Ferhat Polat

Bathily’s resignation highlights the challenges of working towards peace, and stability in Libya, which has been grappling with conflict and political instability since 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown.

Abdoulaye Bathily, the United Nations (UN) envoy for Libya, resigned from his position at the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) after just 18 months. This move was expected due to the lack of progress in the stuck political process in Libya. This resignation is expected to deepen the existing diplomatic crisis and intensify the political stalemate.

Behind the scenes of Bathily’s resignation

Bathily’s resignation highlights the challenges of working towards peace and stability in Libya, which has been grappling with conflict and political instability since 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown. His exit not only signals the complexity of the situation but also highlights the immense challenges that lie ahead in reconciling the opposing sides.

Over the past few months, he has been engaging in shuttle diplomacy, attempting to persuade the opposing sides to participate in high-level discussions. Unfortunately, he has not been successful in bringing them together.

The current political leaders include the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh, the so-called leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Khalifa Haftar, chairman of the High Council State, Mohamed Takala, president of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohammed Yunus al-Menfi, and Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, internationally recognized government’s prime minister based in Tripoli.

These leaders have failed to engage in meaningful discussions to find common ground, especially Khalifa Haftar, who sees the political process as threatening his interests. Libya’s weak state institutions, especially security, combined with increasing armed groups, have increased the incentive to compete for power.

As a result, the ongoing political deadlock continues to work in favor of military figures such as Haftar. Meanwhile, armed militias and foreign fighters with vested economic interests continue to operate freely, undermining any sense of central authority. Despite significant division among rival parties, both sides usually find common ground to share the profits when distributing oil income.

From time to time, if there is no agreement, then the eastern side, where most of the oil fields are located, which is under the control of Haftar, blocks the oil terminals from operating until a decision is reached. Haftar has been using the oil blockade as leverage against the UN-backed governments. For instance, in 2020, militias under the control of Haftar blockaded eastern Libya’s main oil terminals for 8 months, and the estimated cost of these oil blockades was around $11 billion.

Therefore, the dysfunctional state’s control over the resources benefits the current political status quo and their militia groups. They have been using the weak state institutions for their benefit. Simultaneously, institutions have become tools to deepen the division and entrench the conflict rather than reconcile the needs and demands of parties with those necessary for state building. Thus, 13 years after the Libyan conflict, the most critical component is that the country’s restoration primarily relies on uniting governmental institutions, particularly security and economic institutions.

Conditions for stabilization in Libya

The United Nations mission in Libya and other members of the international community have underscored the significance of conducting elections to establish stability in the country in recent years. However, it is essential to carefully consider the potential consequences of rushing into elections without first addressing the underlying issues that contribute to instability.

The lack of a constitution remains a central issue in Libya’s challenges, leading to disagreements among parties regarding election laws and key candidate eligibility. Furthermore, the lack of security across the country adds another layer of complexity to the situation.

Any postponement of a political process has its price and impact. This is no different in Libya. While it is good to make sure that everything gets organized and settled, in the Libyan case, the international community must prioritize providing security, strengthening the rule of law, fostering a sense of national identity, and promulgating a new constitution in Libya.

Elections should not be rushed at the expense of long-term stability. Without addressing the key issues first, holding elections will not effectively solve existing problems in the country. Over the past few years, the failure to find effective ways to address these issues has caused widespread disappointment and a loss of faith in the current political leaders as well as the international communities.

The incoming special representative to succeed Abdoulaye Bathily will face a challenging task in addressing the existing political dynamics in Libya. To promote a more inclusive political system, it is crucial that the new representative challenges the influence of those in power and advocates for broader participation.

The UN must refrain from perpetuating an elite-centric approach, and sanctions should be considered for individuals obstructing progress. Without these measures, the cycle of political turmoil will continue to benefit the ruling class while neglecting the needs of the Libyan population.


Ferhat Polat is a researcher at the TRT World Research Centre. Holding an MA in Middle East Studies from the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, he specializes in North African geopolitics and security, with a particular focus on Libya.


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