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.
Khalifa Haftar, who rules eastern Libya, has dismissed the two-year-old, UN-backed accord about how the country should be run. Haftar’s regional and international partners should act now to mitigate this new risk of escalation over his apparent ambition to rule Libya on his own.
UN envoy Ghassan Salamé 8 Feb said many requirements, including developing “constitutional framework”, still to be met before legislative and presidential elections can be held. Supreme Court 14 Feb blocked legal challenges from lower courts to draft constitution voted by Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) in July 2017, paving way for possible referendum on draft and move toward elections. Members of eastern Tobruk-based parliament House of Representatives 19 Feb rejected CDA, calling instead for creation of expert committee to amend 1951 constitution. Forces allied with Libyan National Army (LNA) of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, de facto ruler in east, clashed with suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants near Dhahra oil field in south east 2-3 Feb, two LNA-allied fighters and three suspected militants killed. LNA commander Mahmoud Warfalli, under International Criminal Court arrest warrant for alleged summary execution of dozens of people, handed himself in to Haftar’s military police 7 Feb. LNA fighters in Benghazi in east protested against his detention 8 Feb; Warfalli released same day. Twin bomb blasts struck mosque in Benghazi 9 Feb, killing at least two. Suicide bombing targeted LNA checkpoint 22km west of Waddan city in centre 21 Feb, three soldiers killed; ISIS claimed responsibility 22 Feb. Heavy clashes took place in Sabha 27-28 Feb after month of tensions between LNA-affiliated militia composed of members of Arab tribe Awlad Suleiman and militias, composed of Tebu ethnic minority, affiliated with Tripoli-based Govt of National Accord – reversal of both groups’ previous loyalties. Tensions mounted after Awlad Suleiman fighter shot dead Tebu in café 1 Feb. Mediation attempts by western and eastern govts have stalled, and fighting could endanger fledgling Tebu-Tuareg peace agreement, amid allegations that Chadian mercenaries have joined Tebu in fighting.
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.
Unless Libya breaks the cycle of violence and urgently reforms its justice system, there is a real risk of an increase in assassinations, urban violence and communal conflicts.
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.
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.
On 2 May 2017, the head of Libya’s internationally recognised government, Faiez al-Serraj, and his major military opponent, General Khalifa Haftar, met for the first time in over a year. Crisis Group’s Libya Senior Analyst Claudia Gazzini says talk of a deal is premature.