Hope and Anxiety over Libya Unity Government

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The announcement of the creation of a UN-backed government in Libya has been a rare bit of welcome news amid the chaos that reigns in the country. But many worry about the possibility of external intervention from some of Libya’s neighbors, in particular Egypt, which increasingly sees Libya as within its sphere of influence. Others, including many European countries, have vowed to provide military support for the new government’s fight against the Islamic State, if requested. Despite the uncertainty, some regional observers have expressed hope that Libya may yet come out of the current crisis.

The recent political developments have not been received well by all of Libya’s political spectrum. According to this recent report by Libya Herald’s Saber Ayyub and Ajnadin Mustafa: “A week after several dozen members of the now largely defunct General National Congress (GNC) controversially met in Tripoli, voted in favour of the Libyan Political Agreement, dissolved the GNC and then reinvented themselves as the State Council envisaged by the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), another group of former GNC members have met in Benghazi with a view to setting up a their own separate State Council. Most are members of the ‘94 Bloc’ which walked out of the GNC in February 2014 saying that it had passed its expiry date….Today’s meeting saw members of the 94 bloc in the former General National Congress (GNC) meet in Benghazi this afternoon to consult on forming of  State Council….For his part, Emhemed Shouaib, the House of Representatives’ (HoR) Deputy President, promised that the Libya Dialogue would reconvene in Tunis on Thursday to address the self-declaration of the Tripoli-based State Council ahead of being legally established by the HoR approving the LPA. He described it as a violation of the deal.”

With lines of authority still unclear, Sami Zaptia notes that the House of Representative leadership is doing their best to maintain control over an unpredictable and potentially explosive political situation: “The president of the House of Representatives (HoR), Ageela Salah, has instructed the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) to continue dealing with the Interim Government of Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni based in Beida. Salah did not name the Governor of the CBL nor did he specify which CBL he was directing his instructions to. However, since the Tripoli-based CBL has never been de facto under the control of the HoR, it is assumed that Salah’s instructions were aimed at the Beida-based CBL Governed by Ali Hibri. Equally, by definition, Salah does not recognize Elkaber as CBL Governor since he recognizes Hibri in the Beida branch….The instructions by Salah and the HoR to the Beida CBL comes on the back of instructions yesterday given by the Abdelrahman Swehli-led High State Council in Tripoli to the Tripoli CBL to cease dealing with the ‘’expired’’ GNC and its Salvation Government of Tripoli.”

According to a report found on the pages Libya Observer, the internationals are also caught in the eye of the storm and stand accused of gross interferences in Libya’s internal affairs: “President of Tobruk Parliament Aqaliah Saleh has criticized the head of UN Support Mission in Libya Martin Kobler, saying he – Kobler – has a specific agenda to achieve.In an interview with Jordan-based 218 TV, Aqaliah said Kobler wants to implement a specific agenda and sets a record for himself by claiming he solved Libya’s crisis. ‘Kobler has shifted himself from the head of UNSMIL to the ruler of Libya,’ Aqaliah indicated. Aqaliah also criticized Fayaz Sirraj, the Prime Minister-designate of UN-imposed government saying he is a tool in the hands of Martin Kobler….Aqaliah denied reports of members of the Presidency Council that they had entered Tripoli on board a Libyan frigate, disclosing that an Italian frigate sailed them to the Libyan territorial waters where Libyan frigate Sadadah was waiting for them.He declared that the performance of his parliament is very poor. Despite this, he said the monthly salary of MPs which is amounted to LYD 16.000 is not enough and thinks 50.000 a month would be fair enough!”

No wonder then, that regional observers, such as the Gulf Times editorial staff, consider Libya a failed state, but still express some hope that things may turn around: “Libya is agonizingly close to becoming a failed state. But amid fears of an imminent collapse and rising militant influence, glimmers of hope are emerging. A UN-sponsored unity government led by Fayez Serraj assumed office last month in capital Tripoli and has won support from politicians and militias, offering hope that Libya may begin to emerge from the turmoil that has uprooted nearly half a million people since 2011….Serraj does face hurdles that proved insurmountable for the nine leaders that succeeded Gaddafi since 2011 and failed to restore stability to the holder of Africa’s largest oil reserves. A government based in Tobruk in the east and its military commander Khalifa Haftar oppose him. A spate of militant attacks would test fragile allegiances too….Only time will tell if Serraj can rise up to that challenge. But the longer it takes to contain the chaos, the tougher his task will become.”

Among the many challenges facing the incoming government, argues the National’s Mustafa Fetouri, include a shortage of funds and lack of domestic legitimacy: “One of the biggest problems in Libya is the lack of liquidity in the banking system, meaning that account holders can access only small amounts of their total funds….Another serious problem is the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and Libyans who have sought refuge elsewhere, especially in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria….Returning IDPs will certainly enforce stability and give people hope that their government cares about them. But the question of legitimacy remains a huge political hurdle. For the UN-backed government to be seen as legitimate it has to get a vote of confidence from the internationally recognised parliament in Tobruk, which it has so far failed to do….The main backers of the new government – the United States and EU countries including the United Kingdom and France – are eagerly waiting for the new government to ask for help in defeating ISIL….All of this is against the backdrop that the new government itself is far from safe in Tripoli. This is underscored by the fact that it is still operating from an old naval base rather than the official government building less than 10 kilometres away.”

Al-Sisi’s comments, published on the pages of Libya Observer, about a potential Egyptian involvement in Libya raises the specter of greater instability: “The Salvation Government has issued a statement decrying the ‘irresponsible’ statement made by the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in which he said that Egyptian troops could enter Libya and occupy part of it to take advantage of its resources and fortunes to solve his economic problems. The SG confirmed Thursday that Libyans are grandchildren, fathers, and brothers of martyrs and are able to protect their country from any attacker or occupier, especially after 17 February revolution, warning all those who cherish violating Libya’s sovereignty that they will find Libyans ready to secure and defend their homeland. On Wednesday evening, Al-Sisi dropped a controversial statement sparking a big wave of outrage in Libya, when he said that his mother taught him not to be greedy and covet what others have, saying that despite hard times in Egypt, he did not do any evil by assaulting Libya and occupying it.”

The Libyan news site Lana News reports that in response to Al-Sisi’s comments, Algeria put forward to OIC Conference a motion to block military intervention in Libya: “The Islamic summit to be held here on Wednesday was studying a proposal by Algeria to prevent any military intervention in Libya, and to call for an end to the state of anarchy in the country. A recommendation calling on all member states to refrain from intervening in the internal affairs of Libya, including provision of weapons to the militias, was being studied by the OIC foreign ministers meeting which got underway on Tuesday, to prepare for the Muslim organization Summit on April 14 and 15….The Summit will discuss role of neighboring states in ensuring sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Libya, and helping the Libyan people achieve their aspirations of stability and democracy.”

Despite the pessimism surrounding the current status quo in Libya, there are those, like the Peninsula editorial staff, who hold out hope for an improvement of economic conditions, which could contribute to better security: “The visit of Italy’s foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni to Libya on Tuesday, mainly to bolster the unity government in Tripoli, shows that the West has finally understood the urgency of finding a solution to the Libyan crisis. Paolo Gentiloni’s is the first visit by a top Western official to the country since 2014 and comes amid reports that the Islamic State is gaining ground in the conflict-ridden North African state and it’s becoming a center for people smuggling. Both pose huge dangers to the West because of Libya’s proximity to Europe. The international community now sees the unity government in Libya as vital to tackling both the raging jihadist insurgency and people smuggling….The West now will have to invest lots of energy and time to bring stability to Libya.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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