By Oliver Imhof
Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and Mohammad Menfi will lead country blighted by years of conflict into elections.
Libya’s rival political factions agreed to form a transitional government on February 5th, further cementing a June ceasefire meant to end the country’s civil war.
After a lengthy UN-mediated process, the 73 delegates of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) voted for Mohammad Menfi as head of the Presidency Council; Abdul Hamid Dbeibah as Prime Minister; and Mossa Al-Koni and Abdullah Hussein Al-Lafi as members of the Presidency Council. They will lead the country until full elections, scheduled for December.
The list had support from across the divided nation. Menfi, a former General National Congress member, enjoys support in the country’s East while Dbeibah, a powerful businessman from Misrata – as well as Al-Lafi – represent Libya’s West. Al-Koni comes from the sparsely populated South.
During the talks in Geneva, Menfi’s list surprised many observers by beating an alternative list – headed by current Minister of Interior Fathi Bashaga and Head of the House of Representatives Aqila Saleh – by 39 to 34 votes. The two lists had won most votes in the first round among an initial four slates.
Little known about new government’s plans
Libya has seen 10 years of on-and-off civil war since the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
In June 2020, all sides agreed a ceasefire deal after years of fighting, and the new administration will be tasked with implementing it.
However little is known about the new interim government’s policy plans as no concrete proposals have so far been presented, analysts said.
Among many challenges are the disarmament of militias, and the withdrawal of foreign fighters from Libya. Foreign support played a significant role in recent stages of the civil war, with the United Arab Emirates backing general Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army, and Turkey supporting the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
Besides the political dialogue continuing in Libya, a new constitution has to be drafted and common financial and economic institutions built. The process is supposed to end with fresh general elections on December 24th this year.
The LPDF marks a return to negotiations between parties, many of whom had been only recently been locked in bitter conflict.
“For the first time in years we are witnessing a (commitment) to political progress by all parties instead of moving to an armed conflict,” a UN source familiar with the dialogue told Airwars. “This is the first fruitful outcome from the whole process.”
General Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army which tried to seize control of Tripoli in 2019, had unsuccessfully sought to block the process, the UN source said.
Muslim Brotherhood-backed militias also opposed the dialogue and tried to disrupt it at various points, the source claimed.
Another issue of concern is appeasing international sponsors of a conflict in which at least 788 civilians have been killed since 2012 through air and artillery strikes, according to Airwars data.
“Turkey wants something out of that deal – the gas agreement, a joint venture for the Mediterranean,” the UN source says.
Other foreign players are likely to block any such deal, which would give Turkey extensive drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Alleged corruption and limited influence
Commentators said massive challenges remain – and questioned the potential effectiveness of the new government.
Tarek Megerisi, Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the dialogue was designed to bring all parties together, and to do so had helped to avoid confrontation.
“The process was engineered to ensure it produced something, rather than try to solve any of the underlying drivers of fragmentation and conflict,” he said. “So I don’t expect this government to be unifying, pacifying or very interested in repairing the various failures of the state over the last 10 years.”
Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah has faced questions over his suitability for the role, with some critics highlighting allegations of corruption against him during his time leading a construction unit in the former Gaddafi government.
“The figures [in the new government] are perhaps less controversial than the alternative ones were – except for (Dbeibah) who is a bit more polarising,” said Emadeddin Badi, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council.
There are also questions over the limited territorial influence of the new government due to Libya’s highly localised politics. Even though the new leaders enjoy social ties and patronage networks in Libya, they may be comparatively little known among the wider population.
So far the new administration has not presented any concrete plans about what to do with local militias and foreign fighters.
“Quick calls of support from the Ministers of Defence and Interior suggest that there is an expectation that the work done with Turkey to reconstruct western Libya’s security services will continue. Although the question of what to do with Tripoli’s militias and how Haftar will react hangs ominously over this,” Megerisi said.
The election is only an initial step that will hopefully lead to a more peaceful future for a nation exhausted by years of fighting. The United Nations Security Council has now requested ceasefire monitors, but it remains to be seen if the ongoing ceasefire can be transformed into effective political dialogue.
“We’ll be watching those you have selected to make sure they truly go back to the Libyan people on December 24 of this year to democratically elect Libya’s representatives and political leadership,” UN acting special representative Stephanie Williams said.