govt accounts, did not signal he would recognise budget. Bashagha’s efforts to win international support remained unsuccessful. UN Sec-Gen office 23 June said UN would continue to recognise Tripoli-based PM Abdelhamid Dabaiba as legitimate PM until elections are held. Delegates of HoR and Tripoli-based High State Council 12-20 June met in Egypt’s capital Cairo for third round of UN-sponsored political talks, failed to find agreement on constitutional basis for elections; new UN-convened talks between rival assemblies’ chairmen 28-29 June took place in Switzerland, failed to make breakthrough. Simultaneously, some politicians in recent weeks tried to forge consensus for “third” govt to replace both Bashagha and Dabaiba-led executives, while eastern strongman Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Dabaiba aides in June allegedly met outside Libya to negotiate deal aimed at persuading Haftar to drop support for Bashagha in favour of Dabaiba. Politically driven closures of oil sector throughout June persisted, with production fluctuating between 600,000-900,000 barrels/day, equivalent to 50-75% of country’s total oil production before closures; National Oil Corporation 30 June declared force majeure on oil terminals of Sidra and Ras Lanuf in Gulf of Sirte region due to shutdown of oilfields. Meanwhile, security situation in capital Tripoli remained tense. Notably, rival western militias 10 June clashed in Souk el-Tlath neighbourhood, leaving at least one dead; UN Support Mission in Libya next day expressed concerned and urged restraint, also reported mobilisation of armed groups from areas surrounding Tripoli. Heavy fighting between rival GNU-affiliated militias 22 June left three combatants and one civilian dead in Zawiyet Al-Dahmani neighbourhood. Pan-Arab media 23 June reported clashes at military base in Tripoli as 22 June transitional phase deadline set by 2020 roadmap passed.
Discord about how to resolve a political impasse has once more put Libya in danger of fracturing in two. The priorities are for the camps to agree on a way forward and for outside powers to stay united in backing whatever peaceful option Libyans choose.
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.
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.
None of the foreign actors backing the two Libyan sides want to compromise the rekindled dialogue for the sake of launching a war in Libya against the other side.
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].
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Turkey expert, Nigar Göksel, about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent trip to Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Turkey’s involvement in conflicts in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus, and its wider foreign relations.
Online Event to discuss International Crisis Group’s fieldwork and recent report “Libya Turns the Page”
This week, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group’s Libya expert Claudia Gazzini about the successful formation of a new interim government in Libya and the challenges in unifying the country.
This Briefing Note assesses the outcome of a UN-backed forum that took place in Geneva from 1-5 February and where Libyan delegates elected a new interim executive. It is the fourth in a series of regular updates on efforts to end Libya’s civil war.