By Margaret Besheer
After more than a year, Libyan parties on Friday agreed to a transitional government tasked with guiding them to national elections at the end of this year.
“It is absolutely essential to unify Libya and to move onwards on the way to peace,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a news conference in New York. “The elections of course, being a key element of that way to peace.”
At the end of a weeklong in-person meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum at the United Nations in Geneva, a new executive authority was elected after two rounds of voting.
“Our bet was that you would be able to build a truly Libyan-owned solution,” said Stephanie Williams, the United Nations’ acting envoy in Libya, who has been the facilitator for the parties.
She commended the parties for overcoming their many differences and divisions and putting the interests of Libya and its people first.
Williams said the winning ticket received 39 of 73 ballots cast. The new executive will be made up of a presidency council and a prime minister.
Three weeks to form cabinet
Prime Minister-designate Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah now has 21 days to form his cabinet and present its work program to the country’s House of Representatives for full endorsement.
The transitional government has a daunting to-do list ahead of it, including meeting the December 24, 2021, date for national elections. Williams said 77% of Libyans say they want elections to go ahead on that date.
According to a national road map, the new executive must also launch a national reconciliation process, implement a cease-fire agreement and tackle the country’s severe economic crisis.
Members of the caretaker government are not allowed to run for office in the December elections.
In October, a cease-fire was signed between the two main parties — the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord and the forces of General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
“So now we have a cease-fire, we have a political agreement about elections, we have a new transitional authority going to be put in place,” the U.N. chief said. “It is essential that all foreign fighters and mercenaries move first to Tripoli and Benghazi, and then leave the country according to the new schedule that was defined.”
Mercenaries and fighters from Russia and Turkey have been involved in prolonging the conflict in oil-rich Libya. Other nations, including the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, have intervened, sending large amounts of weapons and air support.
Libya fell into internal armed conflict after the ousting and assassination of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011. The country has gone through cycles of violence, including having land and oil fields seized by terrorist groups, and the latest escalation, which began in April 2019, when Haftar’s LNA moved on Tripoli.
Libya’s deteriorating health care system has also been battling rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.
UN-sponsored talks produce interim government for Libya
Development prompts mixture of cynicism and hope Libya may be able to puts years of conflict behind it
UN-sponsored talks in Geneva have produced a new interim government for Libya, which aims to hold national elections later this year.
It is the first time the country has had a unified leadership in four years, and the new government will face severe challenges winning recognition both within the country and among some external actors.
Within Libya, there is a mixture of cynicism and hope that the country may be able to put years of sporadic fighting and divided institutions behind it. A fragile ceasefire has held since October, but the country remains full of mercenaries and armed militia.
On Friday, the 75-strong Libyan dialogue forum elected Abdul Hamid Dbeibah as prime minister, and Mohamed al-Manfi from the east as the head of a three-strong presidential council. Musa al-Koni, as the deputy representing the country’s south, and Abdullah al-Lafi complete the council.
The aim has been to ensure the three regions of Libya are represented in the government in the run-up to the elections. The victorious slate of candidates won 39 of the 70 votes in the final round, defeating a rival slate by five votes.
The UN special envoy Stephanie Williams told delegates: “The decision that you have taken today will grow with the passage of time in the collective memory of the Libyan people.”
In a sign that some of the losers may accept their fate, Fathi Bashagha, the interior minister from the west of Libya who had been widely tipped for the post of prime minister, congratulated the victors.
Bashagha, who is close to the Muslim Brotherhood and from the coastal town of Misrata, had worked hard to garner international support, but teamed up for the leadership with Aguila Saleh from the east of the country.
Saleh is widely reviled in the west for his role in supporting Gen Khalifa Haftar in the 16-month siege of the capital, Tripoli. At the dialogue forum hustings Saleh shocked many delegates by largely dismissing the attack that claimed more than 1,000 lives, saying simply it was time to turn the page.
Wolfram Lacher, a Middle East researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said: “The key heavyweights have emerged as losers from this process.
There will be a sigh of relief among many in western Libya who opposed a purely opportunistic deal with Aguila and Haftar, but this means that the new executive will have very little traction if any at all in the east.”
The former UK ambassador to Libya Peter Millett said: “This is not the result most observers were expecting. The combination of Aguila Saleh as head of the presidency council and Fathi Bashagha as prime minister was the frontrunner and had the backing of key external players such as Egypt.
“The Dbeibah family are controversial and have been involved in accusations of corruption. There are already voices in the east calling for war. Haftar’s intentions are also unclear. The crucial thing now is for this transitional government to be endorsed, both domestically and internationally.”
Broadly, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia have most sway in the east of the country, while Turkey is the dominant external player in the west. Turkey had supported Bashagha.
The head of the new government faces many potential pitfalls. He must first present his new government and work programme within 21 days for the approval to the House of Representatives, Libya’s parliament.
If it is rejected the issue returns to the dialogue forum, a body mainly handpicked by Williams. There are also doubts as to whether the ceasefire will hold, let alone foreign troops leave the country.
Many will be disappointed that the process did not throw up a new generation of political leaders, but has ended up recycling many of the figures that have proved incapable of bridging the regional divides that dominate the country.
Patrick Wintour – Diplomatic editor