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.
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.
Political feud engulfed country’s economic and financial institutions as rival authorities sought to secure access to oil revenues; UN efforts to negotiate way out of political impasse remained vain. Five military officers loyal to eastern strongman Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar 9 April withdrew from UN-backed so-called 5+5 Joint Military Commission (comprising representatives of country’s two rival military coalitions), urged Haftar to shut down oil production to prevent Tripoli-based PM Abdulhamid Dabaiba from accessing oil revenues; move came after National Oil Corporation (NOC) transferred oil sales revenues to Tripoli-based Central Bank of Libya (CBL), whose governor has remained loyal to Dabaiba, despite promising in March to abide by Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) order not to do so. NOC mid-April declared force majeure and suspended operations at Al-Feel and Sharara oil fields, Zuwetina and Brega oil terminals, after local protesters allegedly backed by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) entered sites; all sites remained closed by month’s end. Clashes between two rival militias allied with Dabaiba’s govt 22 April disrupted operations in Zawiya oil facility (west). Meanwhile, delegates from HoR and rival Tripoli-based consultative High State Council (HSC) 13-18 April attended UN-backed political talks on legal framework for elections in Egypt’s capital Cairo; participants failed to make breakthrough but agreed to resume talks in May (after Muslim holy month of Ramadan). HoR-appointed PM Fathi Bashagha 21 April presided over his first cabinet meeting in Sebha city (south); govt renewed commitment to pursuing “peaceful option” to assume duties in Tripoli. Meanwhile, Islamic State (ISIS) 19 April claimed responsibility for previous night car bomb attack targeting LNA camp in Umm al-Aranib town (south); no casualties reported. LNA said it repelled 25 April attack by armed group, reportedly affiliated with ISIS, in Ghadwa area near Sabha city. British daily newspaper Financial Times 28 April reported some 1,000 pro-Moscow Syrian mercenaries and about 200 operatives from Russian private military company Wagner Group, who had been stationed alongside Haftar-led forces, pulled out of Libya in recent weeks; also said some 5,000 pro-Moscow mercenaries allegedly remain in 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.
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 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.
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.
Keeping Libya’s fragile peace process on track requires redoubled efforts by external stakeholders eager to see the conflict end. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2021 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to support the UN-led economic dialogue and the creation of a Ceasefire Monitoring Mechanism.