Challenges Facing the Newly Elected Government of Libya -By Alhareth Elshibani
A turbulent period ascends over the Government of National Unity (GNU) of Libya. In February 2021, the newly elected government blossomed after a successful UN-sponsored initiative that ended with a new transitional government which chiefly aims to establish elections in December 2021. The GNU brings hope to all Libyans following fierce conflict that was launched in April 2019 between The Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez Al-Sarraj as the Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, and the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar. The war caused widespread suffering. According to United Nations statistics in April 2020 it is estimated that more than 149,000 people were forced to leave their homes.
The new leadership, compromising of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid al-Dabaib, President Mohamed Al-Manfi of the Libyan Presidential Council, and Deputies Musa al-Koni and Abdallah al-Lafi, have a hard task of addressing national issues including a weakened infrastructure, high poverty levels, inflation, corruption, and ensuring a peaceful transition in the upcoming elections. Thus, the new leaders have taken calculated steps to establish their government by visiting both Tripoli and Benghazi in the hope of sending a message of unity and progress. To this end, Mr Abdul Hamid’s past allows him to serve this period perfectly as he has worked closely within the Gaddafi regime. In fact, Hamid was near to Gaaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam and his ambitious project of Libya Algad.
Hamid has promised to alleviate suffering and provide Libyans with the long-lost dignity they so rightly deserve. Thus, a lot of Libyans, especially the youth, are praying for the success of this new government. However, war-ready conflicting factions are ever present, with hopes to be included, directly or indirectly, in the upcoming elections.
The GNU faces a mountainous task of addressing the various issues important to both the LNA and the GNA while improving the day-to-day life of ordinary Libyans. However, within this long list of problems there are several issues that the GNU needs to focus on. Firstly, the post-2011 environment of corrupted elites, militiamen, a self-serving politicians will likely be the main spoiler of any political advancement. Indeed, the fight for positions of power within the new government and sovereign institutions such as the Central Bank of Libya, the Audit Bureau, and National Oil Corporation will continue to facilitate for corrupted officials to diversify their control by employing different legal and illegal factions to protect their seats in power. Thus, the government will be forced to resort to using some of these existing factions to allow the peace process to continue while focusing on their main goal of establishing elections by December 2021. However, even if the government opens its arms to current factions on the ground it will face hardships as some of these players could be eliminated from the power process, which could result in new alliances aiming to strain the government’s ability to achieve any progress.
Secondly, another important issue that threatens the elections is the referendum over the constitution. In the past, Libyan leadership has turned its backs on the constitution and balances of power. However, the Constitutional Committee, formed by the House of Representatives and the High Council of State, continues to bring hope by meeting with Egypt and agreeing to hold a constitutional referendum before the general elections on December 24th. This is a golden opportunity for the GNU to affirm in holding the referendum before the elections, enshrining the distribution of power and preventing potential violence in the future. The importance for the presence of a constitution during the election will allow full legitimacy to the party elected.
However, the opposing factions to the election will seek to disrupt both deliverables to ensure a backup plan if elections succeed. Therefore, the government should engage with the Constitutional Committee, the High Council of State and the UN Support Mission Libya (UNSMIL) to follow-up on the outcomes of the January meeting, strengthening the outcome of the Dec lections.
Thirdly, the issue of migration is a particularly important issue for the neighbouring EU - especially Italy, Malta and France. On February 5th, the International Organization for Migration tweeted that more than 1,000 refugees have recently departed from Libya’s shores, escaping “dire humanitarian conditions”. The EU needs to cooperate with the GNU to facilitate further strengthening of the Libyan National Coast Guards and provide sufficient support to the migrants held in detention centres while conducting campaigns to improve the standards of dealing with migrants by liaising with the responsible authorities in the GNU. From here, the GNU will have an opportunity to improve the relationship with its European neighbours and further its approval as a government of crisis. Although, the GNU will require coordination on the ground with existing authorities and ensure that small steps are taken to prepare the next government to work even further on this issue.
The fourth issue would be the people of Libya themselves. Libyans are struggling and have lost hope in the previous government. Scarce liquidity, the highest levels of corruption, widespread Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), high prices, scarce cooking gas and petrol, a lack of electricity, and many other issues burden the people of Libya. The GNU needs to focus on making small changes that will give some hope to Libyans. Unfortunately, previous governments promised huge dreams that are not reasonable to fulfil. Therefore, an ‘Approach of Crisis Mode’ should be taken in this transitional period that allows the government to address the issues mentioned by focusing teams of international and national consultants coordinating with international bodies that allow for a firmer implementation and reachable targets. Once small goals are accomplished the people can be assured of progress and with time, noticeable change will come.
To ensure a successful transition, and a stable, peaceful handling of power, the international community cannot stand as an observer. Therefore, the United Nation Security Council should commit and carefully advise those involved to control their influence and maintain discipline. Moreover, an optimistic new American administration is predicted to increase its presence in Libyan affairs and ensure the ceasefires continues throughout the whole process.
However, reports continue to surface that Russia, the UAE, Egypt, and Turkey still supply weapons and resources to conflicting parties. To this end, UNSMIL needs to keep an open eye on any violations in the upcoming months. The importance of swift actions against those who undermine any progress is crucial as this will inevitably occur at some stage in the lead up to elections. Therefore, UNSMIL should coordinate with the international actors involved in Libya and alleviate tensions to reach an agreement which would help the situation domestically. Unfortunately, if this is not handled in a firm manner, newly trained soldiers and a large number of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) at the hands of conflicting factions sponsored by multiple foreign actors will fuel another bloody war and further the suffering of all Libyans.
Libya today progresses through a difficult period that is crucial to rebuilding a sovereign state and making Libya a prosperous, stable and peaceful country. The challenges laid down ahead will either prove that Libyan political leadership is set for development, reconciliation and reintegration or another bloody scene of conflict. The GNU is fundamental to Libya’s future development and re-entrance to the world stage as a rich, untapped territory. However, only time will tell if the GNU is able to float and drive Libya and its people towards peace and harmony.
Alhareth is a Libyan Postgraduate student studying an MA in International Relations at the University of Birmingham. He is a youth advocate and a civil society activist. He is involved with several youth organisations from around Libya to push for change and peace through various means of social pressure.