By Alhareth Elshibani
A turbulent period ascends over the Government of National Unity (GNU) of Libya. The newly elected government blossomed after a successful UN-sponsored led initiative that ended up in February 2021 with a new transitional government that aims mainly to hold elections in December 2021. GNU brings new hope to all Libyans, after a fierce war that was launched in April 2019 in Tripoli, over the control of Libya between The Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez Al-sarraj as the Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by the General Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan-American general and the commander of the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army. The war caused many suffering to all Libyans, according to the United Nations statistics in April 2020 it is estimated that more than 149,000 people were forced to leave their homes. Moreover, facilitated international actors to step up their influence and actions and use Libya as a proxy war for their own national interests.
The new leadership compromising of Abdul Hamid al-Dabaib as prime minister, Mohamed Al-Manfi as the president of the Libyan Presidential Council, with Musa al-Koni and Abdallah al-Lafi as deputies, has a hard task of lifting the weight of national issues, of weakening infrastructure, raised poverty levels, inflation, fighting corruption and ensuring a peaceful transition to election. Thus, the new leaders took calculated steps to start their government by visiting both Tripoli and Benghazi to send a message of unity and progress. In fact, visits to Turkey and Egypt were accomplished just recently. Mr Abdul hamid’s history allows him to serve this period perfectly as he has worked with the Gaddafi regime and was within close distance of Ghaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam in his ambitious project of Libya Algad. Abdul hamid has promised Libyan’s to alleviate their suffering and provide them their dignity. Thus, a lot of Libyans, specially the youth, are hoping good in this new government, as they are tired of the existing faces in power that caused Libya even more issues. However, the disagreed factions are still looming around, with hopes to be involved directly or indirectly, to secure a position of power in the next upcoming elections.
The GNU has an important role to take on board the issues that has been floating across both governments and its mission to alleviate the suffering of the day to day life of Libyans is an essential criteria to accomplish. However, within the list of problems there are several issues that the GNU needs to focus on. Firstly, the difficulty to function within the environment that has been created since 2011 revolution, as the corrupted elites, militiamen, politicians will be the main spoilers of any advancement the government will make. Moreover, the fight for positions within the new government and sovereign institution 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 the existing factions to allow the government processes to continue and focus on their main goal of having elections by Dec 2021. However, even if the government opens its arms to work with the current factions on the ground it will be faced by hardships as some of the main players could face elimination from power position, which could result in new alliances being made by those eliminated to strain the government’s ability to do any progress on the ground.
Secondly, another important issue that threatens the elections is the referendum over the constitution. Libyan leadership in the last years have turned their backs on the constitution and were not interested to implement it, to continue the unbalanced relationship and have no real core to a national solution that govern how power is distributed and exercised. Although, the Constitutional Committee formed by the House of Representatives and the High Council of State continues to bring hope by meeting between 19-20 January in Hurghada, The Arab Republic of Egypt, and agreeing to hold a constitutional referendum before the general elections on December 24th. Therefore, this is a golden opportunity for the GNU to affirm in holding the referendum before the elections as the later if not held could result in a similar circle of violent events created after 2015. The importance for the presence of a constitution during the election will allow full legitimacy to the party elected in power. However, the opposing factions to the election will try to work to mess both deliverables to ensure a backup plan if elections succeed. Therefore, the Unity government should engage with the constitutional committee, the high council of state and the UNSMIL to follow-up on the outcomes of the January meeting, strengthening the outcome of the Dec elections.
Thirdly, the issue of migration, which is an important for the EU, specially Italy, Malta and France. Just on the 5th of February, the International Organization for Migration’s Libya branch tweeted that more than 1,000 refugees have recently departed from Libya’s shores, escaping “dire humanitarian conditions”. EU need 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 centers and conduct campaign to improve standards of dealing with migrants and liaise with the responsible authorities in the GNU. Thus, the GNU will have an opportunity to use this card towards improving its relationship with the EU to further its approval as a government of crisis. Although, the GNU will require to coordinate on the ground with existing authorities and ensure that small steps are taken to prepare the ground for the next government to work even further on this issue.
The fourth issue would be the people of Libya. Libyans are struggling and have lost hope in all the previous government, liquidity is scarce, corruption is at its highest, IDP’s are all over the place, prices are going up, cooking gas and car petrol are hard to reach for, deficiency in electricity across the state and many more issues that burdens the people of Libya. The GNU needs to focus on making small changes that will give some hope to the Libyans. Unfortunately, previous governments resorted in promising the Libyans huge dreams that are not reasonable to fulfill. Therefore, an approach of crisis mode should be taken in this transitional period that allows the government to function throughout the multiple issues mentioned by focusing teams of international and national consultants with coordination of international IGOs and bodies to allow for a firmer implementation and tangible targets. Meanwhile, once small goals are accomplished the people can be assured that there is progress and with time, change will occur.
To ensure a successful transition, a stable, and peaceful handling of power, the international community cannot stand as an observer, to ensure that Libya do not return to the point of conflict. This has never been as important as before. Therefore, the United Nation Security Council should commit, carefully advise, and warn those involved in the Libyan situation to control their influence and maintain discipline. Moreover, an optimistic new American administration represented by Joe Biden, is predicted to increase its presence in the Libyan affairs and ensure that stability and ceasefire continues throughout the whole process. Meanwhile, the Russian, UAE, Egyptian and Turkish involvement has not seen any reduction as reports continue to surface that weapons and supplies are being delivered to parties in conflict. Moreover, the United Nation’s Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) needs to have an open eye to any violations or spoiling occurring in the next coming months. The importance of swift actions against those who undermine any progress is crucial in the next months as this will inevitably occur at some stage to reach for elections. Therefore, the UNSMIL should coordinate with the international actors involved in Libya and loosen tensions in between to reach to a ground of agreement internationally which would help the situation domestically. Unfortunately, if this is not taken in firm matter, an army arsenal, newly trained soldiers, a large number of unmanned aircrafts, at the hands of the current conflicting factions, sponsored by multiple foreign actors directly and indirectly will fuel another bloody war and further the suffering of all Libyans.
Libya today progresses into a difficult period that is crucial to build the remains of a sovereign state, with a unity government elected with high hopes to accelerate this process and help make Libya a prosperous, stable and peaceful country. The challenges laid down ahead will either prove that the Libyan political leadership are ready for a period of development, reconciliation and reintegration or they are facilitating another bloody scene ahead. The GNUs role can be the most important role to Libya’s future development and reentrance to the world stage as a rich, untapped territory. However, time will only prove either the GNU was able to float and drive Libya and its people towards peace and harmony or sink the whole ship and accept the painful reality of another bloody war.
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 from around Libya to push for change and peace through various means of social pressure.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect those of The Libya Observer