Libya’s New Government is Met with Hope and Skepticism

  • 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.

Views from the Region


The creation of a national-unity government in Libya has been welcomed as an important achievement for the Libyan people, as well as for the international community. Long divided between two camps with competing claims to authority and legitimacy, the new Libyan government will aim to lay the ground for a new constitution and elections by the end of the year. However, it remains to be seen whether this latest development will be enough to turn the tide in a country ravaged by violence for the last decade.

According to a recent Al Bawaba report, the new prime minister received his mandate after Libyan lawmakers were finally able to iron out a number of challenging issues which had previously made reaching an agreement impossible: “The government of Prime Minister-designate Abdul Hamid Dbeibah replaces two rival administrations, one based in the East and another in the West, that have been ruling Libya for years…. More than 100 members of the divided parliament voted to back his government in a rare session in the frontline city of Sirte, with only a handful voting against. Saleh said 132 lawmakers approved Dbeibah’s government, which has a mandate that lasts until elections are held on December 24, according to a UN-brokered roadmap. The vote came after two days of deliberations in the coastal city of Sirte. The confirmation came after Dbeibah last week presented his proposed Cabinet to Speaker Aguila Saleh.”

The news of the agreement was met enthusiastically by all of Libya’s neighbors. It is telling, however, that even those who are rooting for the success of the government, as reflected by this The National editorial, are quick to share their misgivings about the chances of the unity government’s delivering  on its promises, given “the caretaker cabinet’s low profile and inexperience…. Shepherding Libya towards national elections in December will require dexterity. In the intervening time, it will also have to draft a new constitution that represents all Libyans…. It will also need to reintroduce the concept of centralized government. It will not be easy to unite Libya’s institutions, defense and security capabilities and the health and social support networks that are so vital to tackling its challenges…. If it fails, the GNU, at best, risks becoming a government in name only. At worst, it may simply disappear into a new wave of civil strife. Despite its fragility, it is the only hope for progress in Libya right now.”

Others are even less guarded in their pessimism about the short-term future of Libya. For example, writing for Arab News, Hafed Al-Ghwell argues that he sees parallels between the new government and that created in 2016—the Government of National Accord, which according to Al-Ghwell, also “failed to resolve institutional divisions that only prolonged a chaotic transitional period. Atop the pile of concerns is the formula for the selection of the prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, and head of the presidential council, Mohamed Menfi, which was geared toward power sharing rather than fair assessments based on policy or political reconciliation…. The biggest hurdle for the GNU will be dismantling militias and achieving the seemingly impossible goal of having an estimated 20,000 foreign mercenaries withdraw. This is further complicated by the GNU’s nine-month term, which is too short to account for meddling foreign countries and mount an effective response.”

The Gulf News editorial openly criticizes Turkey for recruiting, arming, and supporting “thousands of Syrian mercenaries” in Libya, and doubles down on the view that the only way for Libya to become secure once again is to rid itself of them: “Ensuring the departure of the foreign fighters, including thousands of Syrian mercenaries sent, armed and paid by Turkey. There will be no peace and stability as long as those fighters and their allies, the extremist militias that control many parts [of] the Libyan capital, Tripoli, remain active. The world today is united in its will to help Libyans chart a stable and prosperous future. Thus, the government should seize on that support to fully implement the road map. This is a unique opportunity, and it will be tragic if the Libyans wasted it again. The international community has shown it support for Dbeibeh and his government. He must cash in on that support for the best interests of the Libyan people.”

Of course, as one of those “meddling foreign countries” in Libya, Turkey has been very critical of the government ruling the eastern part of Libya and led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar. Even though Turkey has welcomed the formation of the new government, it continues to express openly its animosity toward General Haftar, as seen in a Daily Sabah report: “Libyans hope that this will end years of civil war that have engulfed the country since the ouster and killing of strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The war was exacerbated when putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, supported by several countries including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Russia and France, carried out a military onslaught to topple the Tripoli-based internationally recognized GNA for control of the North African country. Meanwhile, Sarraj said Wednesday that he is ready to step down and pass his tasks and responsibilities to the new government to consolidate the principle of a peaceful transition of power.”

The development has been followed with interest in Egypt as well, where last week, prior to the finalization of the agreement, Egypt’s foreign minister met with the UN envoy on Libya to discuss the situation in the country, keen to point out, as shown in this article by The Egyptian Independent, that the Egyptian government has been instrumental in “pushing the economic path which has led to a package of measures in the interest of the Libyan people, with an emphasis on the need for economic reforms to coincide with an effective political framework to ensure the way forward to comprehensively settle the Libyan crisis.”

Writing for Al Ahram, Dina Ezzat notes that Egypt sees the lack of internal security in Libya and the intervention of other countries, especially Turkey, with mounting concern. Along with Sudan, Libya’s shared border with Egypt has become a source of headache for Egyptian president Abdel Fateh El-Sisi, which is why his government sees  “[t]he management of Egypt’s borders with Libya and Sudan [as] crucial concerns for Cairo. In the past Egypt has suffered serious consequences from the infiltration of militants and undocumented migrants, and the smuggling of arms and drugs…. Egypt’s determination to combat militias operating independently in Libya, he argues, is not only about the cross-border infiltration of militants, but fueled concerns over the clustering of terrorist activities in Chad, Mali, Niger, and Libya.”

  • 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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