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.
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.
War broke out as Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced on capital Tripoli intent on taking city from UN-backed Govt of National Accord (GNA), but pro-GNA forces held LNA at bay; fighting could escalate if both sides continue to mobilise and external actors strengthen Libyan allies. LNA 3 April launched advance on Tripoli from east with apparent backing of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, France and Russia taking control of surrounding countryside. By making deals with local commanders, LNA took Garyan, 80km south of Tripoli, 3-5 April and set up base there; in same period LNA took Tarhunah and ‘Aziziya south east of Tripoli, Sabratah and Sorman east of Tripoli, and reached city’s outskirts. GNA’s PM Serraj mobilised loyalist militias under banner of Tripoli Protection Force (TPF) and armed groups from Misrata. TPF by 14 April had pushed LNA out of Zahra and Suwani on Tripoli’s western outskirts; same day shot down LNA warplane; 19 April expelled LNA from ‘Aziziya and Ain Zara in south-eastern outskirts, prompting LNA to withdraw to Qasr bin Gashir and Wadi al-Rabia south of city. Artillery fire killed six civilians in Tripoli residential area 16 April, LNA and GNA blamed each other. In southern Libya, pro-GNA Southern Protection Force 18 April attacked LNA air base at Tamanhint near Sebha and withdrew. Same day, LNA crushed uprising in Garyan. World Health Organization 23 April said 264 people killed around Tripoli since start of offensive, including 21 civilians. LNA reportedly used armed drones, provided and possibly controlled by foreign backer, for precision strikes on GNA military installations in Tripoli. GNA also received some military assistance. U.S. shifted from opposition to apparent support for Haftar: Sec State Pompeo 7 April condemned LNA offensive; U.S. 18 April objected to draft UNSC resolution calling for ceasefire; President Trump reportedly had phone conversation with Haftar 15 April, reportedly praising his efforts in counter-terrorism and to protect oil fields.
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.
A renewed struggle this summer over Libya’s main oil export zone cut sales in half, squeezing hard currency supplies amid outcry about mismanagement of hydrocarbon revenues. To build trust, Libyan and international actors should review public spending and move toward unifying divided financial institutions.
Four main Libyan leaders meet in Paris on 29 May to sign a roadmap to peace, including 2018 elections with united international backing. But with Libya’s UN-backed peace process at risk from the meeting's format and the accord that France has brokered, the sides should instead commit to a broader declaration of principles.
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.
Haftar is deeply unpopular in many places and given the fragmented state of Libya and the proliferation of armed groups it’s going to be very hard to impose his rule throughout the country.
Any effort to unite Libya requires an integrated strategy with a political, security and economic component complementing each other and working together towards a common objective.
In Libya, there is a view that outsiders are meddling and hence Libyans can’t reach solutions.
In terms of dynamics and movement of armed groups on the ground [in Libya], I would say it’s even worse than 2011 after the fall of Gaddafi. At least in 2011 they had a sense of optimism and respect for one another. Now they are all trying to carve out territory but with deep distrust and animosity with each other.
Without more progress on the security and economic track [in Libya] and with a Parliament that is barely functioning, it is extremely unlikely that appropriate security and legal conditions will be in place to hold elections.
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.
Crisis Group’s third update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on economic reforms in Libya, preserving the fragile quiet in Syria’s Idlib province, addressing the plight of civilians in eastern Ukraine, supporting Colombia's uneasy peace process and averting violence in Nigeria's upcoming elections. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
While Libya’s first reform package since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011 has had positive initial effects, more must be done to improve the deteriorating economic situation in the country. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 annual early-warning update for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to address some of the packages’ core issues and press the government to create more thorough economic reforms.
Interview with Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Libya Claudia Gazzini. "There is a risk that by focusing so much on the migration-Libya nexus, we actually forget that Libya is a state that requires all our help to get back on its feet."