By Ferhat Polat
Today, Libya is fragmented and polarized, mired in instability and insecurity. As a result, Libya is lacking a unified, representative and legitimate government able to exercise authority throughout the country and hold a monopoly over the use of force.
The international community has been trying to broker peace since 2014. The UN Sponsored National Conference has been a key endeavour in this context.
The purpose of this conference is to bring together rival groups in an effort to find a long-lasting political solution to crisis. However, critics claim that this effort produced neither political consensus nor a well-articulated plan to address the country’s crisis efficiently.
Inspired in part by the civil uprising in Tunisia, minor protests began to emerge in Libya in mid-January 2011. The demonstrations were the result of corruption and nepotism, driven by a desire for greater political freedom and reform.
In early February, significant demonstrations took place in Tripoli and Benghazi against Gaddafi. Protests subsequently spread throughout Libya, resulting in repression and violence from the regime.
Circumstances in Libya in 2011 differed from those in Tunisia and Egypt, however. Although Libya was ruled by an authoritarian leader, a strong economy and an adequate standard of living supported much of the population.
The toppling of the Gaddafi regime gave rise to several domestic, regional and international problems. The destruction of Libya’s government resulted in a power vacuum, widespread violence, human rights abuses, a refugee crisis, exacerbated racism and tribalism, economic instability, and the collapse of social welfare systems.
The manner by which the Libyan government was overthrown also lead to grave, unintended consequences affecting regional instability, including massive civilian displacement and the creation of an environment conducive to extremism and terrorism.
Today Libya is fragmented and polarized, mired in instability and insecurity. In many respects it is a failed state, lacking a unified, representative and legitimate government, and unable to exercise nationwide authority or hold a monopoly over the use of force.
Since 2014, efforts by the international community to broker peace have been unsuccessful. More recently, from November 12 to 13, 2018, Italy hosted The International Conference on Libya to establish a path toward stability.
Unfortunately, the conference produced neither political consensus nor a well-organized plan to solve the country’s crisis. Ultimately, Libya must press ahead with national elections, even if the House of Representatives (HoR) intends to undermine efforts to resolve the lasting conflict.
The United Nations, regional and Western powers hope that Libya will hold a referendum on a constitutional framework outlining a plan to resolve the conflict.
The next step would include national elections by June. However, if no clear political, institutional, or military agreement is confirmed, the possibility of elections in the near future appears doubtful.
The Libyan Government, supported by the UN, must tailor a national plan for peace which will allow all social, cultural and political actors to work together in solving their accumulated grievances.
The role of Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army, has yet to be resolved and remains the key obstacle in unifying the country.
Libya’s Political Structure Reconfigured
Libya has had a long history of political exclusion and stigmatization of political opposition.
Gaddafi seized power through a military coup in 1969 and subsequently imposed a law banning the establishment of political parties or civil society organizations.
Since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been governed under a temporary Constitutional Declaration, under which Libya is designated as a parliamentary republic governed by the General National Congress (GNC), whose members were elected in July 2012.
The key responsibility of the GNC was to form a constituent assembly which was expected to write Libya’s permanent constitution. Between 1965 and 2012, no elections were held in Libya, and these were the first to occur since the overthrow of Gaddafi.
Many parties were formed during the run-up to the July 2012 elections, 21 of which secured parliamentary seats. The National Forces Alliance (NFA), on the rather liberal end of the spectrum, was created in February 2012 under the leadership of Mahmoud Jibril.
Jibril was a former interim leader of the country who played a leading role in Libya’s 2011 revolution. The NFA received 48% of the popular vote and won 39 of the 80 party-list seats.
The Justice and Construction Party, which is affiliated with the Libya Muslim Brotherhood and under the leadership of Mohamed Sowan, was officially founded in Tripoli on March 3, 2012.
The party received 10 percent of the vote and won 17 of the 80 party-list seats, placing second behind the NFA. Minor parties included the National Front, with three seats, the National Centrist Party Union for the Homeland, and the Wadi alHaya Party for Democracy and Development, each with two seats. Fifteen other parties each secured a single party-list seat.
In 2015, in order to foster an inclusive dialogue with rivals in Libya, the United Nations attempted to negotiate a political compromise under the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA).
The principles of the LPA included ensuring the democratic rights of the Libyan people, respecting the need for a consensual government based on the principle of the separation of powers, establishing oversights and balances between the powers, and the empowerment of state institutions such as the Government of National Accord (GNA).
The LPA was meant to address vital challenges facing Libya, including issues affecting the Libyan judiciary and its independence.
Libya’s complex political and security situation has presented significant challenges to the achievement of a comprehensive political settlement between rival factions within the country.
Libya now has three centres of power.
The first is the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli since March 30, 2016, and headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, a former member of the GNC. Although internationally recognized as Libyan’s legitimate government, the GNA has failed to extend its authority beyond its base in Tripoli.
The second power centre is the result of a compromise between the Tobruk and al-Bayda-based authorities, which also, in theory, functions under the framework of the LPA.
Under the agreement, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) would become the legitimate legislative authority; however, the necessary constitutional changes have not yet occurred which would enable this function.
The Tobruk and Al-Bayda authorities are under the control of General Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), who is backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, with increasing support from Russia.
The third centre of power is the Tripoli-based Government of National Salvation (GNS), which is under the control of Prime Minister Khalifa Ghwell.
Daesh Attacks in Libya
In 2015 Daesh gained significant ground in Libya with the capture of the coastal town of Sirte. Daesh emerged in Libya in early October 2014, when extremist factions in the eastern city of Derna joined their cause.
Derna has been a centre of extremist factions in Libya for more than three decades. After 2011, Derna continued to serve as a centre for militant Salafis with links to terrorist groups including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL).
After the formation of Daesh in 2014, many local fighters pledged allegiance to their cause. Many of the Libyan militants who joined Daesh were veterans of the group’s activities in Iraq and Syria and brought with them battlefield experience.
Eighteen months later, on December 5, 2016, Daesh was defeated in Sirte following a six-month military campaign led by armed groups loyal to the GNA with support from US airstrikes. However, Daesh has yet to be completely eliminated from Libya.
Battle for Libya’s Oil Resources
According to the 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, Libya has the largest proven crude oil reserves in Africa at 48.4 billion barrels.
When Gaddafi was in power, Libya produced some 1.6 million barrels per day, exported mostly to Italy, France, Spain and Germany. However, the Libyan economy has experienced a significant decline because of political unrest and fighting over the control of oil fields, resulting in a concomitant decline in production.
The struggle over the control of Libya’s oil resources is a major driver in the ongoing conflict. Haftar has enjoyed political and logistical support from Egypt, UAE, Jordan, France and Russia, and he dominates the eastern administration.
Libya’s fragmentation at the political and security level has effectively invited open competition for the country’s energy resources in several ways. Oil revenues are at the heart of the internal conflict.
A political resolution is needed to implement reforms that will stimulate economic and job growth driven by the private sector. Reforms are necessary to stabilize the macroeconomic and fiscal frameworks.
In the medium term, Libya must diversify its economy, which will help strengthen the private sector and provide more job growth. If Libya implements the necessary reforms it can progressively restore its oil production level to prerevolution potential by the end of 2021 (1.6 million bpd).
This will cause the GDP to increase by approximately 11 percent over the period, which could help address inflation. Libya must address two urgent problems: the collapsing economy and its domestic security concerns, both of which require assistance from the UN.
Greater domestic security would boost the economy, necessary for an increase in foreign investment crucial to the rebuilding of Libya’s oil industry. As a first step, the UN could lift sanctions on Libyan assets worth $67 billion USD.
This economic relief could be translated into improved domestic security and reconstruction of infrastructure that was damaged after the fall of Gaddafi. Other sectors, including healthcare, education and housing would also benefit, in turn creating job growth.
Continues in Part 2
Ferhat Polat is a Deputy Researcher at the TRT World Research Centre. He is a PhD researcher in North African Studies at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in Exeter with a particular focus on Turkish Foreign Policy.