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Libya's latest unity government faces uphill battle

Analysts warn that despite moves towards peace in Libya, the country could slip back into conflict Mahmud TURKIA AFP/File
2021-05-12

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SULAIMANI — A new unity government in Libya had raised hopes the war-ravaged North African nation had turned a corner towards peace -- but analysts warn that major stumbling blocks remain Wednesday (May 12).

Thousands of foreign mercenaries are still on the ground, political factions remain deeply divided, and the promise of elections in December seems to be slipping away.

"The honeymoon period of Libya's GNU (Government of National Unity) is now long gone," said analyst Emadeddin Badi.

The toppling and killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising 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 UN-mediated ceasefire in October.

That was followed in March by the establishment of a new unity government to replace rival administrations in east and west.

Interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah's administration is charged with unifying Libya's institutions and preparing for elections on December 24.

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 a headquarters by Libya's presidential council in Tripoli.

That came after interim Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush, from eastern Libya, angered many in the west by demanding that Turkey withdraw troops it had deployed during the civil war.

Ankara's support is widely credited with western Libyan forces' victory last June over eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar, who had waged a year-long offensive on Tripoli with the backing of Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

The UN Security Council has since called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and mercenaries, estimated to number as many as 20,000.

The foreign fighters are a mixed bunch: Russians from the private Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, Chadians and Sudanese, along with Ankara-backed Syrians and Turkish soldiers deployed under a bilateral agreement with the previous government in Tripoli.

Mangoush's demand that Turkey "cooperate to put an end to the presence of all foreign forces" sparked an avalanche of 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 their benevolence does not deserve our respect."

And while UN-led mediation efforts have made progress, "the security track clearly hasn't caught up with the political one," Badi, the analyst, tweeted after the storming of the presidential council headquarters.

A key factor is Dbeibah's reliance on "muhasasa", a system of quota-based power-sharing.

"Underlying (recent) tensions... is the perception of several armed factions in Western Libya that their opponents are being enabled to achieve, under the guise of muhasasa to preserve peace, what they failed to with war," Badi wrote.

- Risk of renewed conflict -

Last week's presidential council episode was not the only crack in the veneer of progress toward peace.

Late in April, the government postponed Dbeibah's first visit to eastern Libya and a cabinet meeting in Benghazi, after an advance security team was turned back from the city's airport.

While in theory Dbeibah's government has authority across the whole of Libya, Haftar's forces still control the east and part of the south.

In addition, there is growing uncertainty around the December 24 vote.

"The government's chances of organising elections after less than seven months are very slim," said Imad Jalloul.

Analyst Mohamed Eljarh echoed his concerns.

"Significant challenges remain that could prevent the holding of elections and derail the country's political and institutional reunification," he wrote in a Monday editorial for the Al-Monitor website.

That risks "long-term entrenchment of foreign forces and mercenaries, further fragmentation and a return to conflict," he said.

(NRT Digital Media/AFP)