Sub-Saharan Africans load goods on a truck heading towards Libya’s border with Niger and Chad, on the outskirts of Sebha, southern Libya, April 2017. According to locals, 90 per cent of the local economy is based on smuggling of goods and people. CRISIS GROUP/Claudia Gazzini

How Libya’s Fezzan Became Europe’s New Border

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.

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European policymakers increasingly are looking at the Fezzan, Libya’s vast and scarcely populated south west, as their frontier against sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees traveling the Central Mediterranean route to Europe. In 2016, over 160,000 took this route from Libya on makeshift boats; most had entered through this region, which connects the country’s southern border with its coast. Several European countries, chiefly Italy, hope that stabilising the situation in the Fezzan and reviving its economy will help curb migrant flows. The idea has merit, but this will be no easy task and cannot succeed without also addressing the broader crises gripping the country. Any European effort to address governance, economic and security problems in the Fezzan should be coordinated with the internationally recognised government and linked to wider, nationwide initiatives to tackle issues that plague the country as a whole.

The Fezzan sits at a regional crossroads, linking southern Libya to the Sahel and sub-Saharan migrant routes to northern Libya and onto Europe.

The Fezzan suffers from multiple problems, most of which are not of its own making. The region’s licit economy is depressed, but the national economic and financial institutions that could help revive it are largely paralysed. By contrast, the illicit economy is booming. The Fezzan sits at a regional crossroads, linking southern Libya to the Sahel and sub-Saharan migrant routes to northern Libya and onto Europe.

While the region is richly endowed with natural resources, it suffers from the absence of a central authority able to impose order. Incentives for smuggling of all types – people, oil, gold, weapons, drugs – far outstrip those for making money through legal means. Ethnic and tribal tensions, magnified by the political vacuum and economic competition, have been exploited by rival factions competing to control the country. External forces – regional powers, foreign mercenaries and transnational jihadist groups – have also meddled, joining local conflicts or using the south as a transit zone. Stabilising the Fezzan in the midst of such a storm will be difficult, but it has been neglected far too long, to the detriment of its residents, its neighbours and Europe alike.

The ongoing fight between Libya’s rival military coalitions is perhaps the biggest challenge. The UN-backed Presidency Council and its Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Faiez Serraj in Tripoli, has little standing and few local allies in the Fezzan. By contrast, factions aligned with General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and the eastern government based in al-Bayda enjoy greater influence, as do factions that oppose both Haftar and Serraj. Deadly fighting between these various forces has increased since early 2017 and covert foreign military support to them seems likely to rise. The spread of these national rivalries into the south has been accelerated by tensions among tribes, which have fought five successive local wars since 2011. Despite ceasefires, the risk of further escalation remains high, in part because of the failure to deliver material compensation promised during past negotiations as well as delays implementing reconstruction plans.

Stabilising the Fezzan is urgent, and not just to constrain migration. Without addressing the governance, economic and security issues in the south, Libya’s broader political and military normalisation will be impossible. While this requires long-term investments, Libyan authorities and European governments can take immediate steps to smooth relations among southern tribes and improve living conditions – measures that, in due course, could reduce the incentive for people smuggling. For instance, foreign donors could work with Libya’s recognised government to energise agricultural projects in the south that have fallen into disrepair. Oil companies operating in the Fezzan and Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) also have their share of responsibility; they should seek to increase local employment and invest more in local social development projects.

A more inclusive dialogue focusing on security is needed.

A more inclusive dialogue focusing on security is also needed. Efforts to gather representatives of different communities around a table to date have included mainly tribal leaders and civil society activists. That is not enough. Talks should include military commanders and the leaders of local armed groups in a first step toward a nationwide security dialogue. As elsewhere in Libya, the question of how to structure and staff legitimate and genuinely national security forces, from army to police to border guards, is central.

Some outsiders, especially some European states, might be tempted to circumvent such a dialogue in search of a quicker military solution. That would be ill-advised: any attempt to impose a solution through military force alone would likely fuel further instability. In particular, recruiting local strongmen or cultivating alliances with specific militias risks exacerbating pre-existing conflicts. Moreover, the enormous profits derived from the black market almost certainly would surpass whatever cash outsiders can dole out to purchase loyalty.

Finally, none of these steps will have lasting effect unless and until there is greater alignment among international stakeholders. Within Europe, this requires greater cooperation between France and Italy, the two EU countries that, each for its own reasons, are focused on the Fezzan. Similarly, the EU, the U.S. and other countries should seek to lower tensions among Gulf Arab states or at least limit their impact on Libya at a time when Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are backing Haftar while Qatar and Turkey support his rivals.

Overall, Libya’s neighbours, regional leaders further afield and international powers should make greater efforts to converge on a shared set of principles to address a Libyan peace process that is increasingly adrift, rather than narrowly prioritise their immediate interests. In the Fezzan as elsewhere in Libya, this would serve at least to avoid worsening an already bad situation and provide guidelines for restoring some semblance of a state – a goal that ultimately all should see as being in the country’s, as well as the region’s, best interests.

Brussels/Tripoli/Sebha, 31 July 2017

Libya’s south west, a region known as the Fezzan, has become a focus of policymakers eager to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. More than 160,000 migrants and refugees, primarily sub-Saharan Africans, left Libya to reach Italy in 2016, numbers that are expected to increase by 20 per cent in 2017. Most enter Libya through its southern border and then use local smuggling networks to reach the coast, where they embark on makeshift boats to Europe.[fn]A comprehensive assessment of migration trends is available in the report by Altai Consulting, IMPACT and UNHCR, Mixed Migration Trends in Libya: Changing Dynamics and Protection Challenges, July 2017. According to the Italian interior ministry, 181,000 people embarked on the Central Mediterranean route in 2016, with at least 90 per cent coming from Libya. By 30 June 2017, almost 80,000 people had reached Italy from Libya, an 18 per cent increase from 2016. In July 2017, however, the number of arrivals in Italy via sea diminished to less than 50 per cent of the previous month. Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, Rome, May-June 2017; Statistical dashboard of 30 June 2017, Italian interior ministry;  Statistical dashboard of 26 July 2017, Italian interior ministry.Hide Footnote After trying unsuccessfully to interdict these boats as they cross the Mediterranean, European policymakers are now seeking to intervene directly in the Fezzan through economic investment programs and security cooperation with local forces.

This approach is important but will prove no less challenging. The Fezzan, a chronically unstable region, is largely uncharted territory for all but a few outsiders. UN and EU officials have focused most of their resources and attention on the national Libyan conflict or on political and military developments in the country’s north west and east. Without a clear understanding of the Fezzan, attempts to intervene there almost certainly are bound to fail. This report, which examines tribal and ethnic rifts, ongoing conflicts and economic hardships in the Fezzan, is a contribution to that effort. It is based on fieldwork in Libya’s south west in March and April 2017.

Libya’s south west historically has been a transit zone between sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean coast. Cross-border trade remains prominent today, though smuggling now has surpassed licit trade with the erosion of what little state authority previously existed. The region, which remained under the control of pro-Qadhafi forces until relatively late, did not experience significant violence during the 2011 war. Over time, competition over smuggling routes, resentment over unequal access to citizenship rights and easy access to the enormous stockpiles of weapons left in Qadhafi-era arms depots have contributed to sudden bouts of fighting among local groups. Competition over the region’s strategic sites and riches continues to fuel conflict.

The Fezzan is mainly desert with a handful of cultivated valleys and small oases scattered within hundreds of kilometres of sand.[fn]Andrew Mc Gregor, “The Strategic Topography of Southern Libya”, CTC Sentinel, May 2016, vol. 9, no. 5, pp. 21-26.Hide Footnote The area is rich in crude oil, generating approximately 400,000 barrels per day, or one quarter of Libya’s production, and natural gas. Since 2014, artisanal miners have extracted gold in the region without government oversight.

Sebha, with 200,000 inhabitants, is the region’s administrative capital and the main hub for trafficking. The rest of the population (approximately 300,000 people) live in oasis towns. Towns in the Jufra area (Waddan, Sawknah, Hun) are the northern entry point to the Fezzan, connecting it to Sirte and Misrata in north western Libya and Ras Lanuf and Brega to the north east. Slightly further south, Brak al-Shati and its adjoining valley (wadi al-shati) lie at another important crossroads linking the Fezzan to the mountains south of Tripoli. Rival military factions have fought since 2015 for control of the Jufra and Brak areas, whose location makes them the gateway to southern Libya.

South west of Sebha, a rocky plateau known as the Messack rims the Wadi Hayat, one of the region’s few cultivated strips of land. Most of this area’s trade routes to the south west have been shut since Algerian authorities closed their border following the January 2014 attack on the In Amenas gas complex, which was carried out by jihadists crossing from Libya.[fn]It is unclear how much border traffic there is along the Algeria-Libya border. A guard said, “Not even a fly goes through”. Crisis Group interview, Tuareg military, Obari, 1 April 2017. A local activist said that occasionally a handful of migrants come through the Algerian border as well, “but really few compared to what comes through Toummo [the border post with Niger]”. He compared Algerian forces securing the border to electricity poles: “You have them every few hundred metres”. Crisis Group interview, Tuareg activist, Obari, 26 March 2017. Some international security experts, however, said that the border to Algeria maintains a certain degree of porosity: “the smugglers that are allowed to operate on the Algerian border are those who collude with Algerian security officials”. Crisis Group interview, Western security expert, London, April 2017.Hide Footnote In January 2017, Chadian authorities also closed off their border to Libya but they have since allowed limited trade under pressure from residents in northern Chad.[fn]Chadian authorities claimed they closed the border for fear that terrorists fleeing the former Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold of Sirte could seek refuge in Chad’s northern region. However, according to an international expert, “the real reason for the border closure seems to be fear that Chadian opposition fighters in Libya would re-enter Chad”. Crisis Group interview, Paris, May 2017. For decades, Libya has been home to thousands of Chadian nationals, chiefly Tebu from the Dazagada clan (also known as Garaoun) who constituted Chad’s largest rebel group (the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, UFDD). Today, the group with reportedly the most fighters in Libya is the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT). Other Chadian armed groups in Libya include the UFDD, the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR) and Arab groups such as the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development-Fundamental (UFDD-F) and the Front for the Salvation of the Republic (FSR). Jérôme Tubiana and Claudio Gramizzi, “Tubu Trouble: State and Statelessness in the Chad–Sudan–Libya Triangle”, Small Arms Survey, HSBA working paper 43, June 2017, pp. 144-149.Hide Footnote

On the Libyan side of the border, few have an interest in stopping traffickers – or would dare to do so.

No such restrictions exist along the border with Niger. This remains Libya’s most porous border, rife with smuggling and trafficking. Most migrants enter Libya from a desert road that connects Madama in Niger (where French forces are stationed) to Toummo (in Libya) and onward to Wigh, Qatrun and Sebha.[fn][1] The French forces in Madama, Niger, are part of Operation Barkhane, an ongoing military operation to combat militant groups and insurgents in the Sahel. Crisis Group interviews, residents, Obari, Murzuq, Sebha, March-April 2017.Hide Footnote Trade of illicit items, like weapons and drugs, goes through the Salvador Pass, which links Niger, Algeria and Libya. As a local resident explained, “Drugs and other illicit stuff goes through Salvador, but not human trafficking because for human traffickers it is easier to go from Agadez to Madama [both in Niger] and then to Toummo because security forces in Niger don’t stop them. But they would stop drug traders”.[fn]Drug trafficking in this area mainly involves hashish (cannabis resin) from Morocco on its way to Egypt via southern Libya. Since 2016, authorities in Niger, pressured and funded by the EU, have cracked down on people smuggling networks in Agadez. According to EU officials, this has had some success as reported inflows from Niger decreased in the last quarter of 2016. Crisis Group interview, EU official, Marrakesh, April 2016. See also “Libya 2016. Migration Profiles & Trends”, International Organization for Migration (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) Report, 2017. This success may have been short-lived; Tebu activists in Libya said that as of March 2017 business was “very good”. Some also reported that smugglers can easily bribe Niger security forces, who once a week provide protection to a convoy of vehicles, including those carrying migrants, travelling from Agadez to Madama. Crisis Group interviews, Tebu activists and journalist, Murzuq, April 2017.Hide Footnote On the Libyan side of the border, few have an interest in stopping traffickers – or would dare to do so. This is either because local security forces are complicit in the human trafficking or because traffickers outgun them.[fn]“That area is too dangerous even for us. There are all sorts of traffickers that go through there. We can go there if we are part of a larger patrol convoy of say 20-30 cars and other units from elsewhere join us. But for normal patrols, when we are only two or three cars – no way. We don’t want to be outnumbered and have problems”. Crisis Group interview, Tuareg member of the Third Force, a Misratan-led security force operating in the Fezzan (from February 2014 to June 2017), Obari, 1 April 2017.Hide Footnote

The Fezzan is home to less than 10 per cent of Libya’s population (about 500,000 people), but its residents are both ethnically diverse and politically fractured. There are Arab tribes: some are large and powerful, like Awlad Suleiman (which is also in Niger) and the Qadhadhfa (wealthy and, in the past, politically privileged because they were Qadhafi’s own tribe); some are smaller, though intellectually or religiously influential, like the Hodairi, and others who boast a descent from the Prophet Muhammad (ashraf).

There are also non-Arab minority ethnic groups, like the Tebu, Tuareg and Fezzana (ahali). The Tebu are an ethnic group comprising different tribes found in northern Chad, parts of Niger and in southern Libya. The Tuareg are a historically nomadic Amazigh (Berber) people who straddle the borderlands of the Western Sahara from Libya to southern Algeria and Mali. Most Tuareg have Libyan citizenship, but around 20,000 families arrived in Libya in the 1980s. Many joined Qadhafi’s security forces, though they did not get full citizenship rights. The Fezzana are an entirely arabised local community. All three of these groups are Sunni Muslim. Since 2011, thousands of other people from neighbouring countries have also moved to Libya’s south (often posing as Libyans), further complicating the social landscape. 

The Fezzana and some smaller tribes have managed to remain neutral, partly because they are uninvolved in cross-border trafficking. Among the others, however, political rifts and competition for control of smuggling routes have contributed to tensions.

The Fezzan is rich in natural resources: it has vast reserves of crude oil and natural gas, some deposits of gold and large underground aquifers. Smuggling, which has grown exponentially since 2011, dominates the local economy today, however. “Smuggling here is a job. It is not a crime”, said a university lecturer.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Mohamed Abidi, local politician and university lecturer, Obari, 27 March 2017. Locals estimate that if under Qadhafi 40 per cent of the local economy was based on smuggling, mainly of subsidised goods like wheat, fuel and fertilisers resold in the countries to Libya’s south, now illegal trading of commodities and migrants accounts for about 90 per cent. Crisis Group interviews, Sebha and Obari residents, Sebha, Obari, March-April 2017.Hide Footnote Libya’s deep economic recession, which has caused cash shortages, severe inflation and a soaring black market exchange rate, has encouraged illicit activity, including among the public sector employees who make up most of the formal workforce both in Fezzan and Libya as a whole.[fn]The official exchange rate of the Libyan dinar (LYD) to the U.S. dollar ($) in 2017 is 1.38lyd/$. However, since 2015 it has been virtually impossible to exchange at official prices because of foreign currency shortages in banks. This has pushed the black market exchange rate above 8lyd/$. This is what the vast majority of Libyans now use. For this reason, in this report we refer to the current black market exchange rate of the LYD, unless otherwise specified.Hide Footnote The trafficking of people, fuel and gold is widespread and highly visible, though drugs and weapons also pass through the region surreptitiously.

The majority of the illegal migrants enter Libya from Niger or Chad; smaller numbers cross over from Algeria. However they enter the country, most migrants (at least over the past year) transit through Sebha.[fn]Some migrants, especially those from Niger, Burkina Faso, Benin, Sudan and Chad, are seasonal workers seeking employment in Libyan businesses or farms, including in the south. Others coming from farther away (especially Nigerians but also Gambians, Cameroonians and Ghanaians) head north seeking to embark on boats and reach Europe. Until early 2016, traffickers transporting migrants entering from Chad used to travel north to Ajdabiya and from there west toward Tripoli. But lack of security in Sirte (under ISIS control for most of 2015-16) and the LNA’s takeover of the Oil Crescent area in September 2016 forced traffickers to cross farther west, either to Sebha or to Shweref.Hide Footnote People smuggling through Libya generates annual revenues estimated to range between $1 billion and $1.5 billion.[fn]There are no reliable statistics on this trade. This estimate is based on consultations with informed Libyans and European officials. Crisis Group interviews, Tripoli and Brussels, 2017.Hide Footnote Smuggling routes are divided into segments controlled by different groups. The Tebu control the southernmost portion, used by the bulk of migrants, from the border with Niger to Sebha. The Tuareg dominate the route from the Algerian border to Sebha. The next leg of the trip, from Sebha to Shweref, is in the hands of Magarha traffickers. Beyond that, still other tribes take over.[fn]Crisis Group interview, representative of a Libyan NGO, Sebha, 27 March 2017. All those consulted by Crisis Group agreed that until Sebha the business is in the hands of the Tebu, but there are different versions of the alleged division of labour north of Sebha. According to a Sebha resident, “from Sebha to Shweref, it is the Magharha and the Warfalla; from Shweref to Bani Walid, the Magharha; from Bani Walid [or rather a nearby waypoint in Nisma] to Tripoli, it is Warfallah and Awlad Bu Seif”. Crisis Group interview, Sebha, March 2017.Hide Footnote

A Tebu journalist explained that people smuggling can be extremely profitable and requires little start-up capital:

If you are young and own nothing you can work as a driver and earn about LYD1,000-1,500 ($125-190 at the black market exchange rate) for every trip from border to Sebha. You do this once a week, and voila, in one month you make more than LYD4,000 ($500), which is more than four times the monthly salary of a policeman. Not bad. But after a while, you want to do the trade independently and no longer just be a driver. That is because if you own and drive your own car in one trip you make up to LYD30,000 ($3,750). Considering that a car costs you about LYD80,000 ($10,000) you see it is very easy to start the business and it provides a quick return on investment.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Murzuq, 29 March 2017. He added that only the young and physically fit can do the job of “keeping 25-30 equally young and fit migrants packed in the back of a pick-up”. Others tend to work in the induced economy providing support and goods, like vehicles, food and water, for the actual smugglers, or in the gold business.Hide Footnote

The promise of immediate cash is so alluring that many young Tebu have given up their studies.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member of a Tebu youth group, Murzuq, 29 March 2017. Hide Footnote Tebu NGOs are already ringing alarm bells about the long-term effects:

I am afraid we are at a point of no return for the Tebu youth: many high school students take drugs like Tramadol [an opioid painkiller popular with militiamen], which is cheap, and few go on to study at university. Many are now happy with [people] smuggling.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote

Because the trade generates such high profits and supports so many people, the tribes involved are unlikely to give it up, even if offered alternative sources of employment.

Fuel smuggling, which was also a mainstay of the south’s economy under Qadhafi, has expanded exponentially since 2011. Nationwide, fuel trafficking generates annual revenues valued at approximately $2 billion. While there are no regional figures, it is reasonable to estimate that about one fifth of these illegal sales take place in the south.[fn]Crisis Group interview, head of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) Mustafa Sanallah, Tripoli, April 2017. Libya’s NOC imports around $3 billion worth of refined fuel every year, which it then subsidises. Most of this is smuggled outside the country either by land to Tunisia, via ships to other parts of the Mediterranean or by land to countries south of Libya. The NOC has tasked a committee within the Brega Oil Company to investigate how much is smuggled through Sebha, but it has not reached any conclusions yet.Hide Footnote

Fuel is heavily subsidised in Libya, costing only LYD0.15 per litre – $0.12 at the official exchange rate but less than $0.02 at the black market rate used by smugglers. Since Libya’s southern neighbours pay approximately $1 per litre, there are huge profits in smuggling and reselling the fuel. Petrol station owners control this trade. According to a Sebha resident, “They take truckloads of fuel from the storage tanks in Sebha, but instead of taking it to the petrol station and distributing it to the people, they take it directly to smuggling routes”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Sebha, 28 March 2017. Photos that Libya’s National Oil Corporation shared with Crisis Group in July 2017 show fuel trucks crossing the desert.Hide Footnote There is also some smaller-scale smuggling of fuel, via passenger cars and trucks.[fn]Crisis Group interview, local resident, Sebha, 28 March 2017.Hide Footnote

Artisanal gold mining has become a booming industry since 2013 when deposits were discovered on rocky plateaus of the Libyan desert bordering Chad.[fn]A resident of Murzuq said because of the depletion of surface gold “the trade is a bit more sophisticated and those involved need bulldozers to dig down and use chemicals to extract the gold”. Crisis Group interview, Murzuq, 30 March 2017. On artisanal gold mining in Chad, Niger and Libya, see Tubiana and Gramizzi, “Tubu Trouble”, op. cit., pp. 75-101. Hide Footnote The exact locations of makeshift mining settlements are difficult to pin down, but those involved in the trade said that the town of Murzuq is the main hub of this informal industry, providing services and goods to gold-rich areas along the border with Chad and Niger.[fn]Referring to the budding gold industry, a Libyan Tuareg said, “It is a big business at Jebel Aweinet and along the border with Niger. There is also some on the Tuareg side of Niger, but it is an extremely difficult area to access. You can’t go with cars and you need to hike there so few people go there”. Crisis Group interview, Tuareg resident, Obari, 26 March 2017.Hide Footnote An estimated 70 per cent of the population of Murzuq works in this field (directly or in support roles and trade). At one point, about 15kg of gold (worth locally about $400,000) were being extracted daily.[fn]A gold merchant in Sebha said, “At the beginning about 13-15kg of gold a day was passing through Sebha. Now little is sold here in Sebha. What is extracted is sold directly in Qatrun and then on from there. Traders from Benghazi, Tripoli and even from Dubai go to Qatrun to buy gold. It is extremely profitable, especially since the price of gold is now very high”. He said that the price was LYD220 ($27.5) per gram for 24 carat gold, compared to near $40 per gram at global prices in July 2017. Crisis Group interview, Sebha, March 2017.Hide Footnote

For the most part, the Tebu (Libyan and Chadian) control the industry because they “brought in cheap Sudanese workers, who already have experience extracting gold”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Tebu resident, Murzuq, March 2017.Hide Footnote Entering the gold business requires an initial capital outlay, but sources in Murzuq describe it as accessible for the Tebu, the only people capable of navigating the desert in this area. Some Tuaregs also are involved but need a Tebu partner to cross into the area close to the Niger-Chad border.[fn]“Anyone can go to the gold-rich area and start digging. Some digs are kilometres apart. You just need the cars, the right equipment and the logistics support. People in the gold mines need everything from tents to air conditioning to water, fuel and food so there is also a parallel economy servicing the gold miners”. Crisis Group interview, Tebu journalist, Murzuq, 30 March 2017.Hide Footnote

Mining here is entirely in the hands of the miners or their local supervisors. The internationally recognised Libyan government exercises no oversight over the prospecting, nor does it derive any revenues. None of Libya’s three governments has ever attempted to crack down on the mining, though authorities in neighbouring Chad, Niger and Algeria have attempted to do so in the gold-rich areas within their own countries.

The deadly fighting in recent years, the gradual breakdown of government authority and the rise of pervasive smuggling have had a devastating impact on what remains of the legal economy in the south, based mainly on agriculture and the oil.

Most of the state-owned agricultural projects south of Sebha lie in complete disrepair. Even those further north or east grow only a fraction of their former crops.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, farmers, managers, residents, Sebha, Obari, Murzuq, March-April 2017.Hide Footnote Until 2011, there were thousands of hectares of state-owned farms in the Fezzan, developed in the 1980s along with Qadhafi’s Great Man-made River Project. These farms used fresh underground water and American centre-pivot irrigation technology to grow cereals and support livestock, part of a government policy to ensure food self-sufficiency. Seen from above, the irrigated lands appeared as perfectly round dark circles, a kilometre in diameter, amid an amber coloured desert. Today most of the circles are dry.[fn]Crisis Group observations, Maqnusa and Irawen farms, April 2017.Hide Footnote

The former head of one of the largest state-owned farms in the Obari area, the Maqnusa agricultural project, explained:

In 2010 Maqnusa used to generate LYD30 million [$25 million according the official exchange rate in 2010] a year. At the time, we had 250 employees; 120 crop circles; 6,000ha of cultivated land; 15,000 heads of sheep; 500 cows and 300 camels. Now – in 2017 – we only have 300ha of cultivated land and 1,000 sheep.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former director of the Maqnusa agricultural project, Obari, 27 March 2017.Hide Footnote

Other farms in the area are in an even worse state.[fn]Disa is destroyed and producing no crops; Bargush, which in 2010 generated revenue of LYD 20 million ($17 million at official 2010 exchange rate) a year, is down to 3 per cent of its pre-2011 production; Irawen is down to 25 per cent. Crisis Group interview, Obari, 27 March 2017.Hide Footnote Employees said that lack of security was the main problem: most of the equipment was stolen, as were the electricity generators used to irrigate during power shortages. Insecurity and the occasional outburst of violence prevented employees from working at night. Another problem was the lack of funding from Tripoli: these state-owned farms are under the administrative oversight of the agriculture ministry and require state-subsidised products like fertilisers, but budgetary bottlenecks have held up needed funds. The Development Authority for the Fezzan Region (hayyat tanmiyat manteqat fezzan) has submitted a funding request for more than LYD400 million ($290 million at the official exchange rate, $50 million at the black market rate) from the internationally recognised government to relaunch agricultural projects in the south. Many doubt the money will materialise given budgetary restrictions imposed by the Central Bank of Libya.

There is widespread support for the idea of restarting agricultural production in the south; the current high prices for agricultural produce (mostly imported and expensive because of the worsening exchange rate) should make farming highly profitable.[fn]A farmer said, “With current prices for fruit and vegetable very high, it is possible to make good profits”. One kilo of onion costs LYD 7 ($0.9 at black market rate; about $5 at the official rate); 1 kilo of tomatoes is LYD 5 ($0.65 at the black market rate; $3.5 at the official rate). Crisis Group interview, Wadi Hayat, March 2017.Hide Footnote But there is no consensus on how to do so. Some find the model of state-owned farms unappealing and support privatisation.[fn]“It would be possible to relaunch the agricultural projects but they need to be private. The young generation wants to work in agriculture but as a private entrepreneur”. Crisis Group interview, farmer, Wadi Hayat, March 2017.Hide Footnote Privately owned farms in the area, which have flourished in recent years, seem less affected by pillaging than state-owned farms, perhaps because their owners, who live nearby, take more interest in defending them. Others, however, oppose the parcelling of land into private hands, arguing that it would generate cost inefficiencies. They suggest focusing instead on large-scale industrial farming with processing capabilities.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Obari municipal council member, Obari, 27 March 2017.Hide Footnote

One thing is certain: Libyan authorities and international development agencies keen to help the Fezzan need to invest more thought and resources in the agricultural sector, which should not be left in its current state of disrepair. This means providing, along with financial credit, greater security and feasibility studies into marketing and distribution channels.

The Fezzan’s potential to pump more than 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day plus huge reserves of natural gas (for the most part exported to Italy via the underwater Greenstream gas pipeline to Sicily), makes the oil industry central to recovery in the south west and Libya as a whole.[fn]Libya has proven crude oil reserves of 48 billion barrels (38 per cent of Africa’s reserves and 2.9 per cent of the world’s), the largest in Africa and among the ten largest globally; it has proven natural gas reserves of 55 trillion cubic feet. “Country Analysis Brief: Libya”, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 25 November 2014. The Murzuq and Gaddames Oil and Gas basins are believed to have considerable reserves. On Libya’s oil and gas industry and the problems affecting it since 2011, see Crisis Group Middle East and North Africa Report N°165, The Prize: Fighting for Libya’s Oil Wealth, 3 December 2015.Hide Footnote Most of this production has been offline for the past two years because an armed group further north closed the crude oil pipeline connecting the fields to export terminals.[fn]An armed group in Zintan closed the Reyaina valve on the pipeline in November 2014 and reopened it in early 2017.Hide Footnote  Even after the pipeline reopened in early 2017, Tebu guards at one site (al-Feel) continued to block production for several months. They permitted it to restart only when the National Oil Corporation (NOC) started discussions about local development projects with area residents.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Tebu activists and NOC officials, Tripoli, April 2017.Hide Footnote Even when the fields are fully productive, however, the revenues generated do not benefit the local population directly. Many resent what they perceive as “our wealth feeding northerners”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Obari resident, 27 March 2017. He also resented the fact that the housing for oil sector workers is excellent, while his nearby town lies in shambles: “the grounds of the oil companies are beautiful, even have flowers, and are managed well. Why can’t it be the same elsewhere?” Hide Footnote

The oil fields employ few locals; most of the workforce rotates in and out on special flights from the north arranged by the operating oil companies.[fn]See Crisis Group Commentary, “Traversing the Tribal Patchwork of Libya’s South West”, 12 June 2017.Hide Footnote Communities living near the Sharara and Feel oil fields complain there is little interaction with local residents. “There is no development in the town close to the fields, no education opportunities for us”, said a Tuareg from Obari, noting that “even the person in charge of watering the plants in the Sharara oil field is flown in from the north”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Obari, 26 March 2017.Hide Footnote Under Libyan law, oil companies are supposed to invest in local social development projects, but they rarely adhere to this provision either in the south or elsewhere.[fn]When in early July the head of the NOC, Mustafa Sanallah, visited the Sharara oil field, many residents reportedly asked him when their villages would start to see the benefit of the country’s rising oil production. Sanallah replied, “You’ve been very patient”, before adding: “You need to be patient a little longer”. “Backing of workers, communities key to Libya’s oil revival”, Reuters, 20 July 2017.Hide Footnote To help stabilise the local economy and soothe local tensions, oil companies, in conjunction with the NOC, should do more both to engage and employ local workers and to invest in local development.

Since 2011, security in southern Libya has deteriorated. Criminal gangs and smuggling rackets are now firmly established. Amid rising criminality, inter-tribal fighting and easy access to weapons, local police forces are effectively non-operational. There is neither a functioning prison nor a detention centre for illegal migrants in Sebha.[fn]According to a member of the Sebha municipal council, local courts only work on personal status cases (family law), as there are no police or judicial police to support the work of prosecutors. He also confirmed that the city’s detention centre for illegal migrants, built in the Qadhafi era, was not operating because it was under the control of what he called a “Chadian armed group”. Crisis Group interview, Sebha, March 2017. This situation has persisted since at least 2015, when another member of the municipal council gave a similar picture of the city. Crisis Group interviews, member of the Sebha municipal council, Sebha, March 2015; local residents, Sebha, May-June 2017.Hide Footnote The same is true in Obari and Ghat.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, residents, Murzuq, Obari, March 2017. In Murzuq there is a prison but it is controlled by a Salafi religious group and not by the judicial police. On the state of the holding centres under the authority of the Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) across the south, see also Mixed Migration Trends in Libya, op. cit., pp. 109-121.Hide Footnote Even the approximately 18,000 military officers from the south trained in the Qadhafi-era are largely inactive. Most have grown weary of the feuds in the area and have refused to resume active service until “the situation becomes clearer”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, non-aligned military officer, Sebha, 28 March 2017. A member of Sebha’s municipal council shared similar views on the inactivity of the Qadhafi-era security forces. Crisis Group interview, Sebha, 29 March 2017.Hide Footnote

This lawlessness prevails despite the deployment of various military contingents, officially tasked with restoring peace and order, to the south from other parts of the country.[fn]These include, in chronological order: Amazigh (Berber) units from the Nefusa Mountains, brigades from Zintan, Benghazi-based Saiqa Special Forces, the coalition of anti-Qadhafi fighters known as the Libya Shield Forces, Misratan forces known as the Third Force, and more recently, forces operating under the banner of the Libyan National Army (LNA).Hide Footnote The rationale for deploying these forces, including, at different times, troops from western Libya, Misrata and the east, was that without them “fighting between local groups and among tribes will flare up”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member of Sebha municipal council, Sebha, 29 March 2017. Most of these forces from the north or east came in alliance with local armed groups, either to support one local faction over another or to act as a deterrence force (or the former disguised as the latter). Other considerations – such as the need to control the Qadhafi-era weapons depots around Sebha, keep supporters of the former regime at bay, or control smuggling routes and the highly lucrative oil fields – also factored in.Hide Footnote Security kept on deteriorating, however, as local wars continued.

Since the Qadhafi regime’s fall in 2011, five local conflicts, each driven by unique factors, have caused hundreds of fatalities.[fn]For more details on these local conflicts, see Crisis Group Middle East and North Africa Report N°130, Divided We Stand: Libya’s Enduring Conflicts, 14 September 2012; Rebecca Murray, “Libya’s Southern Rivalries”, Sada, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 10 December 2014; Frederic Wehrey, “Insecurity and Governance Challenges in Southern Libya”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 30 March 2017; Rebecca Murray, “Southern Libya Destabilized: The Case of Obari”, Small Arms Survey SANA briefing paper, April 2017.Hide Footnote There are three main axes of rivalry:

  • The Tebu vs. Awlad Suleiman conflict: This erupted with extreme violence in 2012 and again in 2014. Both tribes emerged as victors following the regime’s 2011 collapse but turned against each other as they started competing over access to state funds and state-subsidised goods. They have also been involved in smuggling to neighbouring countries.[fn]

    Crisis Group interview, Hodairi tribal elder, Sebha, 29 March 2017.Hide Footnote
  • The Qadhadhfa vs. Awlad Suleiman conflict: Fighting in Sebha in 2014 and again in 2016 pitted losers against winners of the 2011 war.[fn]The Qadhadhfa remained supporters of the former regime even after the death of Qadhafi, reportedly even aiding the efforts of former regime officials stationed in Niger. Crisis Group interview, Tebu activist, Tripoli 2014. During the 2011 war, the Awlad Suleiman ended up backing anti-Qadhafi forces, though previously they had also been strong allies of the regime.Hide Footnote Such tensions persist among other tribes (and indeed the former regime’s green flag is visible across the Wadi Hayat and in Ghat), but for the most part the pro- and anti-Qadhafi divide of 2011 has been replaced by pro- or anti-LNA (the Haftar-led Libyan National Army) allegiances.
  • The Tebu vs. Tuareg conflict: Violence erupted in Obari and in Sebha in 2014-2015 over national-level political and military rifts, external funding and the inflow of foreign fighters. Barely a month after the emergence of two rival Libyan governments and parliaments in August 2014, the Tebu and Tuareg went from being close allies (united in 2012-13 in their quest for minority and linguistic rights against what they both perceived as dominant Arab exclusivism) to foes.[fn]Relations between the two communities were also defined by a century-old treaty known as the Midi-Midi (Friendship) Treaty (1894), which regulated their respective areas of influence.Hide Footnote The government in eastern Libya backed the Tebu and urged them to seize control of Obari, a southern town that both claimed had become a hotbed for jihadists.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Tebu civil society activists and military commanders, Tunis, Tripoli, 2015-2016.Hide Footnote In contrast, the Tripoli-based government and allied Misratan military forces in the south backed the Tuareg, who consider Obari historically theirs.[fn]The Misratan military forces in the south denied backing the Tuareg and maintained they were a neutral force intervening at the request of the government in Tripoli. Crisis Group interview, Jamal Treiki, commander of the Third Force, Sebha, March 2015.Hide Footnote The fighting spilled sporadically over to Sebha, and continued in Obari until early 2016. The conflict also had an economic dimension as members of the two tribes competed over control of smuggling routes to Niger.[fn]Tellingly, what sparked the war in Obari was a gunfight for control of a petrol station in the town in early September 2014, after which the Tebu sought to take over its main military bases. Physical control over petrol stations is often a first step in the fuel-smuggling business. Crisis Group interviews, Tebu and Tuareg activists, Tripoli, Sebha, Obari, 2015-2016.Hide Footnote

Most of these conflicts ended without a clear winner. As of July 2017, there is no active conflict between these groups and some argue that “tensions are no longer on the front burner and tribes of the south no longer want war”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Tuareg civil society activist, Obari, 28 March 2017.Hide Footnote Not all agree; some said that ceasefire agreements remain precarious and chances of revived fighting high.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Tebu, Tuareg, Arab activists, Misratan security forces, Obari and Sebha, March-April 2017.Hide Footnote  One reason is that most of those involved in the conflicts expect monetary compensations (diya, blood money) for families of killed tribesmen. Qatar still has not disbursed these payments to the Tebu and Tuareg, which it had agreed to bankroll in late 2015 to pressure the two factions into stopping the war in Obari.[fn]Following several months of negotiations backed by Qatar in November 2015, the two sides agreed to lay down their weapons and accepted the presence of a neutral military force (from the Hasawna tribe) in Obari. A cornerstone of the agreement negotiated in Doha was that Qatar promised monetary compensation for the families of the 500 or so fighters killed on each side. Crisis Group interviews, Tuareg and Tebu activists, Tripoli, 2016-17 and Obari, March 2017.Hide Footnote An influential Tuareg from Obari stated:

The peace now is only on paper. The agreement is in your dreams. The truth is that there is no real sulh (reconciliation). Seventy houses of Tuareg families here were destroyed and are still in ruins. If there is no compensation, there could be return to war. Everybody here still has weapons.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Tuareg elder, Obari, 27 March 2017. The reason for the delay in the payments is unclear.Hide Footnote

The slow pace of reconstruction of the war-torn town, where the local university has been closed for three years and several schools still show scars of war, adds to these problems.

Similar dynamics triggered by expectations of payments also affect reconciliation efforts between the Awlad Suleiman and the Tebu. Representatives of both sides convened in Rome in March 2017 under the aegis of the Italian interior ministry and the Presidency Council (represented at the talks by Abdelsalam Kajman from the Brak al-Shati area).[fn]Crisis Group interviews, participants in talks, Tunis and Rome, April-June 2017.Hide Footnote The Libyan participants assumed that Italy would provide monetary compensation for casualties of the Tebu vs Awlad Suleiman conflict, as Qatar had promised to do in the Tebu-Tuareg negotiations, and as government of former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan had done in 2014 following the first Tebu-Awlad Suleiman conflict in 2012. But in Rome the issue of who would pay (and whether anyone would pay) appears to have sparked problems from the outset and continues to cause resentment and misunderstanding, mainly among the Tebu.[fn]Several participants in the March 2017 Rome talks reported that the Tebu went there assuming that all involved, including the Italian hosts, had agreed on compensation. “But the Italians apparently had no prior knowledge of this and were furious when the issue came up during the first day of the meeting”, said a participant. A Tebu sheikh insisted on payments in the second Rome meeting in June 2017, but a younger member of the Tebu delegation downplayed the request and said Tebus “understood that Italian or the Europeans could not pay diya” but would be “fine if instead of direct payments to the family they agreed on preferential employment opportunities for brothers or sisters of those who died in the war”. Crisis Group interview, Rome, June 2017. Until now EU officials have not shown any intention to fund such compensation schemes. Crisis Group interviews, Brussels, May-June 2017.Hide Footnote

This is not to say that peace requires monetary compensation. In fact, some tribal leaders suggest it would be better for all communities to give up these “rights for their dead”.[fn]As an elder of the Hodairi tribe, which is not involved in any dispute, put it: “The problem of the Rome agreement is that the Tebu have 37 qabail [sub-tribes], they are not one cohesive tribe; the Awlad Suleiman are composed of 7 buyut [houses]. Did those representatives who went to Rome represent all these 7 buyut and 37 qabail? First you need to have an agreement between all members of the tribe that they agree to give up their claim for diya. Most people are happy with the agreement but did they give up rights of the ahl al-dham [blood avengers]? The agreement means nothing if they did not”. Crisis Group interview, Sebha, 30 March 2017.Hide Footnote Others argue that the problems are elsewhere and that ceasefire agreements cannot hold because they are negotiated by tribal elders who lack leverage over their youth.[fn]“Leaders of the tribes want peace, but the problem is the youth. Many want revenge and many still have weapons. Young Qadhadhfa and young Awlad Suleiman still have weapons and do not listen to their ayyan [elders]”. Crisis Group interview, elder of the Hodairi tribe, Sebha, 29 March 2017.Hide Footnote Many of the foreign tribesmen from neighbouring Chad or Niger who fight in southern Libya also feel little obligation to abide by agreements negotiated by Libyan tribal elders.[fn]Commenting on the divisions within tribes, a Sebha notable said, “Eighty per cent of the Tebu in Tuyuri [a district of Sebha] are not from Libya. Eighty per cent of the Tuareg are not Libyan. Most of those carrying weapons in the south are not even Libyan”. Crisis Group interview, Sebha, 29 March 2017.Hide Footnote The international community should neither overestimate the durability of ceasefire arrangements nor underestimate lingering tensions and those fuelled by external actors.

Since the political crisis that divided the country in 2014, the south has become a battlefront for nationwide rivalries opposing Misratan forces aligned with the GNA on one side and the Libyan National Army (LNA) loyal to the eastern government on the other.

A Misratan military contingent (called the Third Force, al-Quwa al-Thaletha) arrived in Sebha in February 2014 at the request of local notables and with an official mandate from the (then united) government in Tripoli. It was sent to stop the war between the Awlad Suleiman and the Tebu and, more broadly, help secure the south. This well-equipped force became the main military contingent in Sebha from 2014 to mid-2017. With more than 4,000 men on its payroll, the Third Force controlled the city’s main military airbase at Tamanhindt and brought into its fold some local armed groups that operated as the Eighth Force (al-Quwa al-Thamina). For some time, the Third Force also had men stationed in Germa and in the Sharara oil field farther west.[fn]Thanks to alliances with local groups built over the next three years, the Third Force commander said they also played a role as far as Wigh airbase, on the border with Niger. Crisis Group interview, Jamal Treiki, Sebha, 29 March 2017.Hide Footnote

But after three years and the deterioration of the security situation in Sebha, many local residents became weary of Misrata’s presence. A Sebha military officer not aligned to any group said:

Misrata came in 2014 to help and people here were fine with it because they thought that Misrata would stop the fighting, curb crime and reduce illegal migration. But they did nothing of this. In fact they made relations between groups even worse because they divided people and tribes – some were with Misrata, others against it. So people started to think that they were better off without them.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Sebha, 28 March 2017. A Sebha resident said that members of the Third Force colluded with local groups involved in smuggling, especially fuel smuggling. Crisis Group interview, Sebha, 30 March 2017. Even those locals who support Misrata’s role as a deterrent in the south admit that the Third Force did not meet expectations. However, they warn that without Misrata tribal fighting could resume. “I don’t want to criticise Misrata. When they came, they were appointed by the General National Congress [the former Tripoli-based parliament, GNC] and stopped the war. Their presence here also helped keep the old regime at bay and stopped them from taking power here. But they were supposed to secure all the area from Brak al-Shati to the border, and that they did not achieve. Maybe Misrata has interests here. But if they leave, there is the risk of a return of fighting”. Crisis Group interview, member of Sebha municipal council, 29 March 2017.Hide Footnote

Growing local dissatisfaction toward Misrata played into Haftar’s hands, particularly as he imposed himself as the GNA’s most formidable opponent by 2016.[fn]On the relations between Haftar and the internationally recognised government of Faiez Serraj, see Crisis Group Middle East and North Africa Report N°170, The Libyan Political Agreement: Time for a Reset, 4 November 2016 and Crisis Group Commentary, “Libya: No Political Deal Yet”, 11 May 2017.Hide Footnote His southern forces included the LNA contingent stationed in Brak al-Shati under Mohamed Ben Nayel and the Greater Sirte Operations Room (GSOR, urfat amaliyat sirt al-kubra), an LNA outfit stationed further north, in Ras Lanuf and Zella.[fn]Mohamed Ben Nayel is a Qadhafi-era military officer from the Magarha tribe with a history of opposing Misratan forces. Local supporters of the LNA claim that Ben Nayel’s men turned against the Third Force, after cooperating with them at the Brak al-Shati base in mid-2016, because the Misratans allegedly backed local individuals with ties to al-Qaeda. Crisis Group interview, resident of Brak Shati, Sebha, 29 March 2017.Hide Footnote

The Brak al-Shati contingent, after cooperating briefly with the Misratans in mid-2016, became the most vocal proponent of Misrata leaving Sebha and, more specifically, the Tamanhindt airbase.[fn]Crisis Group interview, army colonel from Shweref area, Tripoli, 25 March 2017.Hide Footnote By doing so, they gained support of Sebha notables who also started clamouring for Misrata’s withdrawal. In early 2017, Ben Nayel’s men began attacking the Third Force in Tamanhindt with heavy artillery.

The aim of the Greater Sirte Operations Room was to capture the strategic Jufra airbase, which was under the control of Misrata and other forces aligned with the Tripoli-based government. These included the anti-Haftar group known as the Benghazi Defence Brigade (BDB), mostly composed of fighters from Benghazi driven out by the LNA. Since 2016, the BDB had been using Jufra, at the crossroads between southern and northern Libya, as a logistical base to attack LNA positions in the east.[fn]The BDB took part in at least two offensives on the LNA-controlled crude oil export terminals around Ras Lanuf in 2016. See Crisis Group Commentary, “Oil Zone Fighting Threatens Libya with Economic Collapse”, 14 December 2016.Hide Footnote

Following a rapid escalation of violence in May-June 2017, prompted by an attack on Brak al-Shati airbase by the BDB and pro-Misrata forces, LNA-aligned forces took over both Tamanhindt and the Jufra airbase; by June 2017 Misrata’s Third Force withdrew entirely from the south.[fn]On 18 May 2017, forces allied to the Third Force and nominally loyal to the GNA attacked Brak al-Shati airbase, killing between 80 and 130 LNA members (sources differ on the actual number). This allegedly was in retaliation for LNA attacks on Tamanhindt airbase. In late May, because of the public outcry (including from within Misrata), Misratan forces and their local allies withdrew from Tamanhindt, leaving it in the hands of LNA-aligned local units. Soon thereafter, in a surprise 3 June offensive, LNA forces coming from the east took over Jufra airbase. This last operation took place with the support of the Egyptian air force. “East Libyan forces take desert airbase as they push west”, Reuters, 3 June 2017.Hide Footnote Since Misrata’s withdrawal, there has been only one, rapidly quelled, episode of fighting in Sebha.[fn]Some Tebu and Awlad Suleiman clashed in Sebha in early June 2017.Hide Footnote Jamal Treiki, the head of the Third Force, and others warned of a possible flare up in the south or even ISIS attacks should Misrata be forced to leave.[fn]In late March 2017, before the Third Force withdrew from Sebha, Treiki had said, “If we leave, everything here will explode. There will be a war like in 2014 – and tribal fighting [harb ahliya] will resume. There is still will for revenge, plus there are still mercenaries around. ISIS could also consolidate”. Crisis Group interview, Jamal Treiki, Sebha, 29 March 2017.Hide Footnote

Though attacks by ISIS affiliates have increased between Sirte and Sebha in recent months, locals apparently most fear rising crime.[fn]On 7 May 2017, ISIS affiliates claimed an attack against Misratan forces near the Loud agricultural project, 100km south west of Sirte; on 14 May, they seized fuel tanks in the same area.Hide Footnote As a Sebha resident said:

There is no police here, no units fighting against crime. Sebha is full of criminals and lots of drugs come through here. If things don’t get better, they can only get worse. […] Someone can attack you just to steal a phone. I am not afraid of escalation of fighting between tribes because at the end of the day ayyan (tribal leaders) can stop that. But they have no control over crime. That is more dangerous.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former military officer, Sebha, 28 March 2017.Hide Footnote

Other issues of concern are the rapidly shifting alliances among and within tribes. Both are recurring sources of instability in the south and could remain so even after recent dramatic changes in the balance of power on the ground.

The tribes and ethnic groups of the Fezzan are not monolithic entities.[fn]Tribes and ethnic groups appear as monolithic in their military alignments because commanders tend to hold sway primarily on their kinsmen, so for convenience analysts and journalists tend to generalise.Hide Footnote The Tuareg, for example, are internally divided along military lines. At any given moment, some members might fight in the name of forces aligned with the Tripoli-based government, others on behalf of Haftar and still others would be neutral. A similar pattern occurred with the Tebu, whose commanders are on both sides of the military divide, as well as with the Arab tribes.

Among the Tuareg, these divisions were the result of threats by the different Tripoli governments to cut the salaries of all military personnel without a national ID number (raqm watani). While the IDs were introduced in Libya in 2013 to control public payrolls, many Tuareg – including some employed as professional military by Qadhafi – did not possess a number nor could they obtain one since they did not meet the requirement of being a full Libyan citizen.[fn]Some 20,000 Tuareg families have been living in Libya for years but do not have full citizenship – administratively they only have raqm idari (administrative number) and not a raqm watani (national ID number). “This means that they do not have the right to hold a passport, they have no right to vote, nor do they stand a chance of receiving health care abroad, or of being granted a government scholarship to study outside of the country, like every other normal Libyan”. Crisis Group interview, Ibrahim Tazaghit, Tuareg activist, Obari, 25 March 2017. The lack of full citizenship is a reason why so many Tuareg are employed in the military.Hide Footnote An activist said:

It started in 2013 when Osama Juweili of Zintan was defence minister. The only way for those who saw their salaries cut off to resume being paid was to join the Zintani forces. In that case, a Tuareg would be given a national ID number and a salary. Fajr Libya [Libya Dawn, the Misrata-led military coalition that clashed with Zintani forces in Tripoli in July-August, sparking the divide between rival governments and parliaments] did the same: they gave a national ID and salary if you joined them. Since Karama [the Haftar-led Operation Dignity to seize control of Benghazi launched in May 2014] started, Haftar has given LYD3,000 a month [$2,170 at the official exchange rate, but around $375 at the 2017 black market exchange rate] to whoever agreed to fight with Karama forces in Benghazi.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Tuareg leader, Tripoli, 23 March 2017.Hide Footnote

Some Tuareg say they find power struggles within the capital confusing; they feel manipulated by the country’s various military factions. Speaking in April 2017, a Tuareg, who before 2011 worked as a desert tourist guide and since the war has been employed by various military forces operating in the Obari area, acknowledged:

We don’t really understand what is happening or what will happen. In 2011 when the revolution started, I joined an anti-Qadhafi force of thuwwar (revolutionaries). Then Zintan came and said that the force I had been working with was al-Qaeda. So I left them and joined Zintan as part of the Petroleum Facilities Guards. Then Zintan left without warning us [in November 2014] and Misrata came here. So I joined the Misratan force. Now we are with the Third Force. But then people say that Haftar is getting strong and his people say that Misrata is not legal. You see, we don’t really know what to do.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Tuareg member of the Third Force, Sharara, 1 April 2017.Hide Footnote

Amid this confusion, another Tuareg force is emerging in the south under the leadership of a Qadhafi-era general, Ali Kanna, who says he is neutral in the national conflict and aspires to a unified army.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Tuareg civil society activist and Tuareg tribal leader, Obari and Sebha, March 2017.Hide Footnote In early 2017, however, Kanna tilted toward the Misratans, leaving open the question of how he will position himself in the long run should the LNA’s standing in the south rise further.[fn]The head of the Third Force in Sebha praised the Tuareg general: “Ali Kanna and Ben Nayel had a big row in Brak al-Shati and they are not on good terms”. Crisis Group interview, Jamal Treiki, Sebha, 29 March 2017. Hide Footnote

The Tebu have also experienced shifting loyalties and internal divisions.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, residents, military officers, Misratan politicians, Tebu activists, Tunis, Sebha and Obari, 2015-2017.Hide Footnote In 2012, during the first Tebu-Awlad Suleiman war, they aligned with Misrata while the Awlad Suleiman opposed it. In 2014, the alignments were reversed: the three main Awlad Suleiman armed groups in Sebha (katiba reda, ahrar fezzan and shuhada sebha) cooperated with Misrata while the Tebu were backed by the LNA, Zintani armed groups and by factions close to the old regime. Throughout the political and military crisis of 2014-2015 and the Tebu-Tuareg conflict, the Tebu largely remained in the LNA camp. By the end of 2016, as reconciliation talks with the Tuareg matured and relations with Zintan soured, the Tebu-LNA alliance broke down. Several Tebu commanders distanced themselves from the LNA because of Haftar’s perceived pro-Arab bias.[fn]At that point, some key Tebu commanders like Hassan Musa and Abu Bakr Suqi shifted toward Misrata. A Tebu activist explained the shift away from the LNA in 2016 as follows: “After a year we understood that we were being used by both Libya Dawn and those of Operation Dignity, and that the war between them was the true reason for the Obari war. Initially we were with Dignity, but then we realised that we did not like the way Haftar worked. He wanted military rule; supported militarily other groups – like the Zway [in Kufra] and Magharha [in Brak al-Shati] – and less so the Tebu. For this reason some people turned to Misrata/Tripoli”. Crisis Group interview, Tripoli, March 2017. LNA’s decision to change its Arabic name to the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (al-quwwat al-musallaha al-arabiya al-libiya) in early 2016 contributed to the rifts. On the fluid loyalties of the Tebu, see also Tubiana and Gramizzi, “Tubu Trouble”, op. cit., pp. 120-121.Hide Footnote In 2017, the Tebu split: some units remained aligned with the LNA, others supported Misrata. The same applied to the Awlad Suleiman.[fn]According to Sebha residents, in March 2017 members of Reda armed group were aligned with the LNA while those of Ahrar Fezzan remained with Misrata. Crisis Group interviews, Sebha, March-April 2017.Hide Footnote Misrata’s recent withdrawal from the south signals a major change in the balance of power and is likely to trigger further realignments in the south.

Another wild card is the presence of foreign fighters recruited by both the Misratan-backed coalition and the LNA, as well as their respective local allies. The origin and exact numbers of these fighters remain murky although most appear to be Chadian and Sudanese; local sources offer differing accounts regarding who fights for whom, with some groups switching sides. In mid-2017, fighters with opposition armed groups from northern Chad – mainly from the FACT (Front for Change and Concord in Chad) – appeared to be fighting alongside the pro-Misrata coalition whereas Sudanese and Darfuri groups (eg, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and SL/Mini Minawi) were on the LNA side.[fn]According to a foreign analyst, Haftar initially used recruits from Chad. However, since a late 2015 meeting during which Idriss Déby allegedly voiced concern over this, Haftar has appeared to be using exclusively Sudanese fighters, “especially Mini Minawi fighters, because of their relative geographical proximity to LNA-controlled areas”. Crisis Group interview, May 2017. For a complete list of Chadian opposition armed groups in Libya, see footnote 4. The 2017 UN Panel of Experts report supports such claims. Final Report of the Panel of Experts on Libya Established Pursuant to Resolution 1973 (2011), S/2017/466, 1 June 2017. The Third Force commander denied that they were supporting or using foreign fighters. Crisis Group interview, Jamal Treiki, Sebha, 29 March 2017.Hide Footnote There were also allegations of janjawid [Sudanese Arab] fighters in Libya, though it was unclear whose side they were on.[fn]Crisis Group interview, May 2017. The confusion also reflects the fact that Libyans tend to use the derogatory term janjawid as a synonym for mercenary.Hide Footnote

A recently published report, which discussed reasons for the Misrata-led coalition’s recruitment of Chadian fighters, offers the following rationale:

Their Libyan hosts’ initial aim was to prevent these Chadian forces from being recruited as mercenaries by their adversaries in Tobruk. Another aim was to encourage Haftar’s Chadian recruits to switch sides, then to use them as mercenaries against Haftar or ISIS. The aim of the ‘third force’ was also to use these troops to put pressure on [Chad’s President Idris] Déby and to distance him from Haftar.[fn]Tubiana and Gramizzi, “Tubu Trouble”, op. cit., p. 145. A Tuareg elder, whose views possibly are shaped by his anti-Tebu bias, said, “Chad was pushing them [Chadian opposition groups] across the border into Libya in order to create za-za (mess) in the south of Libya and keep them busy there rather than in Chad. So you shouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow there is war here, even if today everything appears fine. One cannot tell if Chad will continue supporting these people in the future”. Crisis Group interview, Sebha, 29 March 2017.Hide Footnote

The internationally recognised government in Tripoli remains disengaged and lacks influence in the Fezzan. The EU, most EU member states, and international organisations have at best a limited presence on the ground; only Italy is trying to implement a stabilisation plan for the south.

State authorities in Tripoli historically have enjoyed less direct influence in the Fezzan than elsewhere in the country. Yet their presence has never been as marginal as today. An Arab tribesman from Wadi Hayat said, “Serraj is completely uninfluential here. About 60 per cent of the local population supports Haftar”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Obari, 1 April 2017. According to many, even the two Presidency Council (PC) members from the south, Abdulsalam Kajman (from Brak al-Shati) and Ahmed Hamza (from Traghen), have little influence there. Crisis Group interviews, residents and local notables, Murzuq, Obari, Sebha, March-April 2017. The PC included another representative from the south, the Tuareg Musa al-Koni, but he resigned in January 2017.Hide Footnote

The GNA’s two main rivals fare somewhat better. Since 2014, Khalifa Ghwell’s  Tripoli-based, unrecognised government and LNA forces, who recognise the east-based government as legitimate, have reached out to local communities and co-opted their support. “Haftar and LNA envoys came here and distributed vehicles and spoke to local military groups. Ghwell also did the same,” said a Tebu, an account confirmed by Arab tribal members.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Tebu resident, Murzuq, 30 March 2017.Hide Footnote As recently as April 2017, representatives of both Ghwell and Haftar – but not Serraj – were present in the town of Murzuq, for example. A local resident explained:

Murzuq has two heads of police, one appointed by the Ghwell government (a Tebu) and the other by Haftar and the eastern government (a Fezzana). Both operate from the mudiriya (police station), and have offices side by side. The two don’t fight each other. They each give their orders to the police force. But the police force is actually the same – so de facto these men are taking orders from two heads of police. There is nobody appointed by the Presidency Council here, in the whole of Murzuq.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Tebu journalist, Murzuq, 1 April 2017. Apparently, the elected mayor of Murzuq sits in Tripoli.Hide Footnote

GNA supporters acknowledge their lack of influence in the south, which the Presidency Council attributes to its inability to access and dispose of funds for southern institutions.[fn]Crisis Group interview, adviser to Faiez Serraj, Malta, May 2017.Hide Footnote

The Presidency Council also lost ground militarily. Its main ally in the Fezzan, the Misratan Third Force, withdrew from Sebha’s Tamanhindt military base in late May 2017; its departure weakened the council’s local allies. Advancing LNA forces expelled the Benghazi Defence Brigade (BDB), an unofficial military coalition stationed in Jufra and backed by al-Mahdi al-Barghati, the Serraj-appointed defence minister, in June 2017. This has given LNA-aligned military groups the upper hand, at least for now.

Aware of the fragility of the Tripoli-based government and its lack of operating capacity across the Fezzan and in the border area, the EU and member states until recently brushed off Libya’s south as “a region where we simply do not have an institutional partner and therefore where we cannot operate”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member of the European Parliament, Reggio Emilia, Italy, May 2017.Hide Footnote As a result, European efforts to curb migrant flows until recently had focused mainly on stopping smugglers in international waters off Libya’s north-west coast and in Niger.

Established in late 2014, the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED), also known as Operation Sophia, tried to disrupt human smuggling and trafficking networks between Libya and Europe while saving lives at sea.[fn]EUNAVFOR MED was launched on 22 June 2015 as a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operation to disrupt smuggling in the southern Central Mediterranean. On 28 September 2015, the EU agreed to start the active phase of the operation against human smugglers, renamed Operation Sophia after a baby born aboard one of the mission’s ships. The boats operate in international waters off the coast of Libya, gathering information, rescuing migrants and refugees and destroying boats used by smugglers. On 20 June 2016, the Council reinforced the mandate, adding training for the Libyan coastguard and navy and helping implement the UN arms embargo. On 25 July 2017, it extended the mandate until 31 December 2018. While it has succeeded in its rescue mission, the operation has not reduced the overall flow of migrants using the Central Mediterranean route or the number of deaths at sea, which rose from 2,876 in 2015 to 4,581 in 2016 and stood at more than 2,000 halfway through 2017. On 26 July 2017, Prime Minister Faiez Serraj submitted an official request for the deployment of Italian vessels in Libyan territorial waters to assist the Libyan government with anti-smuggling operations.Hide Footnote Notwithstanding these and other efforts – such as training coastguards, facilitating voluntary repatriation flights and enhancing UN agencies’ migrant-related activities – migrant flows from Libya to Europe continued to increase.[fn]Several problems explain this. One is the limited capacity of the Libyan coastguard, some elements of which are suspected of colluding with smugglers. Another is that, ironically, Operation Sophia ships and non-governmental sea rescue organisations have facilitated migrants’ passage to Europe. A Libyan NGO worker said, “You no longer need to make the whole journey to Lampedusa [the Italian island 160 nautical miles from Tripoli]; all you need to do now is head toward one of the foreign ships stationed in international waters just 12 miles off the coast of Zawiya [a town west of Tripoli]”. Migrants are brought to Italy when they are rescued by an international vessel. Once there, they are rarely repatriated and never returned to Libya. Crisis Group interview, Tripoli, April 2017. Some EU and Libyan security officials accuse foreign NGOs operating at sea of “colluding” with smugglers, an accusation the NGOs reject. Crisis Group interviews, EU officials, Tunis, March 2017; Libyan security officials, Tripoli, March 2017. See also Ayrn Baker, “Don’t blame rescue-at-sea organizations for migrants coming to Europe”, Time, 22 December 2016.Hide Footnote Efforts to stop people from entering Libya through Niger also have fallen short of expectations. Despite EU support for authorities in Niger and a government-led crackdown on smugglers in Agadez in 2016, which briefly reduced entries, by mid-2017 the number of migrants entering Libya via the Niger border rose again.[fn]In May 2015 Niger passed an anti-smuggling law that provided the legal framework for judges and police to take action against smugglers. The EU backed these efforts and in 2015 Niger became a beneficiary of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, set up to address migration from the Sahel and Lake Chad regions, the Horn of Africa and North Africa. The EU also helped to train internal security forces in the central Niger city of Agadez through its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) Sahel Niger mission (EUCAP Sahel Niger). By late 2016, security officers in Niger had seized 95 vehicles and arrested 102 smugglers as well as nine police officers for migration-related corruption. This apparently disrupted smuggling networks somewhat in Agadez, forcing them to operate more clandestinely. By March 2017, however, a Tebu living close to the border said that the measures put in place caused friction between residents of northern Niger and the government, but did not stop migrants, adding, “the business [of people smuggling] has never been so good”. Crisis Group interview, Murzuq, 31 March 2017. See Omar Saley, “Niger’s migrant smuggling hub empties after EU crackdown”, Reuters, 31 January 2017; Mixed Migration Trends in Libya, op. cit., p. 100.Hide Footnote

In early 2017, with attempts to stem migration off Libya’s coastline or from northern Niger faltering, European policymakers shifted gears and decided to tackle the problem also from southern Libya.[fn]This is in addition to other EU efforts to support the G5 Sahel Joint Force and its CSDP missions in Mali and the Sahel as foreseen by the Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on 19 June 2017. Council of the European Union, Council Conclusions on Mali and the Sahel, 19 June 2017.Hide Footnote Some of Serraj’s international backers – particularly Italy, the European country most directly affected by Libya’s migrant flows, and Germany – appear keen to take the lead.[fn]The current focus of attention appears limited to the Niger-Libya border area, which is migrants’ principal access route, and the city of Sebha, which is the main hub for migrants entering from the Niger border or from Sudan via Kufra (in south-eastern Libya). German-Italian talks about a military mission appear to focus on the Niger side of the Libyan border. “Germany, Italy float EU mission to stop migrants in southern Libya”, Deutsche Welle, 14 May 2017.Hide Footnote

For the past several years, most international organisations and Western countries have eschewed work in southern Libya.

But they do not know where to begin. For the past several years, most international organisations and Western countries have eschewed work in southern Libya. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) team, the EU delegation to Libya and most embassies (all of which had moved from Tripoli to Tunis by early 2015) admitted they barely followed dynamics in the south, focusing instead on the national political crisis and the east-west military divide.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior UN and EU officials, Tunis, Marrakesh, April-May 2017. There were practical reasons for not engaging with the south. The closure of Sebha airport for many months in a row, the volatile security landscape and the closure of most hotels since early 2014, all made it difficult to even visit the area.Hide Footnote The exceptions are the French military (which was interested in southern Libya as part of Operation Barkhane) and neighbouring states – Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia – that need to secure their borders and monitor the flow of people and fighters. As mentioned, Qatar was also involved in mediating peace talks in the Obari conflict.

In April 2017, the EU allocated €90 million ($105 million) for development aid to Libya as part of the North of Africa Window of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, some of which is due to be spent on projects in the south.[fn]The European Commission allocated these funds in April 2017 to protect migrants and improve migration management in Libya. The program is implemented by five main partners: International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ). See “EU Trust Fund for Africa adopts €90 million programme on protection of migrants and improved migration management in Libya”, press release, European Commission, 12 April 2017.Hide Footnote EU officials said additional funds could be earmarked for such projects, though Libyans are sceptical.[fn]An EU official said that due to political pressure from member states facing elections this year, there is willingness to invest this money and monitor its use, but the EU lacks a strong presence on the ground, especially in Libya. Crisis Group interview, Brussels, June 2017.Hide Footnote Many questioned whether the UN agencies that will receive these funds can do much in the south. A Libyan diplomat said:

They allocated these funds without asking themselves what they can do. There is a simple problem of access: how are these organisations going to roll out their projects in the south if they lack implementation capability and access?[fn]Crisis Group interview, Brussels, July 2017.Hide Footnote

Difficulties operating in the Fezzan will continue to be a key impediment. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has local staff in Obari and Sebha, working on the rehabilitation of local hospitals, schools and sanitation, but this appears to be more the exception than the rule.[fn]This formed part of the UNDP-supported Stabilization Facility for Libya launched in April 2016, which aims to help the Government of National Accord implement development projects in Libya.Hide Footnote Several international NGOs engage in reconciliation projects in the south yet these initiatives tend to occur outside of Libya. A number of UN agencies are trying to implement development projects across southern Libya but they operate mainly through local partners or the Libyan Red Crescent.[fn]Local groups include the Sheikh Taher al-Zawi organisation, a Zawiya-based Libyan organisation with branches across the south west. Crisis Group interview, Serraj Hodairi, Sebha branch manager of the Sheikh Taher al-Zawi organisation, Sebha, 29 March 2017. For a complete list of local civil society organisations, see Mixed Migration Trends in Libya, op. cit., p. 140.Hide Footnote Most foreign NGOs that were considering starting operations in Sebha gave up because of security concerns.[fn]Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sent an exploratory mission to Sebha in late 2016, but to date, for logistical and security reasons, operations have not yet started. Crisis Group interview, MSF representative, Tripoli, April 2017.Hide Footnote Even the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has a presence in Sebha, has had trouble operating since it likened the treatment of migrants there to the slave trade.[fn]“IOM really exaggerated when it called what was happening in Sebha slave trade. People here got furious and threatened to kick out their staff. Now they really have trouble operating in the south”, said a member of a local NGO. Crisis Group interview, Tripoli, April 2017. “IOM learns of ‘slave market’ conditions endangering migrants in North Africa”, press release, International Organization for Migration, 11 April 2017. Another challenge for the IOM is the fact that there are no voluntary repatriation flights of illegal migrants from southern Libya. They depart only from Tripoli.   Hide Footnote

Despite these constraints, Italy, which is eager to become more active in the Fezzan, is promoting its own stabilisation project. Since early 2017, a government-funded NGO has convened meetings with stakeholders from southern Libya for an ambitious project titled “A plan for peace, stability and security in the south of Libya”.[fn]Document on file with Crisis Group obtained from Italian NGO Ara Pacis, June 2017. Crisis Group interview, Maria Nicoletta Gaida, Ara Pacis, Rome, 2 June 2017.Hide Footnote  Its aim is to confront “illegal immigration, illicit traffics and terrorism” and it includes a tribal reconciliation program; cultural and medical hubs; an economic project to create industrial centres; and local anti-illegal smuggling police units with members recruited from groups currently involved in human trafficking. Initial costs are estimated at €90 million for which Italy is seeking EU funding.[fn]On 4 July 2017, the European Commission proposed an Action Plan “to support Italy, reduce pressure and increase solidarity”. The measures proposed are supposed to form the basis for discussions on immediate action to support Italy and reduce flows of migrants. This includes working with Libyan authorities and strengthening control along Libya’s southern border. Press release, European Commission, 4 July 2017.Hide Footnote The idea, an EU official familiar with the project said, is that “if you want to peel away people from the human trafficking business you need to co-opt them and to do so you must buy them over”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Brussels, June 2017.Hide Footnote

Many expressed doubts about the project, however. Some tribal leaders who attended the Rome talks questioned the “cultural hubs”, telling their hosts they did not need their former colonial masters “to help the tribes preserve their cultural identities”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, attendee of Ara Pacis talks, Rome, June 2017.Hide Footnote Some Italian analysts fear that trying to co-opt local tribes into anti-smuggling local police units without parallel efforts to address Libya’s macroeconomic problems will not reduce the number of migrants, just increase the price they must pay to smugglers.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Italian analysts and journalists, Rome and London, June 2017.Hide Footnote Questions likewise surround the proposed industrial projects, which include glass and marble factories, whose products will be difficult to market in the sparsely populated south and hard to deliver to wider markets further north because of insecurity on the roads.[fn]An Italian diplomat took issue with the criticism: “It is too easy to criticise what we are doing or proposing. We are the only one doing anything. None of the other EU countries knows anything or is doing anything for Libya”. Crisis Group interview, Brussels, June 2017.Hide Footnote

Libyan authorities, the EU and European governments can take steps to improve conditions in the region, which over time can discourage the people smuggling that is Europe’s paramount concern. 

Initiatives to end the tribal wars that have killed thousands in the Fezzan over the past five years have failed thus far to build a solid peace. Despite ongoing ceasefire arrangements and dialogue between groups once at war, lingering tensions remain, some deepened by these very efforts to end the fighting. Qatar’s failure to deliver the monetary compensation promised during its mediation efforts, for example, has become a potential trigger for renewed violence. Given uncertainty over what Qatar will do – particularly given its isolation from other powers seeking to project influence in Libya, especially Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – expectations need to be adjusted in subsequent negotiations. Efforts still underway, such as negotiations between the Tebu and the Awlad Suleiman, should avoid empty promises. Monetary compensation may not be the most effective way to engineer a settlement; it may be wiser to focus on concrete issues – such as security, freedom of movement and access to services such as hospitals and universities – that affect people’s everyday lives. 

More importantly, there needs to be rethinking about how to address Libya’s security challenges, with an eye to the south. Narrow, local talks among tribal representatives and civil society activists are not enough. These should be accompanied by negotiations specifically aimed first at bringing together military commanders and leaders of armed groups operating in the south and then integrated into a wider national security dialogue. Stabilisation of the south will depend largely on the outcome of competition between military groups nominally aligned to the internationally recognised government in Tripoli and those belonging to the military coalition under General Haftar. Crisis Group previously urged a national dialogue to address this rift, but it has yet to materialise. Instead, conversations on security so far have focused on creation of a secure zone in and around Tripoli. This is vital but insufficient; it will do little for the rest of the country, including the south.

Restoring an effective, integrated national army with a clear chain of command is crucial both nationally and in the south, where Arab, Tebu and Tuareg officers all aspire to positions of influence. Ordinary citizens, meanwhile, crave a legitimate armed force that can impose a modicum of order.

Beyond the military, other security functions – ordinary policing, securing oil and gas facilities, border guards, etc. – should be addressed both in any southern strategy and in the wider national security dialogue that remains, for now, largely unstructured. UNSMIL, pursuant to its mandate, should take the lead in constructing and conducting this security dialogue and ensuring inclusion of the south and of its concerns. As a preliminary step, and as it prepares to return to a permanent presence in Libya after a prolonged absence, UNSMIL should deploy to the area. 

Tensions between Rome and Paris over their respective roadmaps for Libya’s stabilisation could spill over to the south and undermine stabilisation efforts.

The different political and strategic agendas that drive various European countries also need greater coordination. Today, France and Italy have taken the most active approach toward the south, each motivated by separate and at times competing priorities. Paris is concerned about the Sahel’s strategic stability not only because it has troops deployed there but also because it is an area of privileged French influence in Africa. Rome has energy interests in Libya (including in the natural gas extracted in the south) and is concerned primarily about the flow of migrants that land on its shores. The two countries have lent political and at times military backing to rival sides in the Libyan conflict (with France giving LNA forces covert military support in 2016) even as they both nominally support the UN-led diplomatic process.[fn]Crisis Group Report, The Libyan Political Agreement: Time for a Reset, op. cit., p. 22.Hide Footnote Tensions between Rome and Paris over their respective roadmaps for Libya’s stabilisation could spill over to the south and undermine stabilisation efforts.

Europe as a whole is motivated by the migration question, and often appears to be seeking the kind of partnerships it has implemented with countries such as Turkey, designed to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching the continent. In Libya, this is not feasible: the internationally recognised government has little implementing capability, especially in the Fezzan, where forces opposed to the Tripoli government have the upper hand. Instead, it would be wiser to exert greater diplomatic pressure on Libya’s meddling neighbours (particularly Egypt and the UAE, whose military action and aid in support of Haftar have been most disruptive), while avoiding the temptation to pick winners in local or national conflicts. At the same time, Europe should provide greater support to UN efforts to resolve the Libyan conflict, stabilise the national economy and create a negotiation track for armed actors aimed at creating a more integrated security sector.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote

Without security, it will be hard to build the economy; without economic alternatives, it will be difficult to curb trafficking, including of migrants; and as long as trafficking continues, Fezzan residents will have incentives to resist efforts to impose security. This vicious cycle has left European officials both seized with the urgency of reducing migrant flows on the Central Mediterranean route and deeply pessimistic that anything meaningful can be done.

That pessimism has stymied even modest, but useful initial steps. In the long term, an end to the Libyan conflict would create opportunities that will lure many back into the licit economy while absorbing migrant labour from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, as was the case before 2011. Libya has massive potential wealth and a long backlog of major infrastructure and reconstruction projects. In the short to medium term, even as the conflict endures, some measures are both possible and advisable:

First, economic or social development projects require careful feasibility studies, especially given the EU’s and member states’ lack of experience or contacts with the Fezzan. The agricultural sector is especially worth exploring: farming is not highly reliant on high-tech equipment, which is difficult to maintain and secure, and it can quickly bring food and employment to the local population. As Crisis Group observed in the south, privately owned and secured farms have continued to function, even amid the current disorder, because owners have a stake in protecting them. In contrast, low paid employees fled the now largely defunct state-owned farms when conditions deteriorated. Further studies are necessary to determine whether the better solution would be privatisation, cooperative ownership structures or another form of collective organisation. In the meantime, the EU and others should encourage and, if necessary, help the UN-recognised government to improve its agricultural sector, which also would enhance its standing among the Libyan people. 

Second, UN agencies, in coordination with the internationally recognised government and local municipal authorities should seek to reopen Sebha airport, facilitate negotiations among local security factions to secure it and carry out the minor infrastructural work necessary to enable commercial flights to Obari. This would help decrease the Fezzan’s sense of isolation.

Third, national and international oil companies – notably around Murzuq and Obari, the two locations where they have facilities – should implement small-scale development projects in cooperation with local civil society. According to Libyan law, oil companies are supposed to invest in communities and promote social development projects, but they do not. Legal obligations aside, it would be smart business to lower community resentment. In April 2017, promises by managers of Libya’s NOC to invest in Murzuq persuaded local guards in al-Feel, an oilfield operated by Italy’s ENI, to lift their blockade on production. The NOC should deliver on its promises to avoid new problems and it should reach out to other communities in oil-rich areas. Maintaining good relations with civil society groups is all the more important in the current atmosphere of insecurity, where a single militia leader can block production in hopes of a pay-off. When a community has an interest in ensuring that does not happen it can pressure local militias to back off.

These would all be modest beginnings, but the international community has much ground to make up in Libya’s south.

Brussels/Tripoli/Sebha, 31 July 2017

Appendix A: Map of Libya Crisis Group
A police vehicle is seen amid burned equipment in the Ras Lanuf crude oil tank farm in Ras Lanuf, Libya, 17 October 2016. CRISIS GROUP/Claudia Gazzini
A police vehicle is seen amid burned equipment in the Ras Lanuf crude oil tank farm in Ras Lanuf, Libya, 17 October 2016. CRISIS GROUP/Claudia Gazzini
Report 170 / Middle East & North Africa

The Libyan Political Agreement: Time for a Reset

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.

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The December 2015 Libyan Political Agreement, signed in Skhirat, Morocco, has reconfigured more than contributed to resolving internal strife. A year ago, the conflict was between rival parliaments and their associated governments; today it is mainly between accord supporters and opponents, each with defectors from the original camps and heavily armed. The accord’s roadmap, the idea that a caretaker government accommodating the two parliaments and their allies could establish a new political order and reintegrate militias, can no longer be implemented without change. New negotiations involving especially key security actors not at Skhirat are needed to give a unity government more balanced underpinning.

Skhirat sought to resolve the dispute between the House of Representatives (HoR) and its associated government, based respectively in the eastern cities of Tobruk and al-Bayda, and the General National Congress (GNC) and its government in Tripoli. It created a Presidency Council, a rump executive that took office in Tripoli in March 2016 and was tasked to form a unity government, and an advisory High State Council of ex-GNC members. The HoR was to continue as the sole parliament and approve the unity government, but it has yet to do so. The institutional set-up thus is incomplete, leading to a skewed result, while supporters and foes cling to technical legalities to buttress their positions.

Military actors seek leverage by faits accomplis aimed at improving their negotiating positions and imposing themselves within their own camp. Between February and September, the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, who rejects the accord, drove foes from Benghazi and seized much of the Gulf of Sirte’s “oil crescent”, with its oil and gas production, refining and export facilities. Over this period, a coalition of western Libyan militias operating nominally under the Presidency Council and with U.S. air support has taken over most of Sirte, a city the Islamic State (IS) seized in March 2015. The possibility exists that some forces now in Sirte, aided by others in western Libya, will continue eastward and clash with Haftar’s forces in the oil crescent, or that the latter will seek to move west toward Tripoli. The aggregate effect is that divisions have deepened. That the Presidency Council, as interim executive, has made little progress on everyday issues such as the cash liquidity crisis and water and electricity shortages further undermines confidence.

External actors who pushed for diplomacy and made much of their support for Skhirat are almost as divided as Libyans. A group of mostly Western countries, led by the U.S., calls for unconditional support of the council and recognises the unity government it nominated. Prioritising the fight against IS and controlling migrant and refugee flows, it favours moving ahead on the Skhirat roadmap without the HoR if necessary, betting that if governance can be improved in the west first, the east may eventually join. Haftar’s resilience has upset that assumption.

Another group, led by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia, prioritises unity of what remains of the army (especially Haftar’s “Libyan National Army”) as the nucleus of a future military and is concerned about leverage Islamist militias controlling Tripoli may have on the council. It has given Haftar overt and covert political and military support, as has France on counter-terrorism grounds. Ostensibly concerned with finding a solution to Libya’s divides, it publicly subscribes to the peace process but undermines it and offers no concrete alternative.

Skhirat’s underlying objectives, avoiding further military confrontation and preventing financial collapse, appear increasingly distant. IS’s Sirte setback risks being followed by fighting among non-jihadists over oil and gas, which would likely postpone Libya’s ability to increase exports and further endanger peace prospects. Longer term, a failed peace process and escalating clashes would give radical groups opportunity to regroup. The immediate priority thus is to avoid the violence that seems to be brewing in the Gulf of Sirte, Benghazi and perhaps Tripoli. Avoiding a new confrontation in the oil crescent is particularly urgent, combined with an agreement that the forces there allow the National Oil Corporation to repair damaged facilities and resume exports, as Libyan law and UN resolutions demand.

Beyond this, a reset of the mired peace process is imperative. The attempt to implement Skhirat without HoR approval and excluding Haftar should end; likewise, backers must press Haftar to negotiate. Both sides need to make concessions, especially on security. The Presidency Council should do more to reassure the east it works for all, not just the west, and resume unity government talks with the HoR.

Little progress will be made without involving the most important armed actors in dialogue. Compromise on the command structure and their relationship with the Presidency Council is a necessary precursor to tackling wider disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration. Designating one side the “legitimate army” does not address the hybrid reality of military power: most armed groups claim ties with a state institution as they continue to operate as militias.

The prospect of Libya in freefall should give all pause, especially the vulnerable neighbours. Regional and global actors involved in the diplomatic process over Libya should converge on common goals, push for a renegotiation of the accord, use their influence to restrain the belligerents and nudge them toward a political solution and participation in a security track. Specifically,

  • The Presidency Council and allies should not take over the Gulf of Sirte facilities; the HoR and its forces should not move further west; the sides’ foreign backers should push hard to avoid an escalation.
  • General Haftar’s forces should observe their commitment that all Sirte oil and gas production and export facilities remain under the National Oil Corporation, as Libyan law and UN resolutions demand.
  • The Presidency Council should negotiate with the HoR on a new unity government, engage eastern opinion and address issues urgent to ordinary Libyans, eg, electricity, banking liquidity and health care.
  • The UN and states supporting diplomacy should promote a forum for Haftar and major armed groups from the west to discuss de-escalation in the Gulf of Sirte, Benghazi and elsewhere. As part of this security track, they should also begin talk on arrangements that could be part of a broader agreement.
  • Neighbours, the U.S., Russia, European states, Turkey, Qatar and the UAE, together with the UN, should help frame outcomes and contain spoilers by renewing efforts for convergence of their ambitions, based on issues where they already agree: oil and gas exports to stabilise the economy; a unified army command chain in a reunified security structure; territorial integrity; and confronting IS and al-Qaeda.

As the situation has taken increasingly alarming turns, outside actors – some, like France, long involved; others, like Saudi Arabia, newly active – are seeking to revive, the Skhirat process in one form or another. Understanding what went wrong, might be corrected and is necessary to do so is the best hope to salvage an agreement.

Tripoli/Brussels, 4 November 2016

When, in January 2015, the UN launched the negotiations that would produce a Libyan Political Agreement by year’s end, its aim was a power-sharing deal to surmount institutional and military fractures precipitated by a mid-2014 governmental crisis.[fn]In 2014, Libyans elected a House of Representatives (HoR) to replace the General National Council (GNC, elected in 2012). This changed the political balance to the detriment of the largely Islamist, revolutionary political coalition dominant in the GNC. In July 2014, Tripoli-based militias allied to the GNC leaders launched “Operation Dawn” to control key areas of the capital. In August, many HoR members met in the east, in Tobruk, without a formal handover from the GNC, while others boycotted the HoR as unconstitutional. In November, the Supreme Court invalidated a constitutional amendment that had paved the way for the HoR elections, giving further ammunition to GNC members who rejected the HoR. The HoR and international community did not accept the ruling, so the HoR remained the internationally-recognised parliament. As a result, Libya had rival parliaments and governments with limited territorial control and authority over armed groups. For details on efforts of the UN Support Mission to Libya (UNSMIL) to overcome the division, see Crisis Group Middle East and North Africa Report N°157, Libya: Getting Geneva Right, 26 February 2015, and Crisis Group Statement, The Libyan Political Dialogue: An Incomplete Consensus, 16 July 2015.Hide Footnote  The process, led by UN Special Representative Bernardino León until November and since then by Martin Kobler, envisioned the creation of a unity government and eventually a new constitution and elections. A legitimate, sovereign government could restart oil production and export, right the economy, begin demobilising and reintegrating armed groups and call on the international community to root the Islamic State (IS) out of Sirte.

The driver of the talks was the Libyan Political Dialogue, which included representatives of the two rival parliaments in existence since 2014, the House of Representatives (HoR, based in Tobruk) and the General National Congress (GNC, based in Tripoli), joined later by various independent personalities. León developed parallel dialogue tracks for representatives of armed groups, political parties, municipalities, women and other civil society organisations to reinforce an accord, though the armed-groups track never took off.

By the end of 2015, while much progress had been made on general principles, the outcome was quite different from the plan. Rather than forging consensus on a political roadmap between the parliaments and other constituencies, it empowered politicians willing to use the UN framework to identify common ground with foes and left out those who disagreed on key aspects, including a unity government’s composition and a security roadmap. The latter included the leaders of the GNC, Nuri Abu Sahmein, and of the HoR, Aghela Saleh, and their constituencies.[fn][1] The HoR and GNC initially negotiated via four-man delegations, but these came to represent small interest groups within the parliaments rather than the institutions themselves, and Abu Sahmein and Saleh became vocal critics. In June-July 2015, Abu Sahmein insisted that the GNC delegation withdraw, and in October, Saleh refused to call for an HoR vote on the proposed accord, saying the majority opposed it. Crisis Group interviews, GNC members, Tripoli, November 2015; HoR members, al-Bayda, November 2015.Hide Footnote

The result was a power-sharing deal between the majority of the 23 negotiators, a “coalition of the willing” that had some support in the parliaments but not from their leaders much less among military factions.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, Political Dialogue member, Morocco, 19 December 2015.Hide Footnote  When, after nearly a year of negotiations, the outcome appeared imperilled, many external advocates thought it better to press ahead, calculating naysayers could be brought in later. The timing of the agreement, signed on 17 December 2015, appeared premature and to lack a sufficiently broad consensus to be sustainable.[fn]Crisis Group argued this before the agreement was signed: Statement on a Political Deal for Libya, 12 December 2015; The Risk of Rushing a New Libyan Deal, Politico, 14 December 2015.Hide Footnote  Though there has since been some progress in countering IS, the bridging failure at signature threatens to deepen the main political divide between the deal’s supporters and opponents and has created new fractures within both camps. This undermines the ultimate goal of territorial integrity under a unity government that, by improving the political, economic and security situation, can lay the foundation for a more stable, inclusive order.

This report analyses the accord’s impact and reactions to developments it has engendered in Libya and among international actors involved in the diplomacy. It also suggests how to rejigger the process to achieve a more durable outcome.

The Libyan Political Agreement, signed in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015, established a “Presidency Council of the Council of Ministers”, to serve until appointment of a Government of National Accord.[fn]The accord’s text was not disclosed for more than a month. It consists of a preamble and 67 articles, additional provisions (fifteen articles) and six annexes.Hide Footnote  It consisted of a council president (considered the future government’s prime minister-designate), five deputies (deputy prime ministers-designate) and three state ministers, each representing a different political and geographical constituency. Faiez al-Serraj, a relatively unknown HoR member from Tripoli, became council president on signature.[fn]See Appendix B "Members of the Presidency Council of the Council of Ministers" for details. León first suggested Serraj as prime minister on television 8 October 2015. His name had not circulated before, and he was not one of the twelve candidates shortlisted by the HoR. This created resentment across Libya, but especially in the east, the HoR’s base. Crisis Group interviews, Libyan politicians, businessmen and activists, Tripoli, Misrata, al-Bayda, October-December 2015; and Cairo, April 2015. Nonetheless, Serraj had the advantage of being uncontroversial. As a Libyan observer put it, “no single faction holds a grudge against him”. Crisis Group interview, Tripoli-based politician, Tripoli, November 2015.Hide Footnote  Serraj was to become prime minister once the HoR ratified the accord and approved a cabinet that the council had 30 days to present (and the HoR ten days to approve). The new government would then govern for a renewable one-year period. The governments linked to the post-2014 parliaments would be dissolved, and the HoR would stay as the legitimate parliament, while most members of the Tripoli-based GNC would be integrated into the consultative High State Council, a new body with a say in appointing top state posts.

A key difference with previous arrangements, under which the head of the parliament was head of state (and hence of the armed forces), was the council’s enlarged security authority, namely to appoint the top positions in the armed forces and security services. ​​​​​ [fn]The agreement says all senior military, civil and security posts’ power must be transferred to the Presidency Council. The council president and deputies must unanimously agree on a new army commander and head of intelligence (the latter requiring HoR approval) and appointment and dismissal of ambassadors (proposed by the foreign minister), declaring a state of emergency, war and peace and adoption of exceptional measures (upon approval by a National Defence and Security Council and HoR endorsement). It does not say how the head of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) should be selected, but under Libyan law, this is a prime minister’s prerogative. Appointment of top state agency posts, such as heads of the Central Bank, Audit Bureau, High National Electoral Commission and Supreme Court, must be decided by the HoR in consultation with the High State Council. Libyan Political Agreement. It also had powers to appoint a Temporary Security Committee (TSC) to implement security arrangements envisioned in the accord, including ensuring the council’s (and later the new government’s) safety in Tripoli and preparing a countrywide ceasefire and militia disarmament. To be integrated into state security forces, armed forces would need to recognise the unity government and lay down weapons. Also envisioned was a “comprehensive and permanent ceasefire” to enter into force when the agreement was signed.[fn]Ibid, Article 38.Hide Footnote

Supporters in Libya and abroad said the accord was backed by majorities of both parliaments and ordinary citizens. The latter was broadly true. Most Libyans were fed up with the long divide, the fighting and economic and financial toll and welcomed a settlement in principle. But the same cannot be said of the parliaments.[fn]A joint communiqué signed by seventeen countries, the UN, European Union (EU), African Union (AU) and Arab League implied that the accord had the backing of HoR and GNC majorities. Ministerial meeting for Libya Joint communique, Rome, 13 December 2015. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that assumption in a televised statement that day. Numerous Libyans of different political, geographical and tribal affiliations suggested overwhelming support for a negotiated compromise to end the conflict. Crisis Group interviews, Tripoli, Misrata, Zawiya, al-Bayda, Ajdabiya, June-December 2015.Hide Footnote  A substantial HoR majority opposed the military and security provisions; many also contested enlarging the council from three to nine and individual nominations to it. Reservations in the GNC centred on some nominations (mainly because made while the GNC was boycotting the talks) and the High State Council’s limited authority.[fn]The first four drafts envisioned a Presidency Council of a president, two deputies and two “ministers of state”. There were no clear selection guidelines, but many HoR members asserted a tacit understanding that the HoR and GNC would each choose a deputy, and the president would be a consensus figure from an HoR shortlist. The three would represent the western, eastern and southern regions and main political factions. To accommodate other political and geographic constituencies, the UN and dialogue members changed this in December 2015 to a president, five deputies and three ministers of state. Crisis Group interviews, dialogue members, UNSMIL officials, Tunis, December 2015. HoR members called for changes to the security arrangements a number of times. In November and December, 92 of 104 who supported the accord did so in what was known as the Fezzan Initiative. On 25 January 2016, 89 expressed such reservations in a preliminary vote on the agreement.Hide Footnote  “There is no real political agreement”, a senior UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) official said. “This is an agreement to support those who seem trustworthy for the sake of saving the country”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Tunis, 11 March 2016, a view much-shared by UN staff and diplomats.Hide Footnote

In retrospect, proponents inflated support for the accord within the rival legislatures to justify going forward.[fn]The accord’s supporters pointed to a list of 92 HoR members who they claimed backed the accord, but omitted that this support was conditional on changes to the draft agreement. Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, UN officials, Tunis, December 2015; and advisers to Presidency Council members, Tunis, January 2016. Misrepresentations also coloured the debate over subsequent failures to obtain a formal HoR endorsement. Accord backers have repeatedly claimed the HoR president prevented a 25 February 2016 vote because most members were pro-deal, but that is uncertain: HoR members say pro-endorsement members had inflated the list of supporters, including members who were not in Tobruk on the day. Crisis Group telephone interviews, HoR members, Libyan politicians, Tobruk, Cairo, Tripoli, March-April 2016.Hide Footnote  The claim of majority backing was factually dubious – many members supported an agreement in principle but differed widely on details – and politically misleading, since key opponents were outside the HoR and the GNC and had military power to intimidate supporters, including several armed groups in western Libya and important forces affiliated with Haftar and the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, mainly in the east.[fn]For example, a Tripoli-based armed group that did not recognise the council attacked the house of one of its members in April 2016. In eastern Libya, there are frequent reports of Haftar-allied security services arbitrarily detaining pro-council political activists and social-media commentators. Crisis Group interviews, residents, Tripoli, April 2016; Benghazi, July 2016.Hide Footnote

By end of 2015, mounting anxiety among Libyan participants of the UN-mediated dialogue and their international backers about the state of negotiations and the deteriorating economic and security situation heightened pressures to sign the accord even with key issues unresolved. The main international backers were well aware of the limited progress, incompatibility of demands and popular disaffection, but they, including incoming UN envoy Kobler, felt they were out of time, and the process might collapse.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UN, EU officials, Political Dialogue participants, diplomats, Tunis, December 2015; Martin Kobler, Brussels, New York, December 2015.Hide Footnote

The most engaged Security Council permanent members – the U.S., UK and France – were particularly vocal in pushing the UN to finalise the deal. This was also crucial for Libya’s neighbours, including southern European governments worried about the threats incubating in a security vacuum. Even states sceptical of implementation, such as Russia and Egypt, urged that the deal go forward. All argued the talks were at an impasse and might be derailed by reports of an apparent conflict of interest concerning the former UN envoy, León, which had just surfaced, and the growing political fragmentation.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, Washington, London Tunis, Paris, October-November 2015; UN officials, New York, October-December 2015. According to Kobler, Libya’s neighbours “most pressed to see the country stabilised” at a November Algiers conference. Crisis Group interview, Brussels, December 2015. “Egypt’s Sisi calls for ‘international mobilisation’ on Libya”, Agence France-Presse, 8 December 2015. IS threats to hit Rome from Libya led Italy to push harder. Two days before a conference where internationals backed the agreement, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed scepticism about the power-sharing aspect, but said Russia would support it. Comments at RomeMed 2016 conference, Rome, 11 December 2015. In early November, media published leaked emails between León and UAE officials suggesting the UN envoy was negotiating compensation for a post at an Abu Dhabi diplomatic academy. This sparked outrage in Libya because the UAE has been a prominent Haftar and HoR backer. León had been planning to step down by year’s end and strongly denied any conflict of interest. He resigned shortly thereafter. Randeep Ramesh, “Libyan Faction Demands Explanation from UN over Envoy”, The Guardian, 5 November 2015; Leaked Emirati Emails Could Threaten Peace Talks in Libya, The New York Times, 12 November 2015; and Statement by SRSG for Libya, Bernardino León, UNSMIL, 12 November 2015.Hide Footnote  “When you drive on ice”, a U.S. official said, “it is better to accelerate than to hit the brakes”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Washington, March 2016.Hide Footnote

Political Dialogue participants indicated they also wanted the accord signed. They feared separate negotiations led by the heads of the two rival parliaments, the “Libya-Libya” initiative, would gain traction as a “nationalist” alternative to the UN-led talks, which some saw as an international or Western imposition.[fn]In November 2015, HoR and GNC members launched a separate dialogue aimed at reaching inter-parliamentary consensus on Presidency Council appointments, which they said should be limited to a prime minister and two deputies who would jointly nominate a unity government. Meeting in Malta and Muscat in December 2015, the HoR and GNC presidents endorsed the initiative. “The pressure to sign the accord came from Political Dialogue members who feared that the Libya-Libya initiative could gain popular traction”, an EU diplomat said. Crisis Group interview, Tunis, March 2016. In March 2016, the GNC and HoR delegations presented an alternative draft accord containing their revisions, but their initiative appears to have faltered.Hide Footnote  Their main concern was that the situation would fester, factions would fragment further and the most intransigent political actors would drown out more moderate voices.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, Western and UN officials, Washington, London, Brussels and Tunis, October-December 2015.Hide Footnote  They also assumed opponents might join once they saw the level of support, and they brushed aside concerns over a possible backlash from rushing a deal without bringing along important constituencies and key military actors.

Several other factors contributed to a perception a deal was needed fast. One was concern with IS expansion in Libya, especially after the November attacks in Paris. Some [fn]Crisis Group email exchange, senior UN official, December 2015. A related fear was that if the opportunity to attack IS was not seized, international attention would move on, anti-IS operations would refocus on Syria and Iraq, and the momentum to act in Libya would be lost. Crisis Group interview, senior UNSMIL official, Brussels, December 2015.Hide Footnote states saw a unity government as vital to coordinate a military response to IS’s capture of territory in central Libya and elsewhere. In early 2016, U.S. officials estimated that there were some 4,000-6,000 IS followers in Libya, mainly in Sirte but also Benghazi, Derna and Sabratha.[fn]“U.S. general: number of ISIS fighters in Libya doubles”, CNN, 8 April 2016.Hide Footnote  Explaining the rationale for moving forward with the Skhirat agreement, a senior U.S. official said:

In six months all three Libyan governments will have ceased to exist, and the only one left will be the government of Daesh [IS]. By implementing the political accord and moving the Presidency Council to Tripoli, we might have a chance to change dynamics and improve the fight against Daesh, which is consolidating its grip in the country.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Washington, 2 March 2016.Hide Footnote

A second factor was EU states’ concern with migrants and refugees, which made them eager to expand EUNAVFOR MED, the operation to “disrupt the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks” and prevent loss of life in the Mediterranean, into Libyan waters.[fn]Phase one of EUNAVFOR MED, which began on 22 June 2015, focused on surveillance and assessment of the south-central Mediterranean. Phase two, launched 7 October, provided for “search and, if necessary, diversion of suspicious vessels” in international waters. On 9 October, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2240 authorising interception of vessels in international waters off Libya’s coast suspected of migrant smuggling. A subsequent step would expand operations into Libyan territorial waters. European Union Naval Force – Mediterranean Operation Sophia, EU, December 2015.Hide Footnote  By late October 2016, the UN Security Council had authorised operations in international but not territorial waters, and the Presidency Council had not requested the latter. The regional environment was another concern. Some Western backers of the UN process feared that without a quick agreement, regional actors such as the UAE and Egypt, which were nominally supportive but sceptical of the deal and continuing to back its opponents, would get their way. A Western official said:

Not signing and endorsing the accord would have been a major defeat for those like us who had been advocating a negotiated power-sharing deal as the only solution to the Libya crisis. It would have meant a failure of the principle of negotiations, and that would have allowed those governments that throughout 2015 had advocated direct unilateral action in support of the HoR and its government to declare victory.[fn]Crisis Group interview, March 2016. An Egyptian diplomat explained his country’s apparent contradiction of supporting the accord while giving support to Haftar, a chief opponent: “Egypt genuinely wanted a new internationally recognised government, and we okayed Serraj as head of the Presidency Council. In a certain sense he was our choice. We just assumed that Serraj and Haftar would work together – out of necessity”. Crisis Group interview, Amsterdam, May 2016.Hide Footnote

A corollary was fear Western countries such as France and the U.S. had begun to signal intention to begin counter-terrorism measures inside Libya in collaboration with local actors, potentially undermining a future unity government. Most notably the U.S. and UK, were lobbying for moving the Presidency Council to Tripoli and recognising the unity government as the legitimate government as soon as possible, even without formal HoR endorsement.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior UNSMIL official, New York, Brussels, December 2015; U.S. diplomat, Washington, March 2016; UK diplomat, London, March 2016.Hide Footnote

Though these were all valid concerns, particularly for nearby countries threatened by IS and other jihadist groups and Europe, where the refugee crisis had become a political and policy priority, they have not been sufficient priorities to convince Libyan military actors to rally behind the accord and the Presidency Council. After being in denial for much of 2015, Libyans were concerned with IS growth, particularly as it began increasingly deadly attacks outside Sirte and threatened to expand eastward toward critical oil facilities.[fn]On 4 January 2016, at least 50 people were killed when an IS follower detonated a truck in a military training centre in Zliten, 180km west of Tripoli, Libya’s deadliest attack since 2011. That month IS adherents also attacked checkpoints around Sidra and Ras Lanuf, east of Sirte, where key crude-oil export terminals are. Crisis Group telephone interviews, residents of Ben Jawwad and Sidra, January 2016.Hide Footnote  But, several important military factions remained at loggerheads, displaying little interest in collaborating against IS.

In June 2016, forces from western Libya launched Operation al-Bunyan al-Marsus (The Impenetrable Edifice) against IS in Sirte, but they were mainly volunteers from Misrata (joined by a few from other western and southern cities). East of Sirte, there was some coordination between the Misratans and the Petroleum Facilities Guards’ central-region unit, led by local strongman Ibrahim Jadran and in charge of security at Gulf of Sirte oil facilities, but other eastern forces opposed to the Presidency Council, notably Haftar’s, did not take part.[fn]Al-Bunyan al-Marsus operations room members insist western Libya fighters took part, but a casualty list suggests most were from Misrata. Crisis Group interviews, Misrata, June, October 2016; political activists, military officials, Ajdabiya, Tripoli, Misrata, June 2016. Most officers from Sirte aligned with Haftar and did not join the Bunyan Marsus operation. Crisis Group interviews, Haftar-aligned Greater Sirte Operations Room members, Ras Lanuf, October 2016.Hide Footnote  A sizable proportion of those fighting IS in Sirte did not recognise the council’s authority, though the operation has been portrayed as carried out by accord supporters loyal to the council.[fn]See U.S. Special Envoy Jonathan Winer’s testimony, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 15 June 2016. Members of the al-Bunyan al-Marsus operations room said, “all the forces participating in this operation are with the unity government”, and dissent within their ranks is “not because they are against the Presidency Council or unity government; they resent that they have received no visible support from the council”. Crisis Group interview, Col. Ramadan Ahmed, Misrata, 8 June 2016. Other politicians and diplomats say that about half those fighting in Sirte are not under the council. Crisis Group interviews, Abderrahman Swehli, ex-GNC member and current High State Council president, Tripoli, June 2016; Libyan diplomat, Rome, July 2016.Hide Footnote

A major flaw of the strategy to create facts on the ground by recognising a unity government was that it was difficult to see how international goals – countering IS and stemming the refugee flow through Libya – could be sustainable without improved governance and a genuine broad agreement on state institutions and the military. Progress in fighting IS in Sirte has not addressed Libya’s political and institutional divides nor persuaded, as some deal backers hoped, factions and their regional supporters that national unity could come through an anti-IS coalition under the council’s aegis.[fn]The lack of a security track was frustrating to many Western officials. An Italian diplomat blamed UNSMIL for lacking the requisite knowledge of local dynamics to start a security dialogue. Crisis Group interview, Rome, September 2015. On the eve of the signing, a senior EU official admitted: “I recognise that it was a mistake not to work on the security track from the beginning …. If we manage to get the security track right, then the political track can be successful, but not the other way round”. Crisis Group interview, Brussels, 7 December 2015. Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, UN officials, Tunis, Brussels, Washington, January-March 2016.Hide Footnote

From early 2016, unresolved issues turned into institutional hurdles to the deal’s implementation. The gap between its supporters and foes increased and triggered military mobilisations, while international fractures reasserted themselves.

An aerial view of Misrata, Libya, 18 October 2016. CRISIS GROUP/Claudia Gazzini

When signed, the accord’s most stalwart Libyan supporters were politicians, militiamen and businessmen from western Libya, especially Tripoli and Misrata. The Tripoli-based heads of the Central Bank and National Oil Corporation, key institutions for the viability of any unity government, were also on board.[fn]These included members of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Justice and Construction Party (JCP), allied armed groups and others who in 2014 supported return of the GNC and the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) militia but since grown weary of both. Among key backers were Fathi Bashaga, an influential ex-Misratan militia commander who won a seat in the 2014 HoR elections but refused it, and Muhammad Sawan, the JCP’s head. On the Central Bank and National Oil Corporation, see Crisis Group Middle East and North Africa Report N°165, The Prize: Fighting for Libya’s Energy Wealth3 December 2015.Hide Footnote  More generally, there was broad support among ordinary people in the west for any deal that produced a more effective government that would end division and violence.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Tripoli, Misrata residents, Tripoli, November 2015. A Misrata businessman said he and others supported the deal as better than having none: “We know the deal is not perfect and there are inconsistencies, but … who cares? We need to move on or we’ll reach the precipice. There is no money; the country is fragmented. We don’t think reopening the negotiations will change things because there is no chance of convincing those nutters in the HoR and GNC”. Crisis Group telephone interview, Mohammed Ben Ras Ali, December 2015.Hide Footnote  International supporters treated the west as more immediately important, because of the necessity of establishing a government in Tripoli, the capital.

Even so, there were some important opponents in the west other than the GNC leaders, including Mahmoud Jibril’s Tahaluf, the National Front Party and militias and politicians close to Abdelhakim Belhaj, head of the now-defunct Libya Islamic Fighting Group.[fn]Broadly speaking, their objections centred on the council’s composition and a belief the institutional framework in the agreement was untenable. Crisis Group interviews, Tahaluf, National Front members, Tunis, March 2016; ex-Qadhafi-era officials, Tunis, Cairo, March-April 2016.Hide Footnote  Each had often opportunistic reasons to oppose either the agreement or council line-up. Jibril considered the power-sharing set-up unworkable.[fn]Jibril said that in early December 2015 he advised Kobler against preparing the accord for signature. He also objected to locating the council in Tripoli as long as the city was under militia control: “If you take money and political power away from Tripoli, then [the militias] cannot twist people’s arms for money and power”. Crisis Group interview, Rome, January 2016.Hide Footnote  Armed groups from Zintan, important military stakeholders despite being kicked out of Tripoli in 2014, were divided, with some prepared to support the deal in exchange for sharing security responsibilities in the capital, others dead-set against and openly coordinating with Haftar’s forces in the east.[fn]In negotiations between Misratan and Zintani leaders from mid-2015, some Zintani armed groups expressed willingness to support the council but demanded the right to return to Tripoli. This current is best represented by ex-Defence Minister Osama Jwehli, who has stated he is open to a revised agreement if dominance of Misratan and Islamist militias in Tripoli is addressed satisfactorily. Crisis Group interview, Zintan, June 2016. Another faction, led by army commander Col. Idris Madi, supports Haftar; in May 2016 it hosted the army’s pro-Haftar, HoR-appointed, chief of staff at an army graduation ceremony in Zintan where he vowed to “liberate Tripoli soon”. Remarks, Chief of Staff Abdelrazek al-Naduri, 24 May 2016, reported in Libya al-Mustaqbal, 24 May 2016. A Zintani representative, Omar al-Aswad, was appointed to the council but suspended participation in February 2016 to protest its cabinet nominations.Hide Footnote  Islamists of various stripes opposed the council initially as foreign-picked.[fn]Islamist-leaning groups across Libya followed the mufti of Tripoli, al-Sadeq al-Gharayani, who opposed the deal and accused the council of operating under the “tutelage” (wasaya) of foreign powers. His televised speech, Tanasukh channel, 31 March 2016. Crisis Group phone interviews, Islamist and anti-council activists, Kufra and Benghazi, April 2016.Hide Footnote  Even some of the accord’s proponents and those backing the process found UN stewardship problematic.[fn]A Misratan politician said, “the UN has become a party to the conflict. It is taking firm positions and telling people they have to accept these. This is making things worse, because certain groups are reacting to what they see as a UN imposition”. Crisis Group telephone interview, March 2016. Western backers of the UN process have sought to counter this, but at least one contended: “Libyans … are incapable of taking decisions and change their position continuously. So at some point we have to take the decisions for them and persuade them to follow. We just cannot leave things to fester”. Crisis Group interview, Western diplomat, March 2016.Hide Footnote

Despite opposition from these groups and the GNC leadership, the UN and several foreign capitals felt there was enough militia and political leader support in the west to proceed.[fn]A militiaman who in March 2015 had insisted on need for the international community to recognise the Tripoli-based government and opposed negotiations became a strong supporter of the council a year later: “Finally we have a government that enjoys international recognition. That is what we wanted all along”. Crisis Group interviews, member of Tripoli-based Misratan armed group, Tripoli and Misrata, March 2015 and March 2016.Hide Footnote  Last-minute support from Abderrahman Swehli, a Misratan with ties to his city’s armed groups, changed the force balance in the deal’s favour.[fn]Swehli remained until January 2016, wanting guarantees that the future government would sideline Haftar. Crisis Group interview, Abderrahman Swehli, Tunis, January 2016.Hide Footnote

The president of the Presidency Council, Faiez al-Serraj, surprised many when, on 30 March, he and six other council members arrived in Tripoli from Tunisia aboard a Libyan navy frigate and set up operations inside the naval base. This called the GNC leadership’s bluff: there was no substantial military opposition, and several local armed groups rapidly declared support. Many western municipalities were also quick to recognise council authority, as did the main financial institutions in Tripoli.[fn]The Tripoli-based Central Bank and National Oil Corporation chiefs began work with the council immediately after its arrival, which for international backers was key to ensuring that state funds would no longer reach radical groups or anti-accord constituencies. Addressing more immediate problems, such as the liquidity crisis and freezing of letters of credit, was also a priority to boost support for the new authorities. Crisis Group interviews, diplomats, financial experts, Libyan politicians, Tunis, Washington, London, Rome, March-May 2016.Hide Footnote  On 5 April, Khalifa Ghwell, prime minister of the pre-existing Tripoli-based “government of national salvation”, who had threatened to arrest Serraj if he came to Tripoli, was reported to have fled. (He later denied this, and continued to run a rump cabinet in the capital and in October again declared himself in power).[fn]News reports of Ghwell’s resignation were based on a 5 April 2016 statement saying he had resigned and handed over to the GNC. He subsequently said he had not authored that statement and denied he had resigned. Crisis Group telephone interview, official close to Ghwell, Tripoli, 15 March 2016. For details, see Ghwell contradicts reports of Tripoli government resignation, Menas Associates, 11 April 2016. On 14 October 2016, local forces hitherto loyal to the Presidency Council switched sides and declared backing for Ghwell and ex-GNC members as the legitimate authorities. They took over the Rixos complex in Tripoli, which had housed the UN-backed State Council since April. Crisis Group interviews, politicians, security officers, Tripoli, October 2016.Hide Footnote  That the arrival in Tripoli went smoother than expected was in part because it co-opted groups by allowing them to retain influence and financial leverage.[fn]While there are allegations some armed groups were bribed to support the council, many wanted to ensure future influence: access to state finances, guarantees that Haftar would be sidelined, inclusion in security arrangements, immunity from prosecution for past actions, and, for a few, council compliance with Sharia (Islamic law). Crisis Group telephone interviews, Tripoli-based members of armed groups and politicians, April-May 2016.Hide Footnote  This demonstrated the council, once marginal in Tunis, could gain control over key state institutions.

Momentum was short-lived, however. In early April, the decision by former GNC members (per the accord’s roadmap) to convene the High State Council prior to an HoR ratification revived tensions, particularly as a State Council majority voted to appoint the controversial Misratan politician Abderrahman Swehli as the body’s president.[fn]On 5 April 2016, 80 GNC members announced formation of the High State Council. The next day, with 53 votes, they elected Swehli its president. The appointment was hugely controversial: many Libyans, especially in the east, see him as the architect of the July 2014 “Libya Dawn” operation and the “Libya Sunrise” siege of eastern oil terminals later that year. Even in the west, many were critical: “It is destructive and divisive. The accord is like a seed: it needs to be cared for and nurtured. People like Swehli think it is a fruit ripe for the eating”. Crisis Group telephone interview, Misratan politician, 8 May 2016.Hide Footnote  By late May, it was clear Serraj’s control of Tripoli was tenuous, and tensions were brewing among militias there and elsewhere. The risk of open confrontation was real on multiple fronts.[fn]Violence was limited to an attack on the Tripoli home of council member Ahmed Maitig. “Two guards die as Ahmed Maetig’s Tripoli home attacked”, Libya Herald, 16 April 2016. Yet, tensions were rife on other fronts, not least between ex-army officers who hoped the new council would give them senior positions and armed group heads. Crisis Group telephone interviews, ex-army officers, Tripoli, April-May 2016. There was also competition over protection for the council. In April, some council members considered moving to a residential compound in Tripoli’s western periphery, but armed groups from the city centre and east in charge of protecting the council in the Abu Sitta naval base were opposed “because it would have entailed losing direct access to the council”. Crisis Group interview, Western analyst, Tripoli, 25 April 2016.Hide Footnote  Several armed groups in the capital’s outskirts continued to oppose the council but refrained from open confrontation fearing European navies or because they were waiting for the Supreme Court to declare the council and proposed unity government illegitimate.[fn]Reportedly, German, UK and Italian naval forces were off Tripoli’s coast to defend the council, and when the council was on its way to Tripoli, armed groups in the west received text messages warning against an attack. Crisis Group interviews, foreign security contractor, Rome, 10 April 2016; Libyan politician in contact with European intelligence agencies, April 2016. According to GNC spokesperson Omar Hamidan, “armed groups decided not to waste lives in fighting against the council”, because they had been advised to wait for a Supreme Court ruling. Several factions filed constitutional or implementation challenges with the court. Crisis Group telephone interview, April 2016. The Supreme Court has yet to rule.Hide Footnote  The boycott of two of the council’s nine members was another source of tension, as it gave their factions ammunition to argue the council was acting outside its legal framework, especially regarding security sector decisions, since according to the agreement these had to be taken unanimously by Serraj and all five deputies.[fn]The members are Omar al-Aswad and Ali al-Qatrani, who began their boycott in January 2016 after disagreements with other council members over cabinet nominations. In an open letter announcing he was freezing his participation, Aswad accused colleagues of last-minute changes to the proposed line-up, including by increasing the number of ministers, without informing him. “National Unity Government built on cronyism and will fail says Presidency Council member Aswad”, Libya Herald, 23 January 2016. Qatrani’s main reason for boycotting was disagreement over the appointment of al-Mahdi al-Barghathi as defence minister. In August 2016, after the HoR rejected the proposed GNA line-up, Aswad rejoined the council but Qatrani said he would not as long as it met in Tripoli, because the city was controlled by hostile armed groups. He did meet other council members in Tunis in September and October.Hide Footnote

On the eve of a 16 May ministerial in Vienna, Serraj felt confident enough to announce that the unity government would begin functioning that week. Though the HoR had not approved his cabinet, he called on ministers-designate (a new group of thirteen ministers plus five ministers of state, in addition to the nine-member Presidency Council) to take office.[fn]Presidency Council decree 12/2016, 14 May 2016.Hide Footnote  A handful began to work as de facto ministers, but at least four refused without HoR endorsement. Only one full cabinet meeting has taken place since, in June.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, minister-designate, Tripoli, June, October 2016; east-based politicians, July 2016. The minister-designate complained that since a first cabinet meeting in June, there has been no direct contact with Serraj. The four, all eastern, ministers who refused to take office are Finance Minister Fakhir Muftah Bouferna, Justice Minister Jumaa al-Dersi, National Reconciliation Minister Abdel Jawadd al-Abadi and Economy Minister Abdel Matloub Bouferwa. Crisis Group telephone interview, minister-designate who attended the first cabinet meeting, Tripoli, July 2016.Hide Footnote

The Presidency Council’s control of the capital and so of ministries was limited. Several ministries, particularly those outside the downtown and east-central Souq al-Jumaa area, remained controlled by the Ghwell government or anti-council militias. Initially, only the ministers-designate for foreign affairs, local governance and interior could work in their own buildings. The council itself continued to operate for some months from the naval base. Until July, the building housing the prime minister’s central Tripoli office was controlled by an armed group that said it would allow the council to enter if it remained in charge of security there; some council leaders claimed the unit had left, but it appears to have only rebranded and affiliated itself to the interior ministry. Serraj gave a press conference there in July but otherwise continues to hold meetings at the naval base (though his deputies work from the building housing the prime minister’s office).[fn]Crisis Group telephone interviews, Tripoli security officials, foreign analysts, April-May 2016. Souq al-Jumaa is a neighbourhood with many pro-council militias. Crisis Group interviews, minister-designate, security official familiar with armed group occupying the prime ministry, Tripoli, June, October 2016.Hide Footnote

For months, few Serraj-appointed ministers (including those who started to meet with foreigners in May) controlled their budgets. Though the council appears to be in charge of approving payments through the Central Bank, it is unclear whether any minister will have long-term access to state funds without HoR endorsement, as under the accord parliament must approve the budget. But at least through July, when the bank gave it 1.5 billion dinars ($1 billion) for emergency spending in the absence of a legal budget, the council appeared able to tap into former cycles’ unused funds.[fn]Since the council reached Tripoli, a finance committee led by council member Fathi al-Majbari has acted as de facto finance ministry, disbursing funds, issuing payment orders and approving payments. Crisis Group telephone interview, Central Bank board member, Tunis, May 2016. A minister-designate travelling to meet foreign officials allegedly complained he did not receive funds for a ticket, while businessmen reportedly bankrolled some council activity. Crisis Group interview, Misratan businessman, Rome, 15 May 2016. For the Central Bank to legally fund ministries, the council must instruct the finance ministry to allocate ministerial budgets, including for salaries. This needs HoR endorsement, but some argue circumstances make this moot. A Central Bank board member wrote: “Protection of the state and society at a moment of crisis is … more important … than any constitutional clause. As per UN resolutions, the Central Bank of Libya is answerable to the Presidency Council and the Government of National Accord”. Crisis Group email communication, 23 May 2016. “In absence of a budget, PC/GNA ‘borrows’ LYD 1.5 billion from CBL for Emergency Fund”, Libya Herald, 20 July 2016. A minister-designate said that in August the council allocated emergency funds, but the minister turned this down for lack of an HoR endorsement; others accepted the funds. Crisis Group interview, Tripoli, October 2016.Hide Footnote

Finances aside, since arriving in Tripoli the council has appeared incapable of strategising and, most importantly, to lack means to implement most of its decisions. Individuals close to it express complaints ranging from failure to liaise with the ministers-designate to monopolisation of decisions and refusal to delegate. Even some international backers are frustrated: “We had very low expectations to start with, but we see that the council is not undertaking even minimal actions”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, minister-designate, military officials, politicians, diplomats, Tripoli, and UN officials, New York, June 2016; European diplomat, Rome, July 2016.Hide Footnote  With precarious financial arrangements, electricity shortages and a plummeting economy (banks have limited cash withdrawals and frozen foreign currency transfers, while the black-market dinar is less than a third of its official U.S. dollar value), public support has dwindled. All this has created rifts, even within the council’s original powerbase of politicians and businessmen in western Libya. Several early supporters fear the current arrangement may collapse.[fn]Crisis Group observations, Tripoli, July 2016; interviews, Libyan politicians and officials, Tripoli and diplomats, New York, Rome and Berlin, June 2016.Hide Footnote

More generally, the council, particularly without the support of military factions in the east and other armed groups from the west, especially the Zintanis, is overly reliant on a few militias and personalities, some of which may be obstacles to national reconciliation. The appointment in April of Swehli, a former pro-GNC hardliner despised by many HoR constituencies, especially in the east, to head the High State Council is such a case. So is the role of Islamist figures like Khaled Sherif, an ex-member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who was deputy defence minister in several post-Qadhafi governments.[fn]Sherif, head of Tripoli’s al-Hadhba security prison, is said to be influential with Tripoli armed groups. Crisis Group interviews, politician, security officers, Tripoli, September-October 2016.Hide Footnote  Some army officers working for the council in Tripoli and instrumental in shaping security arrangements there said they felt “the Misratans are calling the shots”. That perception and the fact that their armed groups control Tripoli and its surroundings have fuelled anti-Misrata resentment. Clashes between local residents and members of a Misratan brigade left more than 40 dead in a town on Tripoli’s outskirts in June.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interviews, adviser to General Abderrahman Tawil, 30 April 2016; Libyan journalist, Tripoli, 23 June 2016. On 21 June 2016, a dispute between a member of a Misratan armed group and a shopkeeper in Qarabolli, some 30km east of Tripoli, led to twelve deaths, including civilians. Subsequently, residents stormed a military base housing the Misratans, and an explosion killed more than 30 people.Hide Footnote

The precedent of weak governments in 2013-2014 that were hostage to militia demands, comes to mind. Not addressing Tripoli’s security landscape before relocating there was risky; over time it may become clear that long-term detriments offset the short-term benefits of a foothold in the capital. The presence there of armed groups operating without formal government oversight fuels the impression, particularly in the east where support of the accord was always minimal, that the Presidency Council and unity government are again hostages.

Clouds dot the skyline over Merj, in Eastern Libya, 16 July 2016. CRISIS GROUP/Claudia Gazzini

The accord has less traction in the east than west at the grassroots and among the political elite. Eastern tribes, some members of western ones who fled Tripoli in mid-2014 and most army officers who operated under HoR authority saw the UN and the talks’ Western backers as biased toward the GNC and consider them responsible for the post-2011 chaos and rise of radical Islamist groups.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, residents, politicians, Benghazi, al-Bayda, November 2015. One indicated easterners resent that after the 2014 split, Western policymakers nominally accepted the HoR as the legitimate parliament while “running to defend the interests of their friends in Tripoli and Misrata, who had actually lost the elections”. Crisis Group interview, resident, al-Bayda, November 2015. Distrust was further fuelled by UN Security Council refusal to lift the arms embargo on Haftar’s HoR-backed forces and refusal to recognise the HoR-appointed heads of the Central Bank and National Oil Corporation. An eastern academic said, “it is dismaying that the international community supports the Tripoli armed groups and politicians there who lost the elections. Don’t they get it that we don’t support them?” Crisis Group interview, al-Bayda, November 2015. In the east, “Misrata” is used inaccurately but pervasively as shorthand for Islamist-leaning western militias and business interests that gained military dominance in western Libya and aimed to leverage this for dominance over state institutions and wealth.Hide Footnote  Eastern Libya (Cyrenaica), was ripe for this narrative because monarchists, federalists, secessionists, local businesspeople and elements of certain tribes advocated greater economic decentralisation. They feared the accord would produce another Tripoli-based government dominated by western militias and personalities.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, federalists, monarchists, al-Bayda, November 2015, Rome, January 2016. Others complained the accord does not chart a clear roadmap for replacing the interim unity government, opening the possibility of staying in power unchecked, even after the end of its one-year (extendable to two years) mandate. “How can the UN ask us to approve the accord and this Serraj government without explaining to us clearly how and when it will be replaced?”, a monarchist asked. “The agreement stated only that future elections will be in accordance with provisions in the constitution, but we don’t have a constitution yet. How do we know this government won’t stay in power indefinitely?” The Constitutional Drafting Assembly, a committee of 56 elected in 2014, appears so fractured it may not be able to approve a draft.Hide Footnote  The Serraj team’s reliance on local militias in Tripoli added to the fears. Some eastern HoR members who demanded revisions to the accord warned that implementing it and recognising the government without an HoR vote would keep the HoR-appointed government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni in place.[fn]HoR member Adam Bu Sokra said, “Al-Thinni will not step down; nor will Ghwell. This does not mean people will fight the Serraj government, but events will develop as a consequence, and Kobler will be the cause of bloodshed”. Crisis Group interview, Tunis, 14 March 2016.Hide Footnote  Most easterners consider that government legitimate, even if it is not operational.

Haftar initially paid lip-service to the accord, meeting Kobler the day before its signing and proposing a close associate, Ali Qatrani, for the Presidency Council. By January 2016, however, he turned against it, as he realised that literal implementation of its security arrangements (Article 8) would sideline him.[fn]A Haftar aide said that when the accord was signed, they had not understood the full implications of its security provisions, specifically Article 8: “Only a month later did the agreement’s full implications sink in. It was our fault for not realising it earlier. I think we just did not examine the text carefully enough”. Crisis Group interview, Merj, eastern Libya, July 2016. Haftar supporters saw the deal as aimed at sidelining him, because Article 8 stipulates that the duties of the supreme commander of the armed forces will be assumed by the Presidency Council.Hide Footnote  He began to lead eastern opposition, which has enhanced his local appeal. A Haftar supporter called the accord “a plot by Islamists and their fans in the West to get rid of the one person who is really fighting the terrorists”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Haftar supporter, Tunis, March 2016. A number of activists and politicians from Benghazi have expressed frustration with the insistence of Western countries and the accord’s Libyan backers that Haftar be sidelined. Amal Bughaghis, a prominent Benghazi human rights activist, in 2011 among the anti-Qahdafi uprising’s leading voices and subsequently a Haftar critic, said she now supported the general because the Benghazi security situation had begun to improve two years after launch of his Operation Dignity: “It is true Haftar does not have a real army, but he was able to bring officers to his side. The HoR appointed Haftar as armed forces commander, but the international community treats him like a militia chief. We chose him, so why can’t they recognise him?” Crisis Group interview, Tunis, 14 March 2016.Hide Footnote

The accusation was not altogether unfounded: Skhirat focused on getting around the “Haftar problem”. Several leading participants saw him as a chief obstacle.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, Skhirat, November 2015. “We know we have a problem in the east, but how to solve it? We know Haftar is not on board, but how to convince him to join the accord?” Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, Washington, March 2016. For several weeks in January, Haftar toyed with supporting the deal (and allowed an acolyte, Ali al-Qatrani, to join the Presidency Council). The flirtation was short-lived: though his rhetoric after the accord’s signing suggested support conditional on HoR endorsement, his subsequent speeches suggested ambiguity. In an interview in an Egyptian daily, he warned that he would “not stand by and watch if the political process leads to the abyss”. Al-Ahram, 6 April 2016.Hide Footnote  The main security sector provision, that the Presidency Council would become supreme armed forces commander, was requested by the general’s foes, who accused him of an indiscriminate war against Islamists of all stripes, not just jihadists, and of plotting a coup to bring back the former regime.[fn]Some western politicians such as Abderrahman Swehli said Article 8 was not a sufficient guarantee for some “revolutionary forces” that Haftar would be sidelined, because this would be left for the prime-minister-designate and his deputies. As he did not trust them to agree, he initially refused to endorse the accord. Crisis Group interview, Tunis, 10 January 2016.Hide Footnote

Western powers gave Haftar an ultimatum: get on board or be marginalised. Several EU governments and individuals close to the Presidency Council have made overtures, hinting that if he recognised council authority, all, including Article 8, could be discussed.[fn]UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler used a metaphor comparing the accord to a “train that has already left the station” and urging deal foes to come on board. Interview, Al-Jazeera, 6 December 2015. According to a Libyan political analyst sympathetic to the HoR, “the policy of some in the West and the UN is … undermining Haftar and weakening his position until he submits or is taken out”. Tweet, Mohamed Eljarh, @Eljarh, 23 May 2016. Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, UN officials, Tunis, Rome, New York, March-June 2016.Hide Footnote However, many in his camp seem to believe the council’s dependence on Tripoli militias and repeated violations of agreed procedures (mainly for HoR endorsement of the accord) render it untrustworthy.

The perception that western militias and politicians who previously backed the GNC were the main “winners”, combined with Haftar-led opposition to the accord, pushed opinion in the east and some influential fence-sitters there to rally behind the general. A late backer said, “support for Haftar is mostly a matter of ego, the pride of people in the east, their way of being heard and seen”.[fn]Crisis Group email communication, Benghazi academic, April 2016.Hide Footnote Hope that eastern opponents might eventually come around depends not only on Haftar making concessions or being sidelined, but also on someone emerging to replace him. Most current accord backers in the east oppose Haftar, driven in part by fear of his violent tactics and calls for military rule.[fn]Some extended families in the east hold Haftar responsible for kidnappings, disappearances and killings, allegedly by officers of the amn al-dakhili (internal security), bahath jinaai (Criminal Investigations Department) or other security forces that report to him. Sheikh Farj bu al-Khatabiya of the Obeidat tribe accused forces loyal to Haftar of kidnapping his son (later released). Former army spokesperson Mohammad Hijazi accused the general of ordering killings and kidnappings and involvement in embezzlement. See his remark to Akakus television, 21 January 2016.Hide Footnote  Some are army officers who blame him for unleashing endless war in Benghazi and believe an internationally-recognised government would curtail his authority and that of his HoR allies.[fn]A number of army officers in western Libya have taken a public position against Haftar. In October, for example, organisers of a meeting of army and police officers declared him a “war criminal” and called on the Serraj government not to negotiate with him. Crisis Group interview, army officer, Tripoli, October 2016.Hide Footnote

Prominent Haftar opponents in the east who support Serraj include al-Mahdi al-Barghathi and Faraj Baraasi, army commanders once aligned with him, and Jadran, the former Petroleum Facilities Guards commander.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Faraj al-Baraasi, al-Bayda, November 2015; members of Jadran’s tribe, the Magharaba, February-May 2016; telephone interview, al-Mahdi al-Barghathi, Benghazi, April 2015. On Jadran’s controversial standing, see Crisis Group Report, The Prize, op. cit.Hide Footnote  These men, who have official (contested in Jadran’s case) security sector positions, previously backed the HoR and enjoy support from their influential eastern tribes (Awaghir, Baraasa and Magharaba). When in May 2016 the Presidency Council appointed Barghathi the new government’s defence minister and confirmed Jadran in his Guards post, it and its international backers hoped to fragment Haftar’s eastern support and ensure immediate resumption of vital oil exports. A diplomat said, “Barghathi will be Serraj’s bridge to the east [and] Jadran his purse-holder”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, EU diplomat, Rome, May 2016.Hide Footnote

It has not worked out: Haftar’s forces continue to dominate, and, despite hefty council payments to Jadran to reopen the oil terminals, exports did not resume.[fn]In June 2016, the Presidency Council gave Jadran at least 40 million dinars ($28 million) to cover back salary payments for his men; he allegedly demanded another 120 million dinars. Crisis Group interview, Mustafa Sanallah, chairman, National Oil Corporation, Tripoli, 5 June 2016. Sanallah repeatedly cautioned the council against co-opting Jadran and publicly admonished Kobler for visiting him in Ras Lanuf on 21 July 2016. Crisis Group telephone interview, 25 July 2016. According to council member Musa al-Koni, the council and Jadran signed an agreement in July for oil exports from ports under Guards control to resume in exchange for 24 months of back payments for all Guards employees (the 40 million was a first instalment), and unspecified investments for communities in oil-producing and exporting areas. Crisis Group interview, Tunis, 2 September 2016. Koni expressed doubt that this would get oil flowing.Hide Footnote  Haftar’s capture of the main Gulf of Sirte facilities in September 2016, forcing Jadran and his allies to retreat, opened the possibility of a drawn-out battle for control of resources and further consolidated anti-accord forces’ leverage.

Some supporters of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, an anti-Haftar coalition of ex-revolutionary fighters, political Islamists and jihadists, favour the accord, as bringing to power an amenable government backed by some of their western allies.[fn]Several Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council members and supporters have relocated to Tripoli and Misrata. Tripoli-based intelligence chief Mustafa Noh was key in persuading them to support the accord. Crisis Group telephone interviews, sources close to the army and Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, Tripoli, Benghazi, January-May 2016.Hide Footnote  Likewise, fighters driven from Benghazi formed a new anti-Haftar militia, the Benghazi Defence Brigade, in 2016. Some of its members received covert Presidency Council backing without pledging it allegiance.

Alignments are not clear-cut. Rivalries between tribes, business lobbies and military commanders have also influenced attitudes toward the accord. For example, some eastern tribal leaders (especially in Jalo, Awjela and Marada) support Haftar and oppose the accord because they want to sideline Jadran, their main local rival. Shared resentment against Misrata’s rise as the dominant military power in the west has led some eastern supporters of the 2011 uprising to reconcile with high-ranking ex-regime officials, some of whom began to return from exile in 2016 with the consent of eastern tribes and authorities.[fn]Many eastern tribal leaders oppose Jadran for dislodging them from Qadhafi-era security (thus income-generating) roles in oil areas. Crisis Group Report, The Prize, op. cit. The idea Haftar is being used by ex-Qadhafi-era officials to return to power has some currency. Crisis Group interviews, al-Bayda, November 2015, July 2016. There is evidence some ex-regime members support him, including Ahmed Qadhaf ad-Dam, a Cairo-based Qadhafi cousin. The general has said he is open to a role for ex-regime officials “whose hands are not tainted with the blood of the Libyan people”. Televised interview, Libya al-Hadath, 17 May 2016; Crisis Group interviews, Libyan pro-Haftar activists, Cairo, April 2016. Since early 2016, he has allowed hundreds of Qadhafi-era security officials to return to the east. Two of these are ex-security adviser Tayeb al-Safi, who returned to Tobruk in April, and Colonel Mohamed Ben Nayel, who in October was operating in the Sebha area. Crisis Group interviews, Haftar-aligned security officers, Ras Lanuf, October 2016.Hide Footnote

The accord left key security questions unaddressed. That track never took off: militia representatives on both sides stalled; UNSMIL had insufficient resources; access to militia leaders who rarely left their territory was limited; and politics became increasingly fragmented. By the time it was signed, the accord was predicated on the logic that the parties should accept its framework first and work out details only as they began implementing it.[fn]In March-April 2015, when negotiations were already underway, UNSMIL failed in its attempt to organise a meeting between representatives of the two military coalitions. It blamed this on GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmein, who refused to authorise participation of his military commanders in a UN-led initiative and accused the UN of seeking to bypass his authority by contacting local commanders. According to Libyan law, the parliament president is nominally also the armed forces head. Crisis Group interview, UNSMIL security sector adviser, Tunis, May 2015. Abu Sahmein’s nominal army supreme commander title was disputed by HoR members, who consider their president, Saleh, that commander. At the time, this UNSMIL official believed Haftar had authorised some of his commanders to take part in a security dialogue, but a person close to Haftar intimated he was paying lip-service to the dialogue call but never meant to authorise participation. Crisis Group interview, Haftar aide, al-Bayda, November 2015.Hide Footnote  Yet, major disagreements remained. What role for militias that sprang up in 2011 and were not officially army? What future for Haftar and other controversial commanders? Was it okay to reach out to the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council and other groups in which mainstream ex-rebels had forged alliances of convenience with more radical groups, such as Ansar Sharia or even IS followers? What about the Derna Revolutionaries Shura Council, which, unlike its Benghazi counterpart, had some success fighting IS but allegedly included several dozen al-Qaeda supporters?

The accord sought to sidestep all these. It empowered the TSC to take charge of security arrangements and its Article 8 short-circuited the question of who would head the armed forces by giving that power to the council and granting its president and deputies a veto over senior military and security appointments. Supporters of the dialogue process considered this formula, agreed after heated, lengthy debate and one of the accord’s cornerstones, as sufficient guarantee to Libya’s multiple political and military factions that no controversial personality would be put in charge of the security apparatus.[fn]In early January 2016, when the council first convened in a Tunis hotel, its members expressed no surprise over lack of preparatory work on the security front. “There is no country in the world that has come out of a conflict with a clear military and security strategy in place or a consensus on leadership positions”, said Ahmed Maitig, a Presidency Council deputy head. “It may take some time but eventually we will find a solution”. Crisis Group interview, Tunis, 11 January 2016. According to another council member, Fathi Majbari, their aim was to “resolve the deep problem of the army: how to reform it to ensure it will protect people and tribes, while not making it so strong it can abuse its power”. Crisis Group interview, Tunis, 9 January 2016.Hide Footnote  It also had the advantage of allowing the council and its international backers to keep the door open for all armed groups.[fn]For example, Kobler obtained Haftar’s (short-lived) support for the process in a 16 December Merj meeting, in exchange for placing Ali Qatrani, seen as a Haftar man, on the council. It also allowed simultaneous overtures to Haftar foes, including the heads of Tripoli’s main armed groups. When the council operated from its Tunis hotel in early 2016, it received envoys of Tripoli armed groups which wanted to discuss inclusion in future security arrangements. Crisis Group interview, Nuri Abbar, Political Dialogue member from Benghazi, Tunis, 3 March 2016.Hide Footnote

Rather than taking a comprehensive approach to security sector fractures, the council and international backers prioritised Tripoli security. This transformed the TSC from a nationwide body for security arrangements, as the accord envisioned, to one mainly tasked with preparing the council’s arrival in the capital. Reflecting this, council members selected the TSC’s eighteen members on the basis of their personal ties to them, as well as their leverage with armed groups in the capital. The idea was that, once firmly established, the council would set up a new committee for nationwide arrangements.[fn]Presidency Council decision 1/2016 (13 January 2016). This is also how TSC members saw their role. Crisis Group interviews, Tunis, March 2016. The TSC head, General Tawil, a Qadhafi-era army officer who sided with neither Libya Dawn nor Operation Dignity in summer 2014, began to liaise with commanders across the country, but personally and informally, not within an institutional framework. Crisis Group telephone interviews, military commanders in Derna and Benghazi, April-May 2016. According to people working with Tawil, lack of institutional support from the council (the TSC even lacked a Tripoli office) undermined its credibility and authority. “We had to go to … the militias … rather than have them come to us, and doing so put us in a position of weakness”. Crisis Group interview, Tawil aide, Tripoli, June 2016.Hide Footnote

The council has largely focused on establishing a Presidential Guard. When originally conceived, just after signing of the accord, that was intended primarily as a Tripoli-based force under council authority into which local militias could integrate. The plan has expanded and, according to council members and some internationals, it is now seen as in charge of securing strategic sites, borders and government institutions nationwide. Supporters view it as a key step to an army; foes, even among council friends, argue that the broad remit risks further institutional chaos. More importantly, council detractors see it as proof of lack of seriousness about a unified army and desire only to give legal cover to militias.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UNSMIL security sector adviser, Libyan military officers, Tunis, March 2016. The council first mentioned the force in May 2016 and again in August, when it named Col. Najmi al-Nakwa its head. Presidency Council decree 7/2016, 30 August 2016. It appears to exist only on paper: responsibilities are not officially defined, nor has recruitment begun. Crisis Group interview, Musa al-Koni, council member, Tunis, 2 September 2016. Yet, some are under the impression it is active. Crisis Group interviews, EU diplomat, Tunis, 2 September 2016; Tripoli residents, June 2016; Benghazi residents, Haftar supporters, Benghazi, Merj, July 2016.Hide Footnote  This idea only gained more traction after mid-October, when some Presidential Guard units turned against the council and backed return of the GNC-aligned government.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, security officers, Tripoli, October 2016.Hide Footnote

The “Tripoli first” approach and plan to create such a Presidential Guard rested on three assumptions that did not hold: first, that by creating facts on the ground and allowing it to operate in Tripoli the council could control key institutions, thus address immediate financial needs and so achieve greater citizen buy-in;[fn]Libyan and non-Libyan accord backers supported this. “The country needs initiative. We cannot wait until all is settled and smooth. We need to create new facts on the ground”, said Deputy HoR President Mohamed Shoiab ahead of the move to Tripoli. Crisis Group interview, Tunis, 12 March 2016. A U.S. official said, “it is not important if the Presidency Council has only few security forces it can rely on. Let’s get it to Tripoli; then we start training all the men they need and over time build its forces”. Crisis Group interview, Washington, 3 March 2016.Hide Footnote  secondly, that opponents would join the bandwagon, because self-interested military factions would not want to be deprived of the cash that only recognition of the unity government would give them access to;[fn]As a Western official put it, “if we start with even a small batch of, say, 2,000 men who are loyal to the council, and train them, give new uniforms and badges, and shower them with all the best equipment, then others who are now hesitant will come along because they, too, will want to receive those perks”. Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, Washington, March 2016.Hide Footnote  and thirdly, that after coming to Tripoli, the council would resolve its legitimacy problem and overcome HoR refusal to endorse the accord, council and proposed government. But it took five months for 101 HoR members to convene, and when they voted on 22 August, 60 passed a no-confidence motion (whether legally is still debated).[fn]Kobler frequently uses the metaphor of the council as an ambulance without license plate carrying a critically injured person. At a March Brussels meeting, he reportedly told EU diplomats that “the license plate/legitimacy would come via the HoR. It is important to obtain the license plate, but the critical situation of the patient justifies moving ahead to bring the Presidency Council/Government of National Accord to Tripoli”. Crisis Group email communication, EU diplomat, 15 March 2016. HoR supporters say the vote was legal because there was a quorum; some council members consider it illegal because a vote on the unity government was not officially announced. Crisis Group telephone interviews, pro-HoR activist, Tobruk, 26 August 2016; Presidency Council member, Tunis, 2 September 2016. In April, more than 100 HoR members in Tobruk to vote on a unity government were prevented by members who blocked access to the hall. Crisis Group interviews, HoR members, Tripoli, June 2016; al-Bayda, July 2016.Hide Footnote

For these calculations to play out constructively, ground events would have had to build self-sustaining momentum; armed groups opposed to (or ambivalent about) the Serraj government would have had to have no financial or ideological incentives to continue undermining its authority; and external actors would have needed to stay united behind accord implementation. This was not the case.

The accord received strong backing from the P3+5 (the UN Security Council’s three permanent members most active on Libya – the U.S., UK and France – plus Germany, Italy, Spain, the EU and UN) and, at least officially, Libya’s neighbours.[fn]In the last major pre-accord international meeting, seventeen countries stood “with all Libyans who have demanded the swift formation of a Government of National Accord based upon the Skhirat Agreement”. Libya ministerial, joint communiqué, Rome, 13 December 2015. From October 2015 onward, UN Security Council and EU members had redoubled efforts to send a unified message about the urgency of reaching an accord, including Russia and China, which had been less involved in the negotiations than the other P5 members. Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, UN officials, New York, Tunis, November-December 2015.Hide Footnote  Resolution 2259, soon after the signing, and subsequent Security Council presidency statements welcomed the accord.[fn]Resolution 2259 welcomed formation of the Presidency Council and called on it to form a Government of National Accord within 30 days of the accord’s signing. It also urged member states to cease support to and official contact with any institution that claimed to be Libya’s legitimate authority while working against the council. According to a statement by Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, it was understood that the HoR-appointed Thinni government would stay on until the government was established and approved. See televised session of UN Security Council meeting, 23 December 2015.Hide Footnote  By January 2016, most members recognised the Presidency Council as Libya’s executive, treated Serraj as de facto head of government and stopped engaging with Thinni.[fn]Though the HoR did not formally vote on the accord, member states appear to have interpreted a 25 January HoR vote as indirect recognition of the council’s authority; 89 of 104 HoR members declared in Tobruk that they “welcomed [the accord] in principle”, but expressed reservations about Article 8’s security arrangements. In another vote that day, 97 rejected Serraj’s proposed line-up for a unity government. Since then, most internationals have recognised the council on the basis of the implicit recognition. The matter is controversial; council foes argue that until the HoR passes a constitutional amendment (as the accord stipulates), the council cannot be a legitimate executive. Crisis Group interviews, UN, Libyan officials, U.S., UK diplomats, Tunis, London, Rome, March 2016; pro-HoR politicians, Cairo, Ajdabiya, May-June 2016.Hide Footnote  Western states in particular called Serraj interchangeably head of council and government, though legally there was no unity government. Others, like Russia and Egypt, while officially supportive, stopped short of granting Serraj the diplomatic privileges normally awarded a prime minister.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Russian and Egyptian officials, June 2016.Hide Footnote

Ambiguities have continued since the May Libya ministerial in Vienna, when over twenty states, including Russia, Egypt and China, backed Serraj, though not all formally recognised his government. Those such as Algeria, the U.S. and UK have come to consider HoR endorsement irrelevant, though they pay lip-service to the requirement. These and other, mostly EU, countries have actively encouraged the council to roll out a government and move on with an implementation whose terms they do not want to change.[fn]Libya ministerial, joint communiqué, Vienna, 16 May 2016. In it, for example, the UK and U.S. agreed to language urging all parties “to work constructively towards the completion of the transitional institutional framework, particularly by enabling the [HoR] to fully carry out its role as outlined in the Libyan Political Agreement”. Yet, a U.S. official said, “the ten-day deadline that the HoR had to approve the unity government has passed, so it is the HoR that is in breach of the political accord; on that basis we are completely authorised to move forward”. UK diplomats agree. Crisis Group interviews, Washington, London, March 2016.Hide Footnote  Russia, Egypt and the UAE, with stricter legal views that an HoR vote is needed, are open to amendments.[fn]A Russian official said, “what is important for us is to follow the full procedures … including the HoR vote. … This is also to ensure there is political and security inclusivity in the process”. Crisis Group telephone interview, May 2016. “UAE sticks with Libyan Political Agreement and HoR vote on GNA”, Libya Herald, 22 May 2016.Hide Footnote

Disagreement over the need for a HoR vote conceals divergent policy objectives. The first group of countries, which have shaped the international narrative on Libya and supported the UN-led process, wants to move forward with creating the architecture envisaged by the accord, consolidate security and state institutions in Tripoli and deal with accord opponents later, when they hope to have greater leverage.[fn]Many Western officials see agreement foes as spoilers seeking unrealistic concessions who should not be indulged. U.S. Special Envoy to Libya Jonathan Winer described Haftar’s position as “I am in charge, and nobody tells me what to do. I make all the decisions. Unlimited amounts of money, and I will last forever. And if I disagree with what anybody else wants to do, they are gone”. Remarks, Atlantic Council briefing Libya: What’s Next, Washington, March 2016.Hide Footnote  The latter group would like the political process to accommodate concerns of HoR members and eastern constituencies that remain disaffected with the process and to guarantee the influence of their Libyan clients (HoR President Saleh and General Haftar in particular).[fn]Egypt has advocated a partial exception to the Libya arms embargo since February 2015 as a way for Haftar’s army to fight IS. While it backs forming a unity government, it also advocates direct military aid for the army. Crisis Group interviews, national security adviser to President Sisi and senior military officials, Cairo, June 2015. Such calls were made in March-May 2016, even during the Presidency Council’s May Cairo visit. “Egypt’s Sisi calls for end to Libya arms bans as Serraj visits Cairo, reaffirms support for Skhirat accord”, Libya Herald, 7 May 2016.Hide Footnote

In addition to supporting Libyan factions they are closest to, there is also an ideological dimension: Egypt and some other Arab states see, like many eastern Libyans, the Presidency Council as dependent on Islamist armed groups and politicians, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Libyan branch.[fn]A senior Egyptian diplomat said, “we do not want to see the Muslim Brotherhood play a central role in Libya”. A senior Egyptian military official said, “in Libya we have to support the national army, not some armed groups. We are tired of these games by regional actors like Turkey and Qatar”. Crisis Group interviews, Cairo, March, April 2016. Egypt and its Libyan allies accuse those two of supporting Islamist military factions in Western Libya.Hide Footnote  Egyptian officials view their country as having a natural role in eastern Libya due to contiguity, historical links, the many Egyptian migrant workers and the security threat posed by radical groups there. But their chief concern now appears to be Serraj’s reliance on people they consider too close to Islamists. “A Libya where security decisions are taken by somebody close to the Brotherhood is anathema to Sisi”, said a Libyan activist close to Egyptian intelligence.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Egyptian diplomat, Tunis, March 2016; Egyptians of Libyan origin, Cairo, 2015, Libyan activist, Cairo, April 2016. Serraj’s choice of Barghathi as defence minister irked Egyptians because they view him as too amenable to the Islamist-dominated Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council and the Muslim Brotherhood.Hide Footnote  Egyptians are perplexed by the council’s Misrata-dominated turn since its arrival in Tripoli.[fn]A Western diplomat said, “the Egyptians were very enthusiastic about Serraj, but it is as if they took for granted he would support the army and now they wonder if they were wrong”. Crisis Group telephone interview, May 2016. An Egyptian diplomat lamented that the council’s move to Tripoli had been “premature” because of its reliance on militias for its security: “The council has no control over the situation”. Crisis Group interview, June 2016.Hide Footnote  Ex-Qadhafi officials in Cairo and Abu Dhabi with close ties to their host governments appear to play a key role in channelling support to Haftar and depicting the Serraj-led council as controlled by Islamists.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former Qadhafi regime official, Cairo, April 2016.Hide Footnote

The international divisions have resulted in divergences over using sanctions against spoilers. The EU and U.S. imposed travel and financial sanctions on HoR President Saleh and GNC officials, accusing them of creating obstacles to the political agreement. Russian and Egyptian diplomats criticise this as unhelpful.[fn]On 1 April 2016, the EU imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on HoR President Saleh, Ghwell, head of the unrecognised Tripoli-based government that pre-dated Serraj’s arrival, and GNC President Sahmein. On 19 April, U.S. President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13726, “Blocking Property and Suspending Entry Into the United States of Persons Contributing to the Situation in Libya”. These measures were applied to Ghwell on 20 April and Saleh on 13 May. Crisis Group interview, Russian official, March 2016.Hide Footnote  Moscow is also invested in the Haftar-commanded army. Like Egypt and the UAE, it has repeatedly called over the past two years for an easing of the arms embargo to allow Haftar to receive weapons and has given pro-HoR factions political support.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, Russian official, May 2016. In late May 2016, Moscow allowed a Russian mint to send 4 billion dinars (nearly $3 billion) of banknotes ordered by the Bayda-based Central Bank of Libya (appointed by the HoR and working with the Thinni government) against the wishes of the Tripoli-based internationally-recognised Central Bank (which recognises Presidency Council authority). “Battle of the banknotes as rival currencies are set to be issued in Libya”, The Guardian, 20 May 2016. The transaction infuriated U.S. officials, who called the banknotes “fraudulent”. U.S. embassy statement on Central Bank, 25 May 2016.Hide Footnote  Unlike the UAE and Egypt, however, Russia has apparently refrained thus far from giving Haftar military aid and has kept ties with politicians in Tripoli.[fn]Russians and Libyans deny Moscow gives Haftar weapons. Crisis Group interviews, Russian military official, Cairo, April 2015; Abdelrazek Naduri, army chief of staff (Haftar), Merj, 18 July 2016. However, according to Saqr al-Jeroushi, the head of Haftar’s air force, military support could come after Haftar’s late June 2016 trip to Moscow, when he was received by Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. “During Haftar’s recent trip to Moscow, the Russians offered to provide us with anything we need and on any terms we want: against payment, on credit, without payment – they did not really care. But we told them that we will pay”. Crisis Group interview, Merj, 20 July 2016. Russian supplies are key, as the bulk of Libya’s heavy artillery and air force (acquired under Qadhafi) is Russian-made. A U.S. official agreed Haftar military people are confident Russia will support them but questioned whether Moscow really planned to. Crisis Group interview, Tunis, September 2016. In October, Russian diplomats began to engage more with the Presidency Council and other Tripoli-based politicians. Crisis Group interviews, politicians, Tripoli, Misrata, October 2016.Hide Footnote

Some Western states have also urged a softer line on Haftar, ostensibly for counter-terrorism. In the first half of 2016, France gave his forces intelligence support in Benghazi, helping them regain near-complete control over the city. Covert and unacknowledged until late July 2016, when anti-Haftar forces downed an army helicopter carrying three French officers, France’s support for the general significantly weakened his Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council foes, thereby both strengthening his army’s claim in the east and his leadership credentials, even as he sought to undermine the Presidency Council. Other Western countries have also dispatched intelligence officers to eastern Libya, but they appear to have been less involved in ground operations.[fn]French operatives took part in intelligence operations and helped operate equipment to identify targets in coordination with Haftar’s forces. Crisis Group interview, Saqr al-Jeroushi, air force chief loyal to Haftar, Merj, 19 July 2016. Jeroushi also confirmed that intelligence officers from other Western countries are stationed in areas under their control but said their support was minimal compared to France’s. France’s help with night-targeting may have been crucial in cutting off Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council fighters’ main supply lines to their allies in Misrata. Crisis Group interview, analyst familiar with Benghazi events, Amsterdam, August 2016. Cyril Bensimon, Frédéric Bobin, “Trois membres de la DGSE tués en Libye, le gouvernement libyen proteste, Le Monde, 20 July 2016. According to a French diplomat, when Paris began to support Haftar in late 2015, the general had not yet rejected the Skhirat agreement, so French security policy did not contradict its diplomacy as flagrantly. Crisis Group interview, September 2016. France appears to have cut support of Haftar’s forces after three operatives were killed near Benghazi on 19 July 2016. Crisis Group interview, European diplomat, Tunis, September 2016.Hide Footnote  

France aside, most Western states firmly supported the council and argued it should receive military aid. Offers of assistance have come from the U.S., where Secretary of State John Kerry said he would support and consider any requests from Serraj for an arms embargo exemption. Throughout 2016, the U.S. has deployed special forces, mainly for intelligence gathering, and offered to train and equip Libyan forces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, U.S. official, Tunis, 2 September 2016; Misratan military commander, Misrata, 3 June 2016.Hide Footnote  Since early August, at the council’s request, it has also supported the anti-IS offensive in Sirte with airstrikes. UK special forces based in Misrata have stepped up their presence and started to assist local armed groups involved in fighting IS in Sirte.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, Misratan politician, 24 May 2015. British Special Forces Destroyed Islamic State Trucks in Libya, Say Local Troops, The Telegraph, 26 May 2016.Hide Footnote  In June, the EU extended the mandate of Operation Sophia and added two tasks: “training of the Libyan coastguards and navy; and contributing to the implementation of the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya”. In August, it also extended the mandate of its Integrated Border Management Assistance Mission to Libya (EUBAM Libya), a civilian mission mandated to plan for a possible future EU mission providing advice and capacity building in the area of criminal justice, migration, border security and counter-terrorism.[fn]EU Task Force Offers to Train Libyan Coast Guard, Reuters, 25 May 2016. “EUBAM Libya: mission extended, budget approved”, press release, European Council, 4 August 2016. Hide Footnote

Italy took the lead in establishing the Libya International Assistance Mission (LIAM) in early 2016. Intended as a coordinating body for all international efforts to train Libyan forces, it has remained largely defunct given the council’s inability to control the military. Rome reduced earlier offers to train council-allied forces, when parliament agreed in September only to send 300 military (in rotation) to guard an Italian military field hospital in Misrata. At UK and U.S. instigation, NATO has offered to be more involved, but no concrete plans have materialised.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UN, EU officials, European diplomats, Tunis, Rome, Brussels, March-June 2016. Since 2015, Italy’s military has planned for possible deployment of several thousand troops to Libya. In March 2016, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi ruled out direct intervention but said Italy would do training if Libyan authorities requested. “Renzi Seeks to Calm Nerves over Libya Intervention, Financial Times, 7 March 2016. On 13 September, the Italian parliament authorised “Operation Ippocrate” to establish a military field hospital in Misrata for Libyans wounded in Sirte. “Italy to Send 300 Military to Libya”, ANSA news agency, 13 September 2016. “Germany, France hold back NATO, EU ambitions in Libya”, Reuters, 25 May 2016.Hide Footnote

In short, far from showing unity on the way forward, international actors pursue diverging objectives, including by giving or pledging military support to various forces only superficially tied to any national army or political oversight.[fn]A senior Algerian diplomat said, “the most important thing is to unite the international community. It is becoming a proxy war. Nobody is trying to bring all Libyans together”. Crisis Group interview, June 2016. A senior UN official said, “the Security Council is divided … not just the usual suspects but also the larger membership. The international community needs to be consistent … and let Libyans define the solution …. An unpleasant question needs to be asked: was the agreement pushed in Libya’s best interests?” Crisis Group interview, New York, June 2016.Hide Footnote  The risk increases of a growing divide over military support, with most Western countries backing the council and forces loyal to it, and Russia, Egypt and the UAE continuing to assist what they consider to be the legitimate army under Haftar.

Buildings destroyed in recent bouts of fighting line a road in Benghazi, 19 July 2016. CRISIS GROUP/Claudia Gazzini

The conflict is becoming more entrenched, blocking prospects for revitalising state institutions and stabilising the economy. Entropy is growing: the rival governments’ ability to deliver concrete improvements in the lives of ordinary Libyans is decreasing, while the risk of further violence increases. Entire Benghazi neighbourhoods have been destroyed; hundreds of thousands of Libyans are displaced.[fn]The UN says there are over 300,000 internally displaced persons in Libya. Remarks by Martin Kobler at a UN-organised conference on reconciliation in Libya, Tunis, 31 August 2016.Hide Footnote  Haftar’s September takeover of the Gulf of Sirte’s oil export facilities has allowed crude-oil exports to resume, offering the possibility of refilling state coffers, but also increased tensions between the two major armed coalitions and the institutions supporting them.[fn]On Haftar’s takeover of the terminals, see Crisis Group Commentary, “After Libya’s Oil Grab, Compromise Could Lead to a Restart of Exports”, 14 September 2016. As of October, anti-Haftar officials and militia leaders in Tripoli were preparing for a possible operation to retake the facilities. Crisis Group interview, defence ministry officials, Tripoli, October 2016. In August, Libya’s oil production was 200,000 barrels/day, the lowest since 2013. Since mid-September, after the National Oil Corporation lifted a force majeure determination in four Gulf of Sirte oil terminals, exports began to increase, reaching 600,000 barrels/day in October. (In March 2015, after closure of oil facilities, it had invoked force majeure, a standard contractual clause for extraordinary circumstances when a contract cannot be honoured due to events beyond a company’s control.)Hide Footnote

Both sides, with their international backers, are convinced they can ultimately triumph. In western Libya, factions supporting the Presidency Council and High State Council have gained the international recognition they desired and feel bolstered by their victory-in-progress against IS in Sirte. They are semi-covertly helping fighters defeated in Benghazi, some of whom have come together under a new banner, the Benghazi Defence Brigade, to spearhead an offensive in that city against Haftar’s forces. They are also preparing to retake the oil terminals.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interviews, defence ministry officials and Benghazi Defence Brigade supporters, Tripoli, Misrata, August, 14-18 September 2016.Hide Footnote  In turn, Haftar is using his victory to appoint officers to head municipalities, confirming his opponents’ fears that he aims for military rule. He and his allies, bolstered by their successes, appear to believe the “liberation” of Tripoli is within reach; they may also be planning to broaden their territorial control to the south, where they enjoy tribal support.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Haftar-affiliated army officials, Merj, Benghazi, July 2016. In September, an army spokesman spoke of an imminent effort to take Tripoli. Televised press conference, 19 September 2016. This view is supported by pro-HoR politicians who believe the council’s inability to rein in Tripoli-based armed groups will cause the capital’s security to deteriorate. Crisis Group interviews, al-Bayda, July 2016; Western diplomat, Tunis, 1 September 2016.Hide Footnote

Both sides are making calculations based on dubious assumptions. Haftar forces now control most of the east, and their defeat is not likely, if only because their foes are unlikely to gather sufficient military strength. Some Tripoli politicians and military officials, as well as some Presidency Council members, would like to see the accord’s international backers impose a no-fly zone over the Gulf of Sirte and Benghazi to neutralise Haftar’s air force, his strategic advantage. Yet, the council may not ask for this while oil revenue is flowing, and the UN Security Council is unlikely to approve it given that Russia, a permanent member, and Egypt, currently a non-permanent member, are unlikely to back measures that would weaken Haftar.[fn]Since Haftar’s takeover of the oil terminals and an 18 September failed counteroffensive, military aligned with the Presidency Council have mooted requesting a partial no-fly zone over the Gulf of Sirte to allow recapture of the terminals and possibly an advance on Benghazi. Crisis Group telephone interviews, defence ministry officials, Tripoli, 21 September 2016. It is unclear whether this would need UN Security Council approval (highly unlikely, due to disagreement on Libya) or only a formal request by Serraj to an international backer, as in the U.S. aerial intervention in Sirte, August-September 2016. Libyans advocating a partial no-fly zone appear to believe Russia would not object. Crisis Group telephone interviews, defence ministry officials, Tripoli, 21 September 2016; European businessman familiar with the issue, September 2016.Hide Footnote  Similarly, Haftar’s promise to “liberate” Tripoli and destroy militias there is a mirage, because the armed groups across western Libya remain well-equipped and numerically superior. A renewed battle over the oil terminals could trigger a wider conflagration. Avoiding this and other military offensives is the immediate priority, followed by putting negotiations back on track.

If the central aim of what remains of the peace process is forming a unity government, an aim that major actors on either side still profess, the Presidency Council needs to bolster its legitimacy and reconcile with eastern Libyans and the HoR. The August 2016 HoR vote to reject the government of eighteen ministers offers a window of opportunity. The council should, in wide consultation with political leaders, make substantial changes to the government’s composition in order to bridge the gap with the east. It could reiterate its early 2016 proposal to assign key ministries such as finance, planning and justice to easterners, thus addressing the widespread view in the east of being marginalised. This may not satisfy HoR leaders, who have asked for the entire council to be changed (with only two deputy presidents, as the HoR proposed during the Skhirat negotiations), but it could be important in swaying wider public opinion.[fn]Since September 2016, HoR President Saleh has been insisting that the Presidency Council be removed in its entirety and replaced by a new head and two deputies. Crisis Group interviews, politicians familiar with Saleh, Tripoli, Misrata, October 2016.Hide Footnote

The council should resist the push from politicians, including within its ranks, to ignore the August 2016 HoR vote.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, council member, Western diplomat, UN official, Tunis, September 2016. Those who take this position believe Saleh’s aim is to buy time to continue to undermine the council. U.S. diplomats, in particular, accuse him of lying and repeatedly not delivering on promises. Crisis Group interviews, Tunis, 2 September 2016. This position also has backers in the Tripoli-based High State Council: on 21 September 2016, some members called on the Presidency Council and the UN to ignore the HoR and support a new government approved solely by High State Council and boycotting HoR members who support the accord. In a televised announcement on behalf of the council that day, a member, Mohamed Muazzab, called on UNSMIL “to follow up the implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement, and not to associate that with the approval of the HoR president, who is sanctioned by only some countries and is rejecting the agreement and its outcomes”. He also urged ignoring “the opposing minority composed of some HoR members who are obstructing the agreement”. Flanking him in the broadcast were High State Council President Swehli and his deputy, Salah Makhzoum.Hide Footnote  Such a line would deepen the divide and trigger more military confrontation. Even some HoR opponents see getting it on board as necessary to maintain coherence of the accord’s framework, as well as, more broadly, national unity.[fn]Presidency Council member Musa al-Koni, who said he does not trust HoR leadership, acknowledged need to win over at least 30 eastern HoR members and claimed to favour a cabinet reshuffle for that purpose. Crisis Group interview, Tunis, 2 September 2016.Hide Footnote  This more accommodating line would also return the ball to the HoR’s court, in effect calling its bluff; above all, the Presidency Council, whose legitimacy rests on having been created by the accord, should not derogate from its accord obligation to seek the HoR’s endorsement.

The accord’s external backers should help create momentum toward a political solution based on the accord’s broad outlines, but they cannot hold it sacrosanct. The most important aspect of resuming a peace process is accepting that the accord cannot be implemented as is, so should be renegotiated, starting with security arrangements. It is imperative to launch a security track parallel with the political process that would be a forum for negotiations on issues specific to the security sector, including temporary de-escalation initiatives to prevent new hostilities until a wider agreement is reached, for example on political issues such as the composition of a unity government and security arrangements.

Part of the reason why attempts to implement the accord have failed in the absence of a wider agreement incorporating security issues is that the military balance has changed since December 2015. The political divide is between pro- and anti-accord rather than pro-HoR and pro-GNC; and whereas the agreement and much of the diplomatic conversation envisaged civilian control over armed groups, those have grown stronger: in the west because of the council’s dependence on them in Tripoli and their success against IS in Sirte, and in the east because Haftar has asserted control over Benghazi and the Gulf of Sirte’s “oil crescent”. Each sees the other as aiming for domination, making compromise elusive.

Two things need to happen: an end to military operations and a resumption of political negotiations under a new formula including a security track. Armed groups in the west should stop supporting the Benghazi Defence Brigade and negotiate a local ceasefire in Libya’s second-largest city rather than pursue a vain attempt to retake it from Haftar. Calling on people displaced from Benghazi to join against Haftar-aligned groups would fuel the fighting and postpone their negotiated return in a local settlement, for which some support exists among Haftar’s forces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, army commanders, Benghazi civil society activists, Benghazi, Merj, July 2016.Hide Footnote  Western militias should break ties, direct and indirect, with jihadist groups to create common ground with eastern commanders (as well as reassure Haftar backers such as Egypt) and space to start local contacts between military representatives from both sides.

In turn, Haftar’s forces should halt their offensive in Benghazi and refrain from moving west of the Gulf of Sirte, as they have threatened. They should engage with Benghazi residents who have relocated in the west and reassure them they can go home safely. They and their affiliated security forces (such as intelligence and internal security organs) should also cease abuses against residents accused of siding with the Presidency Council.

Haftar should likewise re-engage with UNSMIL, particularly its security team, to reach a broad understanding on a possible security dialogue. The priorities in any political solution should be an Article 8 compromise, especially on army and police command chains, and consensus on a unified security force. Disagreement, including over who should lead the military and which Islamist factions should be fought (only IS and al-Qaeda or also groups that have collaborated with them), can be overcome by ensuring that key military representatives from both sides are at the table. This means staking out a compromise whereby, as a French diplomat said, “Haftar has to be in the picture, even if he cannot be at the centre”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Paris, May 2016.Hide Footnote

Both the UN and council members have floated the idea of creating a forum for security actors to negotiate these issues and be directly involved in shaping a unified military command. Thus far, these efforts have been limited to one July meeting, hosted by UNSMIL in Tunis, bringing together military actors from both camps.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Libyan participants in the workshop, Tunis, July 2016.Hide Footnote  Several proposals have been aired. In June, Kobler proposed a military council divided into regional commands – essentially acknowledging current reality – but under the Presidency Council’s authority. In September, boycotting council member Qatrani, a Haftar ally, proposed a five-person body, separate from the council and including Serraj, two of his deputies (possibly Maitig from Misrata and Koni from the south), Haftar and H0R President Saleh, that would assume the council’s supreme commander role.[fn]“Kobler suggests three military command councils”, Libya Herald, 13 July 2016. Army officers completely rejected this set-up. A Haftar supporter closely acquainted with army commanders said, “how can Kobler possibly think that we would be happy to have a leadership role in eastern Libya? What he is proposing is dividing the country. To the contrary, we are for one unified Libya and one strong army”. Crisis Group interview, Merj, July 2016. Crisis Group interview, European diplomats and analysts, Rome, London, September 2016. Qatrani made his proposal to the council on the sidelines of the Political Dialogue in Tunis, 3-5 September 2016.Hide Footnote

These separate but similar proposals have drawbacks: Haftar and his associates rejected Kobler’s as an attempt to divide the army; Qatrani’s excludes western military leaders. But the underlying acknowledgment that military power has become localised is worth retaining. A third, perhaps better way forward, may be to separate the Presidency Council’s civilian and military roles. Some council members are considering a “Supreme Defence Committee” in which Haftar would sit with western officers such as Colonel Salem Joha from Misrata (nominated, though he did not accept, as a member of the military operations room for the Misrata-Sirte area), but it is unclear if Haftar and key Misrata armed groups would agree.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, European adviser to a council member familiar with the negotiations, 19 September 2016. Some European diplomats, however, believe Salem al-Joha does not enjoy sufficient support inside Misrata to win backing for this option among armed groups there. Crisis Group interview, London, September 2016.Hide Footnote

Whatever the format, a forum is needed for the Presidency Council and its military advisers to negotiate with military from both sides over the command chain, or at least find a placeholder formula until a solution to the Article 8 dispute can be found. The council must do more t0 create confidence that its security strategy will lead to a working army and police that stand above the political divide. What it has done thus far – announcing creation of a Presidential Guard and empowering eastern military actors such as Barghathi and Jadran to try to fragment Haftar’s forces – is far from a national security strategy and has backfired, particularly as internationals have worked to contrary ends. Instead of creating a Presidential Guard that would deepen the divide, the council and its TSC should draft a security plan that would put Tripoli under the army and police, including elements from the east and Zintan.

The international community has a key role. Polarisation of political and military support to Libyan factions entrenches the conflict and makes it more difficult to salvage the accord elements all can agree on. Outside actors – pro-Presidency Council (the U.S., UK, Italy, Algeria, Turkey and Qatar) and those who support the council while also providing support to Haftar (Russia, Egypt, the UAE and to an extent France) – must chart a way based on the common ground between them.

Many in the first camp have been too optimistic that an agreement imposed on recalcitrant factions would eventually be accepted. The focus on eliminating IS in Sirte, which they hoped would establish Misratan forces’ counter-jihadist credentials for states such as Egypt that have long argued Haftar was the only leader taking on jihadists overshadowed other factors.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Egyptian diplomats, military officials, Cairo, New York, June 2015-May 2016. Egyptian officials allege that jihadist groups have connections to some western Libyan armed groups, particularly some powerful Tripoli-based ones on which the Presidency Council has depended. Crisis Group interview, Egyptian diplomat, May 2016. According to Libyan security officials and residents in areas formerly under IS control, many Egyptians were in IS ranks. Crisis Group interviews, intelligence officer, Misrata, Ben Jawwad residents, October 2016.Hide Footnote  The gamble that the accord roadmap could be implemented even without HoR endorsement underestimated the extent to which opponents could exploit this to gain support in the east. It made it easy to paint the UN as biased, thus hindering its impartial mediator role. Conversely, those who have supported Haftar, undermining an agreement to which they pay lip-service, have derailed the process but not provided constructive alternatives. If they want to maintain a united Libya and stop the conflict spiralling toward worse confrontation, they will have to set limits on their client.

Perhaps unavoidably in a context of regional, even global, upheaval, some of these actors filter their Libya policy through the lens of geopolitics: the U.S.-Russia rivalry over Syria and Ukraine, the regional divide over political Islam and contests for influence over the Sahel and Maghreb. By this logic, compromise is undesirable if considered success for a rival.[fn]Scepticism about a genuinely unified international position is high in UN and Western diplomatic circles. A European diplomat noted that “on paper we know that in order to solve the Libyan conflict there needs to be an alignment between the internationals, but the Russians have absolutely no incentive not to continue playing their own game, driven mainly by their anti-U.S. positions on a number of fronts”. Crisis Group interviews, Brussels, September 2016; foreign businessmen active in Libya, Rome, London, September 2016.Hide Footnote  Yet, the status quo (a deteriorating situation) can only lead to protracted conflict that would plunge Libya into further chaos, with no certain victory for any camp, great damage to the economy and few of the opportunities many hope for in post-conflict reconstruction.

At a minimum, states with leverage over Haftar should press him and his allies to stop calling for further military operations toward southern and western Libya and withdraw their support if he continues to refuse a negotiated solution. Similarly, those backing Tripoli- and Misrata-based forces should dissuade them from a counteroffensive against Haftar in the Gulf of Sirte.

Generally, outside actors should refrain from taking sides, for instance through increasing military support to Haftar or supporting a Presidency Council call for a partial no-fly zone.[fn]Some Presidency Council members are mulling asking their international partners to support their allied forces to confront Haftar. A foreigner familiar with the council’s deliberations said, “there is growing consensus that they need to make an official request for international support to stop Haftar. That way they will force all countries to lay down their cards and take a decision”. Crisis Group interview, European businessman, Rome, September 2016.Hide Footnote  They should instead focus on the lowest common denominators, which do exist, and not endorse measures that they undermine on the ground.[fn]For instance, see the 22 September 2016 “Joint Communiqué on Libya” issued on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly – signed by Algeria, Canada, Chad, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Niger, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE, the UK, the U.S., the EU, the UN, the League of Arab States, and the African Union – which contains such a list.Hide Footnote  At a minimum, these include the need to stabilise the economy by increasing oil and gas exports; creating a unified army chain of command as part of a reunified security structure; preserving Libya’s territorial integrity; and confronting IS and al-Qaeda. They should also persuade their Libyan friends that a military solution does not exist and agree on parameters for renewed negotiation.

Security officers walk in front of an intact crude oil storage tank in the Ras Lanuf tank farm, in Ras Lanuf, Libya, 16 October 2016. CRISIS GROUP/Claudia Gazzini

The absence of a security dialogue and agreement among competing internal and external actors has rendered the well-intentioned Skhirat accord impossible to fully implement at this time. It is critical to return to hammer out a security agreement that can be married to those elements of the accord that both sides support. On its current trajectory, the peace process is headed for a failure that would leave pressing international issues unresolved, such as combating people-smugglers and jihadist groups, and ensure dramatic worsening of living conditions for most Libyans. What has been achieved by the UN-led negotiations – broad agreement on the need for a transitional framework and some of its critical political elements – would be lost. The December 2015 agreement could have been imposed on recalcitrant actors had they been marginal and the international community united. That was not the case. Salvaging a political solution requires dealing with the fragmented and deeply frustrating Libya that exists, with its local leaders and armed groups, not the one we wish for.

Tripoli/Brussels, 4 November 2016

Members of the Presidency Council of the Council of Ministers, as appointed according to the Libyan Political Agreement:

Faiez al-Serraj
President of the Presidency Council, from a prominent Tripoli family and trained as an engineer, he worked prior to 2011 in the housing ministry and in August 2014 became an HoR member representing Tripoli.

Ahmed Maitig
Deputy President of the Presidency Council, and a Misrata businessman, the GNC elected him prime minister in May 2014, but the Supreme Court annulled the vote on procedural grounds. He is a nephew of Abdelrahman Swehli, president of the High State Council.

Fathi al-Majbari
Deputy President of the Presidency Council, an academic and economist at Benghazi University who served as education minister in the Abdullah al-Thinni government in 2014-2015. He is originally from Jalo.

Musa al-Koni
Deputy President of the Presidency Council, a Tuareg from the south and consul-general in Mali under he old regime, he defected in 2011 and was appointed the Tuareg representative to the National Transitional Council.

Ali al-Qatrani
Deputy President of the Presidency Council, a Benghazi businessman and late addition to the council seen as General Haftar’s appointee, he suspended his participation in January 2016 after a row over the appointment as defence minister of al-Mahdi al-Barghathi, who is from Qatrani’s al-Awaqir tribe.

Abdelsalam Kajman
Deputy President of the Presidency Council, an engineer from Sebha believed to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood and picked instead of GNC Deputy President Salah Makhzoum, whose nomination some members of the dialogue committee refused.

Omar al-Aswad
Minister of State for Legislative Affairs, from Zintan and a member of Qadhafi’s amn al-khariji (foreign security service), he withdrew from the Presidency Council in January 2016, accusing it of cronyism and corruption.

Mohammed Ammari
Minister of State for Specialised Council Affairs, a former GNC member from Benghazi, he is a non-aligned Islamist who prior to 2011 studied in Germany and the UK.

Ahmed Hamza
Minister of State for Civil Society Affairs, from Traghen in the south, was a member in the Qadhafi era of the revolutionary councils and part of the “Libya al-Ghad” (Libya Tomorrow) reform initiative led by Seif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, the late ruler’s son.

These appointments follow a geographical partitioning, with three members from each of Libya’s three provinces: west (Tripolitania), east (Cyrenaica) and south (Fezzan). For the west: Serraj, Maitig, Aswad; for the east: Majbari, Qatrani, Ammari; for the south: Koni, Kajman, Hamza.

EUBAM: European Border Assistance Mission in Libya

EUNAVFOR MED: European Naval Force – Mediterranean (also known as Operation Sophia)

GNA: Government of National Accord

GNC: General National Congress, the parliament elected in 2012, based in Tripoli

High State Council: Advisory body created by the LPA, primarily composed of former GNC members

HoR: House of Representatives, parliament elected in June 2014 and based in Tobruk since August 2014

IS: Islamic State

JCP: Justice and Construction Party, associated with the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood

LPA: Libyan Political Agreement (signed on 17 December 2015 in Skhirat, Morocco)

LIAM: Libyan International Assistance Mission

NOC: National Oil Corporation

Presidency Council: Nine-member body created by the December 2015 Libyan Political Agreement, holding executive powers and tasked with nominating a GNA

Presidential Guard: New security force under the control of the Presidential Council

TSC: Temporary Security Committee, task force in charge of security questions created by the LPA and answerable to the Presidency Council

UNSMIL: United Nations Support Mission in Libya

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