Instability in Libya

The recent violence in Libya’s capital that killed at least 16 people and left 52 wounded, shows how peace, stability and hopes for democracy still elude this large, petroleum-endowed country in Africa. The fighting began on the night of July 21 and extended to the next afternoon. One group, involved in this violence, the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, is loyal to Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s Government of National Unity, appointed last year as part of a United Nations-backed peace process while the other, the Al-Radaa force, is allied to the other Prime Minister, Fathi Bashagha, named in February by a parliament based in the country’s east that has been long controlled by general Haftar. Yet another group, known as the 444 Brigade, later intervened to end the fighting and deployed its forces in a buffer zone but even they had to face heavy fire. The violence the next day, also erupted in Misrata, Libya’s third largest city that is incidentally also the hometown of the two rival prime ministers. The resurgence of violence like this after the 2020 peace accord poses new obstacles to stability even eleven years after the Arab Spring.
This Spring in 2011, stirred a movement for democracy and human rights that morphed into a civil war as Gaddafi’s brutal tactics against the protesters led to the cruelties provoking a wider world condemnation and intervention. A wider resentment, outrage and action against the illicit entities, flared another civil war in 2014. Even its economic lifeline, the oil facilities, were controlled by various armed groups. The violence also impacted the turnout of the 2014 elections which were swept by the secular forces but made controversial by a court order favouring the Islamists. The winners, however, established their House of Representatives (HOR) in the East, at Tobruk, which was recognised by the international community as the Libyan Government. The two factions were, however, gradually persuaded to unite as a Government of National Accord (GNA) in December 2015. It was recognised by the UNO and in April 2016, its leaders entered the capital. The Islamist government in the west also entrusted its authority to it and all western regions were overtaken. It cemented the splinter Oil Council striving to restore the ramshackle oil terminals. Yet its relations with the Tobruk government that inherently contested its authority, remained rather strained. Its defiance is mostly rooted in the loyalty of General Haftar, a former Field Marshal of president Gaddafi. Known for some of his successful campaigns as well as failure and arrest in Chad incursions. He fled and lived in the US for twenty years but then returned yearning for a top slot in the post-Gaddafi turmoil.
He is also supported by various Arab governments like Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia. Even Russia and some western leaders want some significant role for him in the coveted government of united Libya. In April 2019, he even ventured to overtake the GNA government in Tripoli but was forced to retreat by the resistance of its units. Most analysts feel that his ambitions are the single most critical and potent hurdle to a single stable Libyan future. But despite this saga spawned by ambitions, feuds and tensions, the government propped by Haftar, in the East and the GNA at Tripoli, the UNO brought around a ceasefire in October 2020. Holding the first ever parliamentary elections ever since 1969 when they were scrubbed by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s take-over, were also agreed to be conducted on 24 December 2021 and the new Parliament was also mandated to revise the constitution. A High National Elections Commission (HNEC), was constituted to manage the contest and over five thousand candidates filed their nominations for them by 7 December 2021, set as the last date for enrolment. But barely three days before the polls, they were postponed for January, then to June and again to the end of the present year. These elections have been repeatedly shelved since February 2018 when they had been initially due.
The first-ever presidential elections have also been similarly tossed aside since 10 December 2018, for the concern and controversies about their constitutional basis and eligibility of the candidates, mostly the heavyweights like Haftar and Saif al Islam, a scion of Gaddafi. In 2019, they were shelved due to Haftar’s campaign in the west. Planned to be a prerequisite before the parliamentary contest, they are also still awaited. The recent wave of violence especially its spillover to Misrata or other regions thus could once again rock the UN efforts and strategies to usher peace, democracy and stability in Libya.

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