By Mohamed Eljarh

This chapter takes stock of six years of failed efforts to bring stability and political reconciliation to Libya, identifying major local actors involved in post-Gaddafi Libya and focussing on the primary internal barriers to stabilization and an effective transition.


The Skhirat Agreement: key actors and failures

Over few years have passed since the signing of the Skhirat Agreement, but its implementation quickly stalled and in fact never occurred. According to the timeline proposed by the agreement itself, the implementation deadline expires after two years, that is, by 17 December 2017.

This would exacerbate the legitimacy crisis in the country, as well as widen the existing institutional and constitutional vacuum, increasing the likelihood of renewed conflict.

Renowned Libyan lawyer and constitutional expert Azza Maghur has argued in various publications that both the design of the dialogue process by UNSMIL and the provisions of the agreement itself present a number of problematic aspects.

In January 2017, he argued that if the LPA was not quickly and substantially amended to allow for new and more executable provisions, it was doomed to fail. One key problem is the composition of the Presidential Council, which holds the executive power.

It is composed of nine members (the Prime Minister, five Deputy Prime Ministers and three Ministers) with a consensus of six required to reach decisions (the Prime Minister and his five deputies).

Other concerns are of a procedural nature, most notably the complex process for the entry into force of the LPA, but controversies also surrounded the role of the UN envoy at the time, Bernardino Leon, who secured a lucrative job with the diplomatic academy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the key regional players involved in the Libyan conflict, casting doubt over his impartiality.

The Skhirat Agreement sought to resolve the dispute between the HoR and its associated government, based respectively in the eastern cities of Tobruk and al-Bayda, and the General National Congress (GNC) government in Tripoli.

It created the Government of National Accord’s Presidential Council, a nine-member executive that took office in Tripoli in March 2016 and was tasked to form a government of national accord and an advisory High State Council of ex-GNC members.

The rump Presidential Council was not able to convene, however, given that two members are officially not taking part in the council sessions and one resigned from sole legislative authority in the country and approve a unity government, but it has failed to do so in the two years since the signing of the Skhirat Agreement.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, remained split between supporters and opponents of the accord, rendering the institutional set-up incomplete.

In addition, military actors on the ground sought to expand their leverage by extending their authority and control over territory in an effort to improve their negotiating positions, extract resources from the state and ultimately impose themselves within their respective camps.

In 2017, the forces of Khalifa Haftar, who had rejected the LPA, drove foes from Benghazi and seized much of the Gulf of Sirte’s “oil crescent”, with its oil and gas production, refining and export facilities. Enjoying increased military strength and economic capabilities, Haftar, who has repeatedly threatened to advance on the capital Tripoli, has emerged as a key power player within Libya.

On the other side, the coalition of militias from western Libya operating nominally under the Presidency Council and with US air support have taken over most of Sirte, a city that the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as IS or Daesh) had seized in March 2015.

In October 2017, forces loyal to the GNA captured the town of Aziziya where the tribes of Warshefana are located. The move was aimed at expanding the GNA’s control over the roads and towns west of Tripoli, but also preventing potential attacks by forces loyal to Haftar.

As a result, the risk of armed confrontation between Haftar and the GNA has increased, especially as these forces are now located within very close proximity of each other in the areas west and south of Tripoli and near Sirte.

One of the major obstacles to peace in Libya is the rejection of dialogue and compromise by key armed actors. A case in point is the rejection by hard-line armed groups operating out of the city of Misrata.

The rejection of the Skhirat accord by these Misratan factions happened despite the fact that Misrata’s representatives in the UN-led political dialogue process accepted the accord. This raised serious questions about the representation of armed factions in the political dialogue process, as well as the feasibility of a political approach to security dialogue as part of the ongoing UN process.

A separate security dialogue track is perhaps needed to address the fundamental concerns and grievances of the armed actors on the ground. These tensions within Misrata led to the forced closure of the municipal council building in April 2017. In Libya’s eastern region, Khalifa Haftar has been persistent in dismissing dialogue as a distraction and waste of time.

In July 2017, he gave a six-month ultimatum to politicians to end the institutional stalemate, threatening to act unilaterally without giving specifics.

Other armed groups in the capital Tripoli, nominally under the authority of the internationally recognized GNA, pose a real threat to a future political settlement due to their entrenched interests in the current status quo that gives them leverage over key institutions and infrastructure.

In the case of Haftar, his plans include entering Tripoli and taking over power in the country through military action and the support of grass-roots militants.

On 22 November 2017, a committee that was formed to collect signatures from Libyan citizens to “directly authorize” Haftar to assume power in Libya claimed that it had collected 1.2 million signatures. These figures cannot be corroborated and seem to be far-fetched.

However, the campaign itself is indicative of Haftar’s ambitions and the military and political steps he is ready to take.

Foreign meddling in Libya

Foreign meddling and rivalry have further exacerbated the problems plaguing Libya’s transition. Since the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, Libya has been a proxy battlefield for regional and international players each with their own agenda.

This proxy war is intertwined with the broader regional and international dynamics unleashed by the events of the Arab uprisings, in particular the battle over the “new regional order” between Gulf-led counter-revolutionary forces and Turkey-Qatar support for political Islamist groups in the region.

These regional actors supported their proxies in the Libyan conflict with money and weapons, becoming a key driver for Libya’s protracted conflict.

The UN has repeatedly denounced breaches of the UN arms embargo on Libya, but to no avail, even though such actions clearly undermine UN talks and prevent reconciliation.

Multiple reports produced by the UN Panel of Experts on Libya, an organ that reports to the United Nations Security Council sanctions committee, have highlighted that the UAE, Egypt, Qatar and Turkey have all violated the terms and conditions of the UN arms embargo imposed on Libya since February 2011, to support their respective proxies in the country.

This support serves as a powerful disincentive for local actors to reach a political settlement. Undemocratic forces – militias, thugs, criminal gangs and extremists – have been able to exploit the inability of successive governments to respond to basic needs of the population, by championing the claims of local communities.

This has conferred a modicum of legitimacy on peripheral “spoilers” which are often supported by regional players interested in advancing their own agendas.

A comprehensive multilateral approach is needed to deal with foreign interference in Libya. In addition to addressing the grievances and concerns of Libyan stakeholders, such an approach should take into account the legitimate concerns and interests of regional and international actors impacted by the crisis in Libya.

Barriers to the implementation of the Skhirat Agreement

The December 2015 Libyan Political Agreement, signed in Skhirat, Morocco, has exacerbated rather than resolved the political and armed struggle in Libya. When the dialogue process started in November 2014, the conflict was between two rival parliaments and their associated governments.

After the signing of the agreement, Libya has had three different competing led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani; remnants of the former GNC and its self-declared National Salvation Government led by Prime Minister Khalifa al-Ghawil; and the newly established State Council and the Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Sarraj based in Tripoli.

Now more than two years since the signing of the Skhirat Agreement, the conflict is mainly between supporters and opponents of the accord, each with defectors from the original camps, heavily armed and enjoying foreign support.

The Skhirat Agreement expired on 17 December 2017, making it clear that the Government of National Accord and the Libyan Political Agreement are unable to establish a new governance structure and political order that would unify state institutions and help disarm and reintegrate militias.

New negotiations and arrangements are required, with increased involvement of key armed and security actors that did not take part in the Skhirat negotiations.

Internal barriers

The points below summarize the major internal barriers that led to the failure of the Skhirat Agreement: The institutional and political arrangements envisioned by the Skhirat Agreement were self-defeating.

The House of Representatives was divided between supporters and opponents of the accord, and ultimately failed to perform its duty of introducing constitutional amendments to enshrine the agreement into the interim constitutional declaration (which spells out Libya’s political transition roadmap adopted in 2011 by the National Transitional Council).

Lack of recognition from key armed and security actors. For example, the commander of the eastern Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, never recognized the Skhirat Agreement or the authority of the Government of National Accord in Tripoli and did not take part in the UN-led negotiation process that led to its signing.

The institutional divide that occurred in 2014, and involved key governing institutions such as the National Oil Corporation, the Central Bank of Libya and the Libyan Investment Authority among others, consolidated various interest groups and power centres on the periphery that have opposed the accord out of fear of losing influence and power gained during the preceding three years.

The institutional set-up envisaged by the Skhirat Agreement has therefore remained incomplete. Supporters and opponents of the accord have engaged in drawn-out legal battles in courts as each attempts to justify and strengthen its own position.

Since the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, the main problem in Libya has been the lack of effective and representative governance structures. Currently, there is no body with enough integrity, power and transparency to be able to secure political or financial support from abroad without risking to become a pawn in the hands of foreign actors seeking to advance their interests irrespective of this feeding or sustaining the conflict in Libya.

The lack of a central, unified and inclusive military command structure is another key obstacle to the implementation of the Skhirat Agreement. Little progress can be made without involving the most important armed actors in dialogue.

Compromise on the command structure and its relationship with the Presidency Council is necessary to ensure wider disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups, which often claim ties with state institutions while continuing to operate as militias.

Over the last few years, various armed groups have fought for control of the capital Tripoli, key oil and gas infrastructure and vital installations across Libya, posing a real threat to the unity and stability of the country.

Forty-two years of dictatorship followed by more than six years of political polarization and conflict have led to some serious political and societal divisions, as well as a huge trust deficit among Libyans.

The conflict has led to the fragmentation of society, as people retreat to their most basic social enclaves of family, tribe and city. This implosion of polity in Libya makes it difficult to reach agreement on reconciliation, governance and the distribution of wealth.

The challenges above have been acknowledged and accepted by the new UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salamé. On 20 September 2017, Salamé launched his Action Plan for Libya at the United Nations General Assembly.

The Action Plan is composed of a number of elements that UNSMIL has started working on immediately, including amending the Libyan Political Agreement, organizing a National Conference, preparing for elections and providing humanitarian assistance.


Mohamed Eljarh is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Libya Outlook Research and Consultancy. A non-resident fellow with the Atlantic Council during 2014-2017, he is an associate expert at the Sahel-Maghreb Research Platform hosted by the Danish Institute for International Studies in Copenhagen.


Source: Chapter 2 in SEARCH FOR STABILITY IN LIBYA: OSCE’s Role between Internal Obstacles and External Challenges. Edited by Andrea Dessì and Ettore Greco.







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