In early 2021, Libyan politicians agreed on terms for a national unity government bringing together what had been two administrations in Tripoli and Tobruk. The accord was another step toward lasting stability following the October 2020 ceasefire between the two rival militaries. Unifying national institutions is taking time, however, and several possible pitfalls lie ahead. Through research and advocacy, Crisis Group aims to keep the national unity agreement intact and the various associated processes on track, encouraging dialogue among Libyans and vigorous engagement on the part of the UN and external powers with influence in the country.
Libyan politicians have moved with salutary speed in 2021 to reunify their divided country. With UN help, the new government should hasten to clear two last hurdles: establishing a legal framework for elections and clarity about who holds supreme command of the armed forces.
Authorities postponed presidential election in last-minute move as tensions ran high around capital Tripoli. Amid disputes over eligibility of candidates, electoral timetable and scope of future president’s powers, High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) 20-22 Dec postponed first round of presidential election, initially scheduled for 24 Dec, for one month, as House of Representatives (HoR) committee tasked with monitoring election process 22 Dec said it was “impossible” to hold polls as planned. U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland immediately expressed “disappointment”. After British embassy 24 Dec expressed continued support for Govt of National Unity (GNU), said it would “not endorse the establishment of parallel governments or institutions”, HoR Foreign Affairs Committee next day accused UK of “interference”, said only HoR could decide on formation of new govt or continuation of GNU. Elections unlikely to take place in Jan as HoR election committee 27 Dec recommended laying out “new, realistic and applicable roadmap … rather than fixing new dates and repeating the same errors”; HoR next day suspended session on political roadmap. Earlier in month, several controversial presidential candidates cleared to run: Tripoli Appeals Court 1 Dec upheld PM Abdulhamid Dabaiba’s presidential bid; Sebha Appeals Court next day reinstated Saif al-Islam Qadhafi as candidate; Tripoli Appeals Court 6 Dec overturned Zawiya court ruling barring Khalifa Haftar from running. Run-up to tentative polls marred by tensions. HNEC 2 Dec said electoral centres subjected to armed robbery and voter cards theft; militiamen 8 Dec entered HNEC’s Zawiya premises to demand postponement of elections until adoption of new constitution. Forces affiliated with different armed groups 16-21 Dec took up positions in and around Tripoli in possible protest at Presidential Council’s 15 Dec decision to replace Tripoli Military Zone Commander Gen Abdelbasit Marwan with Gen Abdelkader Mansour; Council 21 Dec suspended appointment, while UN mission (UNSMIL) same day said mobilisation “creates tensions and increases the risk of clashes that could spiral into conflict”. Following Nov resignation of UN Envoy Ján Kubiš, UN Sec-Gen António Guterres 6 Dec appointed Stephanie Williams – who served as Acting Special Representative in March 2020-Jan 2021 – as new Special Adviser on Libya.
Though overdue, the 23 October Libya ceasefire deal is worthy of applause. With help from the UN and their foreign backers, the warring parties should now close the loopholes in the agreement’s text, lest rival interpretations derail movement toward peace.
Turkish intervention in Libya’s war stopped the besieged Tripoli government from collapsing. But fighting with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces has since escalated, threatening a protracted conflict. Both Ankara and Haftar’s regional backers should urge their allies toward a return to negotiations and a ceasefire.
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s march on Tripoli has ground to a halt in a war of attrition with the internationally recognised government’s forces on the city’s outskirts. The parties should conclude a ceasefire including Haftar’s partial withdrawal as a prelude to renewed UN peace talks.
An under-reported banking crisis threatens to exacerbate deadly fighting in Tripoli, ignite a protracted resource war and deepen the country’s east-west divide. A way out requires agreeing to a ceasefire in Tripoli and ending the four-year split between the Central Bank’s rival branches.
Adherents of a Salafi school, the Madkhalis, are gaining prominence on both sides of Libya’s divide, causing concerns about puritanical agendas imposed through military and religious institutions. Negotiators should ensure that rebuilt security forces are politically neutral and secure the Madkhalis’ pledge to respect pluralism.
There’s a palpable fear ... that candidates [for the presidential election in Libya] that are very polarizing will contest the results either if they run or don’t run, if they lose or if they win.
This is the first time that Libya has held presidential elections, and the powers attributed to the president in the current elections law are huge.
The Libyan parliament and the executive were not able to drive the [peace] process forward alone. This was why tensions between rival groups had increased again in recent times.
There is not doubt that if [Egypt and Turkey] find a way to work together [...], this will reflect in pushing forward political stability in Libya.
If you start with the NATO-led intervention, the big lesson learned was that this planted the seeds for the disarray that followed [in Libya].
The simple fact that [Libya’s new government] able to get a vote of confidence from rival members of the House of Representatives is a massive step forward.
Online Event to discuss International Crisis Group’s fieldwork and recent report “Libya Turns the Page”
Reviving the Iran nuclear deal could help alleviate the threat of nuclear proliferation and cool regional tensions. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2021 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to support the Biden administration in re-engaging with Tehran and to facilitate trade between Europe and Iran.
This Briefing Note provides up-to-the-minute analysis of attempts to end Libya’s almost decade-long civil war through talks focused on reunifying the country’s government, oil-based economy and security forces. It is the third in a series of regular updates.
This Briefing Note provides up-to-the-minute analysis of attempts to end Libya’s almost decade-long civil war through talks focused on reunifying the country’s government, oil-based economy and security forces. It is the second in a series of twice-monthly updates.
This Briefing Note provides up-to-the-minute analysis of attempts to end Libya’s almost decade-long civil war through talks focused on reunifying the country’s government, oil-based economy and security forces. It is the first in a series of twice-monthly updates.