Middle East

Experts pessimistic on prospects for Libya reconciliation

Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament on Tuesday postponed a planned vote-of-confidence on a proposed cabinet lineup for a new unity government after failing to achieve an 89-member quorum needed to hold the vote.

Another attempt to hold the vote will be made next week.

Political analysts, for their part, say a UN-backed agreement between Libya’s rival political camps that stipulates the formation of a unity government — signed on Dec. 17 in the Moroccan city of Skhirat — would not resolve the country’s chronic woes.

“I don’t think a government based on such an agreement will solve Libya’s political, humanitarian and military problems,” Emrah Kekilli, a Libya expert at the Istanbul-based Association of Researchers on the Middle East and Africa (ORDAF), told Anadolu Agency.

According to Kekilli, proposed cabinet lineups for the new unity government will have problems winning a vote of confidence, especially given that the notion of a unity government “is opposed by members of both assemblies”. 

He went on to stress that winning a vote of confidence seemed improbable for a government the existence of which was in question by members of the country’s two rival parliaments.

Libya has remained in a state of turmoil since 2011, when a bloody rebellion ended with the ouster and death of longtime strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Since then, the country’s stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of government, one in Tobruk and one in capital Tripoli, each of which has its own legislative assembly.

Last month, the Tobruk-based assembly rejected a first cabinet lineup proposed by Fayez al-Sarraj, the unity government’s prime minister-designate and a former member of the Tripoli parliament.

According to Kekilli, December’s political agreement will also fail to resolve the issue of armed groups, which have proliferated in the country since Gaddafi’s demise.

“The agreement states that, once the unity government is drawn up, armed groups must withdraw from all Libyan cities before army troops can be deployed,” he said.

He added, however, that it remained unclear “which groups constitute ‘armed groups’ per se and which are considered military [i.e., legitimate] groups”.

“There are dozens of armed groups currently operating in Libya and the alliances between them are constantly shifting, further complicating the situation,” he said.

Plans to eventually merge such groups into Libya’s national army, he added, “will certainly lead to problems in the future”.

Kekilli went on to assert that western powers were trying to portray Khalifa Haftar as Libya’s legitimate military authority while depicting any groups that opposed him as “armed militias”.

In February 2014, in a move described as a “coup” by his opponents, Haftar appeared on Libyan television to announce the dissolution of the Tripoli parliament — which had just unilaterally extended its mandate — and called for a caretaker government to oversee fresh elections.

Kekilli noted that Haftar, who, he said, had been dubbed a “rebel” when he dissolved the GNC, now served as the Libyan army’s chief-of-staff.

Analysts also warn that the current state of instability in Libya could give foreign powers a pretext to intervene militarily in the troubled North African country.

“The U.S. and France like to highlight recent terrorist acts in Libya,” Kekilli said. “Those countries seeking military intervention [in Libya] use Daesh as a justification, when in fact there is no Daesh presence in the areas they mention.”

Kekilli went on to challenge assertions by groups that supported Hafter’s 2014 “coup” that oil-rich parts of the country were at risk of being captured by Daesh.

“When we look at Daesh’s military activities,” he said, “we see that only a very limited part of the country’s oil-rich areas are threatened by Daesh.” 

“The proposed unity government will lead to further instability and new problems,” he warned. “It will create a third government that will cause Libya’s political and military woes to grow deeper.”

Kekilli went on to voice fear that, under these circumstances, Daesh would only manage to capture additional territory, “giving the international community the justification it needs to intervene militarily [in Libya]”.

Nebahat Tanriverdi, a North Africa expert who has closely monitored Libya’s post-revolution period, said she, too, didn’t expect any resolution to Libya’s problems in the short — or even medium — term.

Tanriverdi pointed to ongoing conflicts between the Tripoli-based assembly and the government of PM-designate al-Sarraj.

What’s more, Tanriverdi believes that — even if a unity government is established — Haftar and his circle will insist on retaining authority.  

She went on to urge local and global actors to draw lessons from Libya’s post-revolution period.

“We have seen that democratization in Libya can’t be realized through military solutions,” she said. “Ongoing conflict between local groups has shown their priorities to be inconsistent with the Libya’s national interests.”

With a plethora of armed groups and two rival seats of government, added Tanriverdi, “Libya now faces the prospect of a third division [with the advent of a new unity government]”.

“The UN, for its part, wants a quick-fix,” she asserted. “But after the bloody clashes we’ve seen between the country’s rival camps, it would be unrealistic to assume that the competing parties will be able to come together [in a unity government].”

“The western powers, meanwhile, will say, ‘If these people can’t live together [in a single country], it’s better to divide the country into two or three parts’,” she said.

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