By David Child
Libyan general Khalifa Haftar has said the mandate for a UN-backed government in Tripoli has expired, plunging the North African country deeper into political turmoil.
Haftar declared the UN-brokered Libyan political agreement and its institutions “void” in a televised speech earlier this week.
“The 17th of December has arrived and brought with it the end of the so-called Skhirat agreement,” he said on Sunday.
The agreement, signed in Morocco’s Skhirat on December 17, 2015, established Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) for a one-year period, which could be renewed only once.
Libya has been locked in a state of violence since 2011 when a popular uprising ended with the overthrow and death of Gaddafi.
Despite peace efforts, the country has remained divided between the GNA in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and a Haftar-backed administration in the east.
A new round of UN-backed talks to secure a resolution to the country’s political divisions began in September in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, and aimed to prepare for Libyan presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018.
But the talks broke down about a month later without a deal.
A l Jazeera spoke to Anas El Gomati, founder of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute, about the continued unrest in Libya and prospects for a political settlement.
Al Jazeera: Why did Khalifa Haftar say the UN-backed government’s mandate had expired?
Anas El Gomati: The Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), negotiated by a variety of political actors in Libya … has, by Haftar’s measure, lost its legitimacy.
The GNA was supposed to bring conflicting political and military sides together, but its activation has been blocked by the House of Representatives leadership over a specific article of the LPA – control over the armed forces.
This would see too much compromise on the part of Haftar, who instead of compromising, blocked and spoiled the activation of the political agreement for two years.
Haftar today seeks to exploit the political vacuum and suggests the Libyan National Army – an amalgamation of largely tribal militia groups and Salafi groups – are able to take political control of the country.
Al Jazeera: Who supports Haftar domestically and internationally – and why?
El Gomati: Ultimately, Haftar offers a return to a military state.
Domestically, those who are able to take control of institutions and maximise personal, tribal and political relationships tend to side with Haftar, as they would take control over vital political, economic, security institutions, instead of competing or sharing such institutions as in a democratic, or civil, government.
Internationally, Haftar is backed by regional power brokers that would prefer a status quo in the region. This is mostly the [United Arab Emirates] and Egypt, who, while backing Haftar both militarily and financially, are suspected to support a style of governance that would not threaten their own.
A democratic or pluralistic Libya, with the ability to hold elected officials to account, is an existential threat to Egyptian and Emirati regime maintenance. A military regime in Libya would sober expectations regionally and return it to [the] status quo.
This has been supported under the banner of both fighting the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorism and labelled as supporting stability.
Al Jazeera: Why has the UN been so ineffective at solving the problems in Libya?
El Gomati: The inability to sanction those that challenge the UN government has been the principal reason for its ineffectiveness. Rather than sanction those who challenge or spoil the agreement, the UN’s policy of appeasement has increased the confidence of actors such as Haftar.
The UN is also unable or unwilling to immunise Libya from the geopolitical meddling that has taken place.
Arms embargoes that are broken by regional actors, allegations of war crimes by individuals, and ICC warrants issued are met with an indifference on the behalf of the UN.
The role of a fair arbiter has perhaps been lost, and the inability to translate international legitimacy into concrete action is perhaps most concerning. Instead of penalising those who have spoiled the process, the UN has perhaps been guilty of seeking far too often to legitimise them.
Al Jazeera: Can Libya’s factions be unified?
El Gomati: I don’t believe there are clear opposing factions today in Libya in stark ideological terms.
The choice in Libya today is between those that believe in a civil state and those who believe in a military state.
Al Jazeera: What’s next for Libya?
El Gomati: A difficult transition [is] most likely over the coming 12 months.
Elections are expected to take place in 2018, and with them the notion that Libyans will make a free and fair decision over their future. The clear caveat to this is the request that Libyans do so while they face hyperinflation, a breakdown of local services, and a liquidity crisis that has meant the inability to take cash from a bank for almost three years.
Given recent international electoral results impacted by minor populist waves such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, it is difficult to see how sober elections could be envisaged in Libya in such a state.
Anas El Gomati – Director of Sadeq Institute, Libya’s 1st think tank. Chief contributor Security & Governance. Tripoli/Beirut/Paris/London.
David Child is a freelance journalist, based in London. He holds an MA in International Journalism from City, University of London.