In early 2021, Libyan politicians agreed on terms for a national unity government bringing together what had been two administrations in Tripoli and Tobruk. The accord was another step toward lasting stability following the October 2020 ceasefire between the two rival militaries. Unifying national institutions is taking time, however, and several possible pitfalls lie ahead. Through research and advocacy, Crisis Group aims to keep the national unity agreement intact and the various associated processes on track, encouraging dialogue among Libyans and vigorous engagement on the part of the UN and external powers with influence in the country.
This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood asks Crisis Group experts how the Ukraine war has affected peacemaking elsewhere, notably Nagorno-Karabakh, where Moscow plays a major diplomatic role, and Libya, where the Kremlin backs one of the conflict’s main protagonists.
Political crisis took violent turn as forces loyal to rival govts clashed in capital Tripoli amid lack of substantial progress in UN-led negotiations; oil and gas fields and export terminals remained closed. Tobruk-based PM Fathi Bashagha 17 May entered Tripoli in bid to install his govt in capital city; armed groups loyal to Tripoli-based PM Abdelhamid Dabaiba mobilised and opened fire, leaving one person killed; Dabaiba’ camp reportedly granted Bashagha safe passage out of Tripoli following mediation by local actors and members of 5+5 Joint Military Commission – comprising representatives of Libya’s two rival military coalitions. In televised addresses same day, Dabaiba condemned “coup project”, said Bashagha “committed suicide politically”, while Bashagha said his govt would be based in central city of Sirte but claimed Dabaiba had “lost control” of Tripoli. Reports in following days emerged that Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) Speaker Aghela Saleh and head of Tripoli-based High State Council (HSC) Khaled Mishri mid-May met in Egypt, agreed to work together toward “third way” including new govt that would replace Dabaiba and Bashagha’s; latter’s entourage however denied Saleh had dropped his support for Bashagha. UN-led negotiations made little substantial progress in charting way out of political impasse. UN Acting Special Representative for Libya Stephanie Williams 15-20 May convened second round of talks between representatives of rival assemblies in Egypt’s capital Cairo; participants reviewed 2017 draft constitution and found consensus on two thirds of articles, but failed to concretely discuss roadmap to elections and crisis of two rival govts; talks to resume 11 June. Oil and gas fields and export terminals – shut down in mid-April by pro-Libyan National Army head, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and pro-Bashagha constituencies to weaken Dabaiba’s access to oil revenues – remained closed; crude oil exports down to approximately 700,000 barrels/day, one third less than normal, with estimated $40mn daily loss of foregone oil sales revenues. As part of U.S. efforts to persuade rival authorities to accept “financial mechanism” to oversee disbursement of govt funds, U.S. ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland, 26 May met in Tunisia with various state institution representatives.
Discord about how to resolve a political impasse has once more put Libya in danger of fracturing in two. The priorities are for the camps to agree on a way forward and for outside powers to stay united in backing whatever peaceful option Libyans choose.
Libyan politicians have moved with salutary speed in 2021 to reunify their divided country. With UN help, the new government should hasten to clear two last hurdles: establishing a legal framework for elections and clarity about who holds supreme command of the armed forces.
Though overdue, the 23 October Libya ceasefire deal is worthy of applause. With help from the UN and their foreign backers, the warring parties should now close the loopholes in the agreement’s text, lest rival interpretations derail movement toward peace.
Turkish intervention in Libya’s war stopped the besieged Tripoli government from collapsing. But fighting with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces has since escalated, threatening a protracted conflict. Both Ankara and Haftar’s regional backers should urge their allies toward a return to negotiations and a ceasefire.
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s march on Tripoli has ground to a halt in a war of attrition with the internationally recognised government’s forces on the city’s outskirts. The parties should conclude a ceasefire including Haftar’s partial withdrawal as a prelude to renewed UN peace talks.
An under-reported banking crisis threatens to exacerbate deadly fighting in Tripoli, ignite a protracted resource war and deepen the country’s east-west divide. A way out requires agreeing to a ceasefire in Tripoli and ending the four-year split between the Central Bank’s rival branches.
None of the foreign actors backing the two Libyan sides want to compromise the rekindled dialogue for the sake of launching a war in Libya against the other side.
There’s a palpable fear ... that candidates [for the presidential election in Libya] that are very polarizing will contest the results either if they run or don’t run, if they lose or if they win.
This is the first time that Libya has held presidential elections, and the powers attributed to the president in the current elections law are huge.
The Libyan parliament and the executive were not able to drive the [peace] process forward alone. This was why tensions between rival groups had increased again in recent times.
There is not doubt that if [Egypt and Turkey] find a way to work together [...], this will reflect in pushing forward political stability in Libya.
If you start with the NATO-led intervention, the big lesson learned was that this planted the seeds for the disarray that followed [in Libya].
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Turkey expert, Nigar Göksel, about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent trip to Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Turkey’s involvement in conflicts in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus, and its wider foreign relations.
Online Event to discuss International Crisis Group’s fieldwork and recent report “Libya Turns the Page”
This week, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group’s Libya expert Claudia Gazzini about the successful formation of a new interim government in Libya and the challenges in unifying the country.
This Briefing Note assesses the outcome of a UN-backed forum that took place in Geneva from 1-5 February and where Libyan delegates elected a new interim executive. It is the fourth in a series of regular updates on efforts to end Libya’s civil war.