Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 527, 6 July 2022

Libya: The continuing political stalemate
Apoorva Sudhakar

In the news
On 30 June, Libya's rival authorities concluded UN-brokered talks in Geneva without finding a solution to conduct parliamentary and presidential elections. The UN’s envoy to Libya said some progress was achieved in the meeting between the parliamentary speaker of the House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh, and the president of the High Council of State of the internationally-recognized government, Khaled Al-Mishri, to discuss a draft framework for the elections. However, this progress was not enough to urge the two sides towards elections. 

On 1 July, protesters demanding an end to the political deadlock stormed the parliament in Tobruk and reportedly burnt a part of the building. Protests were also held in different cities across the country, including in the capital Tripoli. 

On 2 July, the UN envoy said: “The people’s right to peacefully protest should be respected and protected but riots and acts of vandalism such as the storming of the House of Representatives headquarters late yesterday in Tobruk are totally unacceptable.”

Issues at large
First, political stalemate in Libya since 2011. In 2011, the overthrow of dictator Ben Ali in Tunisia sparked anti-regime protests across several Arab countries, including Libya. Widespread protests were held against Muammar al Gaddafi, who had been in power for four decades. In February 2011, Gaddafi was killed in a NATO-led intervention leading to a sudden power vacuum in the country and in 2014, Libya witnessed the beginning of a civil war, leading to two parallel authorities in the country. The civil war led to the involvement of external actors, on both sides, like Turkey, Qatar, Italy, Russia, France, Egypt and the UAE, who had their own interest in Libya’s oil reserves. 

Second, two rival governments. Currently, Libya has two rival governing authorities, one backed by the UN and one based in the country’s east, appointed by the House of Representatives. The UN-backed, internationally recognized interim government, based in Tripoli, is led by prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, appointed in early 2021. In February 2022, the House of Representatives, based in Tobruk, approved Fathi Bashagha as the new prime minister. Bashagha’s appointment was rejected by the High Council of State. 

Third, the political deadlock. The appointment of Bashagha took place after Dbeibah refused to step down from his position for the parliamentary and presidential elections in December 2021, thereby leading to the two rival sides. The House of Representatives maintained that Dbeibah’s term had officially ended and, therefore, his position was not legitimate. However, this is not the first time that Libya witnessed such a division between the eastern and western sides. After the civil war broke out in 2014, the UN officiated the interim Government of National Accord (GNA) in 2015. However, the east formed its own governing authority, the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar and speaker Aguila Saleh. In 2020, the LNA and GNA reached an agreement and in March 2021, the Government of National Unity (GNU) was set up with Dbeibah as the head. 

Fourth, response from the people of Libya. Popular unrest has been a constant factor in Libya’s politics since the Arab Spring in 2011. Since then, several oil facilities have been controlled by rebels or by the eastern authorities, thereby impacting the economy. Protesters demand a solution to the political stalemate and improvement in their living conditions. 

In perspective
More than a decade after the fall of Gaddafi, Libya remains more divided than ever. It is far from achieving the dream of a peaceful life that sparked the protests in 2011. Meanwhile, an immediate solution to the current political crisis does not seem possible and Libya will witness the continuation of sharp political differences between its east and west. If the situation worsens, the involvement of foreign actors will increase, despite international organizations’ calls for the evacuation of foreign troops.

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