A new unity government in Libya had raised hopes that the war-ravaged North African nation had turned a corner towards peace – but analysts warn that major stumbling blocks remain.
Thousands of foreign mercenaries are still on the ground, political factions remain deeply divided and the promise of an election in December appears to be fading away.
“The honeymoon period of the Libyan GNU (Government of National Unity) is now long over,” said analyst Emadeddin Badi.
The overthrow and murder of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 plunged Libya into a bloody decade-long struggle for power.
After a grim year-long battle for the western capital of Tripoli, in which rival camps were backed by foreign powers, a truce last summer finally led to a formal ceasefire mediated by the ‘UN in October.
This was followed in March by the establishment of a new unity government to replace rival administrations in the east and west.
The administration of interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah is responsible for unifying Libyan institutions and preparing for the December 24 elections.
But despite the rare wave of optimism, Libya’s deep rivalries are beginning to resurface.
“After an unprecedented breakthrough over the past two months, we have entered a new phase of doubt – and a resurgence of divisions between East and West,” noted analyst Imad Jalloul.
– Foreign forces –
Last week, dozens of gunmen staged a show of force at a hotel used as the headquarters by the Libyan presidential council in Tripoli.
This came after acting Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush of eastern Libya angered many westerners by demanding that Turkey withdraw the troops it had deployed during civil war.
Ankara’s support is widely credited with the victory of Western Libyan forces last June over eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar, who led a year-long offensive in Tripoli with support from Russia and the Emirates. United Arabs.
The UN Security Council has since called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and mercenaries, estimated at 20,000.
The foreign fighters are a mixed group: Russians from the private Kremlin-linked Wagner group, Chadians and Sudanese, as well as Syrians backed by Ankara and Turkish soldiers deployed under a bilateral deal with the previous government in Tripoli. .
Mangush’s demand that Turkey “cooperate to end the presence of all foreign forces” has sparked criticism.
“We must never forget what the Turks have done for us,” said Sadek al-Ghariani, a controversial religious leader who presents himself as the mufti of Libya.
“Anyone who denies his benevolence does not deserve our respect. “
And while UN-led mediation efforts have made headway, “the security side has clearly not caught up with the political side,” the analyst Badi tweeted after the council headquarters were stormed. presidential.
A key factor is Dbeibah’s dependence on “muhasasa,” a quota-based power-sharing system.
“Underlying the (recent) tensions… is the perception of several armed factions in western Libya that their opponents are able to achieve, under the guise of muhasasa to preserve the peace, what they have. failed with the war, ”Badi wrote.
– Risk of resumption of conflict –
Last week’s presidential council episode was not the only crack in the varnish of progress towards peace.
In late April, the government postponed Dbeibah’s first visit to eastern Libya and a cabinet meeting in Benghazi, after an forward security team was dismissed from the city’s airport.
While in theory Dbeibah’s government has authority over all of Libya, Haftar’s forces still control the east and part of the south.
In addition, uncertainty is growing around the December 24 vote.
“The government’s chances of holding an election after less than seven months are very slim,” said Imad Jalloul.
Analyst Mohamed Eljarh echoed his concerns.
“There remain significant challenges that could prevent the holding of elections and derail the political and institutional reunification of the country,” he wrote in an editorial on the Al-Monitor website on Monday.
This risks “a long-term entrenchment of foreign forces and mercenaries, further fragmentation and a return to conflict,” he said.
© 2021 AFP