Tripoli, March 12 (AFP/APP): Libya’s new government, approved in a “historic” parliamentary vote this week, faces a long list of challenges to unite the country after 10 years of strife.
The oil-rich North African country descended into chaos after dictator Moamer Kadhafi was toppled and killed in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011, resulting in multiple forces vying for power. The approval Wednesday of a unity government led by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, named interim premier alongside a three-member presidency council in February under a UN-sponsored inter-Libyan dialogue, was praised by world powers and raised hopes for reconciliation.
But the new executive faces daunting challenges as it follows the UN roadmap toward unifying institutions, ending a decade of fighting marked by international interference and setting the stage for December elections.
What are the next steps?
Dbeibah, a 61-year-old billionaire from the western city of Misrata, is set to be sworn in on Monday in Tobruk, the eastern city that hosted one of Libya’s two rival administrations. Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the outgoing Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, has said he is “fully ready to hand over” power. The GNA was also established off the back of a UN-sponsored process in 2016, but never won the parliament’s vote of confidence, its authority contested by the parallel administration in the east.
Dbeibah’s government is expected to replace both the GNA and the parallel cabinet — not recognised by the international community — of Abdallah al-Thani, headquartered in Cyrenaica in the east, a key region under the de facto control of forces of military strongman Khalifa Haftar. States and international bodies have welcomed the unity government’s approval, but warned against further interference from external players, with the EU on Thursday saying it could sanction domestic or foreign “spoilers” who undermine peace efforts.
But according to Jalel Harchaoui, a senior fellow at the non-governmental group Global Initiative in Geneva, the handover of power should go smoothly.
“The pro-Sarraj militias in Tripoli are in favour of Dbeibah, so it is very unlikely that Sarraj will try to stay on, since this is impossible without the protection of these militias,” he told AFP.
Can the main challenges be overcome?
The interim government must now tackle the many grievances of Libyans, from soaring unemployment to crippling inflation, and cash shortages to wretched public services. Dbeibah pledged to resolve the issue of daily power cuts within six months, while also promising to fight corruption and the coronavirus pandemic.
Hamish Kinnear, an analyst with the research institute Verisk Maplecroft, said the unity government’s approval was also “good news for the Libyan oil sector, which can benefit from increased political stability”. The return of oil revenue — on which the country depends — has been a key source of contention between rival powers in the east and west. But given Dbeibah’s “apparent cooperation” with Haftar and influential parliament speaker Aguila Saleh, “it is likely that an agreement on the sharing mechanism will be reached soon”, Kinnear said.
Dismantling militias would likely play a key role in building peace, he said, while warning some would “be reluctant to give up their weapons or their independence”.
What’s the likelihood of long-term success?
What sets the Dbeibah government apart is that it is the “first unified government in Libya since 2014”, Kinnear said. Its confirmation as “Libya’s legitimate government is a major step forward in efforts to reunify” the country, he added, noting however that this government will have to take the role of outside players into account. The outgoing GNA has enjoyed the unwavering backing of Turkey, which lent military support to repel an offensive against the capital launched in April 2019 by Haftar, who has had the support of Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
The interference of Russia and Turkey “will persist”, said Harchaoui. “These two Eurasian powers want to reap the benefits of their military venture in the oil-rich country in the form of major contracts in energy, construction and arms sales,” he said. At the same time, “Emirati military interference in support of Haftar will continue”.
Another key task facing the new administration is ensuring the departure of an estimated 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters still in Libya. Despite the daunting tasks ahead, time is on the new government’s side: Libyans are exhausted by 10 years of chaos and division, with calls for an end to the status quo multiplying, including among the political class.
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