Christina Lu

The U.N. Libya envoy has warned that the country will be “at risk of partition” if it continues to delay elections.

U.N. Warns of “Risk of Partition” in Libya 

Following years of war and political fragmentation, Abdoulaye Bathily, the United Nations’ Libya envoy, has warned that Libya will be “at risk of partition” if it continues to delay elections that were supposed to be held nearly a year ago.

The international community had cast the planned December 2021 presidential and parliamentary elections as a potential opportunity to stabilize the country, although they were also controversial and plagued by eligibility challenges and legal disagreements that were never resolved. 

The elections’ ultimate breakdown “was the predictable outcome of a process riddled with built-in self-defeating factors and whose implementation favored legal, constitutional, and political acrobatics,” Omar Hammady, a former advisor to the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, wrote in Foreign Policy in February.

According to Jason Pack, author of Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder, “Bathily is raising the alarm that at present, Libya lacks an internationally recognized prime minister, that the international community has no plan for a transition, and that Egypt and Turkey have recently hardened their support for opposing factions.

Although actual partition is not possible in the short term, Bathily is right to point out that it is the natural endpoint of the indefinite continuation of the status quo.”

Libya’s ongoing instability stems from a NATO intervention in 2011, which helped depose then-dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi and subsequently plunged the oil-rich nation into more than a decade of instability and conflict. 

The intervention created a power vacuum “filled by legions of armed militias, foreign mercenaries, Islamist extremists, human traffickers, and regional and international powers, who have all transformed the North African country into the region’s greatest exporter of instability and mayhem,” Colum Lynch reported for Foreign Policy in March 2021.

That shaped Libya into the deeply fractured country that it is today, with rival powers battling for legitimacy and foreign leaders jockeying for influence with little regard for civilians.

Between 2014 and 2020, Libya was embroiled in a brutal civil war that ultimately concluded with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire. 

The cease-fire did little to heal the country’s political fissures, and opposing administrations empowered by militia support are still competing for control.

On one side is Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who was only supposed to oversee a transitional government in Tripoli yet has clung to power after the failed elections. His government is internationally recognized.

His authority has been challenged by the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, which is backed by Khalifa Haftar, a military commander in the country’s east who has the support of Egypt, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The House of Representatives has refused to recognize Dbeibah’s authority following the failed election and instead announced another prime minister, Fathi Bashagha. 

In August, at least 32 people died and more than 150 more were injured after violent clashes broke out among the militias in Tripoli, fueling concerns of a potential slide back into conflict. 


Christina Lu, a reporter at Foreign Policy.


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