By Wolfgang Pusztai
The fighting over Tripoli shows that the UN plan for a unity government in Libya has failed. The primary objective is now regional ceasefire.
Largely unnoticed by the world public, the most serious fighting since the revolution in 2011 broke out in Libya’s capital Tripoli.
Since the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, this country no longer comes to rest. Various international initiatives to pacify Libya have not produced the expected results. Today, depending on the definition, it is near a failed state – or it is already one.
There is civil war in several parts of the country. There is no truly assertive, centralized leadership on either side.
Why is that? Why a viable state can not be educated in Libya, despite its proximity to a rich Europe?
The so-called unity government of Libya, recognized internationally as the only legitimate government and sponsored by the UN, is a failure.
The government is based on the UN-mediated Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in Morocco on 17 December 2015.
The problem with the government residing in Tripoli, however, is that it has never been elected by the Libyans or appointed by a legal Libyan institution.
A recognition of the agreement and the unity government in the LPA by the parliament in Tobruk in the east of the country, the House of Representatives (HoR), never took place.
This has two main reasons.
First, the Parliament does not want to put the Supreme Command of the Libyan National Army in the hands of a person appointed by the unity government. In command of the National Army is General Khalifa Haftar, a hero in the East who has made a name for himself in the fight against radical Islamists.
Second, most people in eastern Libya do not want to submit to a government that is at the mercy of the various, more or less criminal, militias in Tripoli. The militias of Tripoli theoretically support the local unity government there.
A key weakness of the 2015 agreement is that the delegations that took part in the negotiations were not representative of the actual balance of power in Libya.
In addition, according to many Libyans, the Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, as well as members of the ruling Presidential Council, were not elected by them, but by UN Special Envoy Bernardino León.
In order to get the deadlocked peace process moving again, the current UN Special Envoy, Ghassan Salamé, presented an action plan in October 2017, which will eventually lead to the holding of general elections. His action plan is theoretically error-free, but practically unrealistic.
Nevertheless, at a summit meeting in Paris on 29 May 2018 hosted by French President Macron, Prime Minister Sarraj, General Haftar and other Libyan representatives declared that general elections will take place on 10 December 2018.
Only Libya is in no way ready for parliamentary or presidential elections, neither politically, nor organizationally, nor from the security situation. If done anyway, this is a dangerous game that is likely to further worsen security.
Corrupt and economically run down
At the latest with the renewed, particularly fierce fighting in Tripoli, the Libyan Political Agreement and the new UN Action Plan are therefore de facto dead.
It is highly unlikely that the unity government and Prime Minister Sarraj can play an important role in stabilizing Libya. Even if the powerful General Haftar and the parliament in Tobruk still recognize it, nothing in Tripoli would change the situation.
Libya today is a corrupt, economically run-down and torn state.
Several Al Qaeda-affiliated groups, the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State (IS) use Libya as a safe haven for their terrorist activities in numerous other countries in the region.
Libya is on the way to a state as it prevails in Somalia and about to break apart uncontrollably.
Stabilization via a kind of national unity government is illusory.
The country is far too divided. Depending on the method of counting, five or seven prime ministers have failed since 2011. Also, a decision for a new constitution is not realistic.
If it were to happen nevertheless, the result would be a weak compromise, which offers no basis for the stabilization of the country.
The overriding and only realistic goal of a new strategy must be to stabilize Libya so that it does not pose a threat to the region. It is crucial that the real process lies with the Libyans – the Libyans no longer want international tutelage.
The key points of the solution are a ceasefire and a subsequent bottom-up stabilization of the country on the basis of the Libyan constitution of 1963.
A series of regional ceasefires leading to a nationwide ceasefire are a prerequisite for successful stabilization efforts. However, the fight against terrorism needs to continue. Appropriate local and regional partners should be increasingly supported.
The ceasefire and subsequent negotiations must be supported by neighboring countries, Europeans, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, the African Union and the Arab League. Each of them must influence their partners in Libya in the sense of the overall plan.
Negotiations within the framework of an internal Libya dialogue must be promoted and guided by the EU and the USA as relatively credible partners. But it is up to the Libyans to find their own solutions for shaping their country.
Stabilization within the three historical regions
Since a nationwide reconciliation and a compromise on the future path for a united Libya are not realistic for the foreseeable future, the strategy aims – for the time being – to stabilize Libya permanently in its three historical regions Cyrenaica, Fezzan and Tripolitania.
For a transitional period, the basis of this process was to be the modified 1963 Libyan constitution, which was abolished in 1969 by Gaddafi.
In particular, the supplements must include a formula for the distribution of oil revenues and a division of powers between the central government and the three regions as defined by the original 1951 federal constitution.
Bottom-up stabilization, bottom-up, on the basis of this constitution, rather than the top-down approach of a top-down process, could be the key to a successful peace and recovery process.
After achieving a minimum level of security and the establishment of responsible, widely accepted governance, the provision of basic services and the organization of regional elections are the next major tasks.
The population must feel as quickly as possible that something is changing for the better.
Only when a certain stability has been achieved throughout Libya should a sustainable overall state formation, the drafting of a new constitution and nationwide elections take place.
The goal should be to achieve this within five years.
In any case, the entire process must be accompanied on an ongoing basis by the international community, but especially by the EU and the USA.
The mistakes of 2011 may not be repeated!
Wolfgang Pusztai is Austrian security and Libya expert. He is a freelance security and policy analyst. He was the Austrian Defence Attaché to Italy, Greece, Libya and Tunisia from 2007-2012