Executive Summary: On the 10th of March 2021 a new government has been appointed in Libya. Its aim is to lead the country until the next general elections scheduled to be held on the 24th of December. However, there are still some issues that need to be addressed by Libyan executive before that date, in order to ensure a peaceful transition of power and try to grant an era of stability to the country.
The new Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU), appointed on the 10th of March 2021 has sparked a certain degree of positivity among the analysts for the future of the country. A period of relative stability, in fact, seems to have descended on Libya after the definitive failure of the general Khalifa Haftar to conquer Tripoli last year and the subsequent ceasefire signed in October 2020.
This new government is the result of a voting held on the 5th of February 2021 in Geneva by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum – a series of consultations whose aim was to appoint a new government and to prepare for the elections under the aegis of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
Mohammad Younes Menfi was chosen to act as President of the Presidency Council and Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibeh as Prime Minister. In March 2021, the House of Representatives (HoR) met in Sirte and approved the new government with 132 positive votes and 2 abstentions, while 36 members were absent.
The formation of the Government of National Unity represented an historic moment due to the fact it was recognised by both the HoR and the Government of National Accord (GNA). In these last years, the HoR and the GNA have been acting as two different centres of power in Libya, which was one of the main reasons of the continuous situation of political crisis in the country.
Notwithstanding this important first result achieved by the GNU, the Libyan context is still full of menaces which can still halt the pacific transition and the future of its citizens. This new government will lead the country until the next general elections on the 24th of December. Until that day, this new political establishment must do everything in its power to eliminate all threats still present in the country and preserve this apparent stability that has been so difficult to achieve in order to permit fair elections and a safe passage of power.
For what concern us here, we can identify three main questions that this government needs to put in its agenda in order to achieve a perduring stability in the country: (i) the presence of mercenary companies in the country, (ii) the lack of trust toward the political establishment by the people and (iii) the numerous divisions inside the country.
The presence of mercenary companies on the Libyan soil represents maybe the biggest issues to address for the GNU. According to UN figures regarding Libya, there are around 20,000 soldiers from different militia groups, mostly coming from Syria, Sudan, and Chad. As a matter of fact, the presence of thousands of soldiers paid by foreign countries that still occupy parts of the country poses a serious threat not only for Libya itself, but for the entire stability of North Africa, as reported by the UN special envoy for Libya, Ján Kubiš.
In this situation, the General Khalifa Haftar, self-appointed leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA) since 2014, and supported by several powers in the region, has not yet recognised the new government. He agreed to the 5+5 Joint Military Commission – a group formed by 5 military officers chosen by the government and 5 by Haftar – sponsored by the UNSMIL, for the formation of a single Libyan Army, but his intentions are not clear yet. At the end of May 2021, in fact, he organized a military parade in Benghazi of his army but in the meantime, he also cooperated to reopen the coastal road, which is the most important infrastructure in the country.
Among other things, the presence of mercenary companies is symptomatic of the interests that other powers – both regional and international – have in Libya. Their support for one side or the other has also been one of the reasons why it was so difficult to find a solution for the fundamental problems of the country in the last few years.
The second question is about the crisis of legitimacy that affects the political establishment. According to a research conducted by Arab Barometer in 2019, the political trust regarding government is very low. Only 4% of the interviewed expressed a high level of confidence in political parties, while only 9% had the same feeling towards the parliament and almost the same (10%) was true for the government. On the other hand, a very high level of trust was recorded for the police (46%) and the for the army (59%).
It is worth remembering that these data have been collected during the last few years, hence the low degree of trust could be explained by the 5 years of continuous civil war. The new government, therefore, in these months ahead of the election must work to build a new confidence towards the political institutions in order to bring the Libyan citizens to polls in December.
The third question which the government must be aware of is the tackling of the differences among the region of the country. The main regions of Libya – Cyrenaica (East), Tripolitania (West), and Fezzan (South) – have always played an important role for the identity of Libyans ever since the colonial birth of the country in 1951. As a real process of state-building had never happened in the country, regional as well as familiar and community attachment has remained stronger than the state related confidence. This is particularly shown by the two civil wars and the divisions born inside the ranks that fought together against a common enemy since 2011.
It must be said, however that Dbeibeh’s cabinet tries to display a sign of unity. Dbeibeh is from the Tripolitania region, and he has appointed two deputy prime ministers, one from the South and one from the East. Besides, related to the 33 ministers, five are women and for the first time in the country, a woman covers the role of minister for foreign affairs.
Moreover, the question of the non-Arab minorities – such as Tuareg, Tebu, and Berbers – remains of crucial importance as a process of integration never took place in the country between Arabs and non-Arabs.
In conclusion, even if some steps towards the possibility of creating a newer Libya have been going on, serious structural problems still remain present. Apart from the internal political issues listed here, there also other areas that can be problematic for the future Libya, that need to be addressed soon after the elections. Among these, the recovery of the economy as well as halting the interests of foreign powers and preventing them to shape the future politics in the country remain among the top priorities.
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About the author:
Alessandro RICCI is Associated Junior Researcher at MEPEI. He holds a MA in Sciences of Languages, History and Cultures of Mediterranean and Islamic Countries at the University of Naples “l’Orientale”. His primary academic interests are the Middle East and Mediterranean politics, political Islam, and international relations. Currently, he is enrolled in a Second Level Master’s Degree in Geopolitics and Global Security at the “Sapienza” University of Rome.