Tripoli / AFP
It was meant to finally bring an end to Libya’s political chaos and unrest, but the creation of a new UN-backed unity government has only added to the country’s disarray.
Desperate to resolve years of political deadlock that has allowed extremists to gain an important foothold on Europe’s doorstep, the United Nations and Western powers have been pushing hard for the acceptance of a Libyan power-sharing deal announced in December.
Under the agreement, Libya’s rival administrations—one supported by the internationally recognised parliament in the east and the other backed by an extremist-backed militia in Tripoli—are supposed to cede power to a new Government of National Accord (GNA) under prime minister-designate Fayez Al Sarraj.
But so far the only thing the two sides seem able to agree on is their mutual disdain for the new authority.
“The birth of this government in this way has done nothing but worsen the political crisis… create new conflicts and further destabilise” the country, said Mohamed Eljarh, a Libya analyst at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
The extent of the crisis was hammered home on Wednesday when UN envoy Martin Kobler was prevented from travelling to Tripoli to work on installing the GNA.
“Again had to cancel flight to Tripoli… UN must have the right to fly (to) Tripoli,” he wrote on Twitter, without specifying what had blocked the mission. The GNA has not been formally endorsed by either parliament but it announced earlier this month it was taking office on the basis of a petition signed by a narrow majority of Libya’s elected lawmakers. The United States and its European allies have called on the government to swiftly move to Tripoli and take up power, threatening sanctions against those who undermine the political process. But neither of Libya’s rival administrations has so far shown any willingness to cooperate.
“Unless the international community can give the GNA control over Libyan finances, a powerful national army, and somehow make it legitimate in the eyes of the Libyan people, the GNA is poised to become the weakest of Libya’s three competing national authorities,” said Michael Nayebi-Oskoui, a US-based Middle East and North Africa analyst.
‘A long way’ from stability
Libya collapsed into lawlessness following the 2011 NATO-backed ouster of longtime strongman Moamer Kadhafi.
Heavily armed groups rushed to the fill the power vacuum and in mid-2014 a militia alliance including extremists overran Tripoli, forcing a recognised government that had struggled to function to flee to eastern Libya. Eljarh said there was no hope of the GNA taking power in Tripoli “as long as the main armed groups are not ready to pledge allegiance” to the new authority.
“The international community would need to be ready to provide it with military protection if needed,” he said.
And any attempt to force the government on Tripoli would be “a major security risk likely to cause clashes between armed groups”.
The stakes are high. Just across the Mediterranean from Europe, Libya has become the latest stronghold of the extremist IS group.
IS has seized control of Kadhafi’s coastal hometown of Sirte and launched a wave of attacks, both against rival Libyan forces and across the border in Tunisia.