Is time ripe for a UN-brokered peace deal in Libya?

Is time ripe for a UN-brokered peace deal in Libya?

Four years after the removal of Gadhafi from power, Libya is still struggling with two competing governments, violence, and instability. A UN-brokered peace deal could be struck in late October.

It has been four years since the revolutionary wave, commonly known as the Arab Spring, erupted in Tunisia with the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi.

The Tunisian Jasmine revolution was the first of many revolutions that swept across the region, passing through Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria.

Looking at the case of Libya, armed protests led to the overthrow of former authoritarian President Colonel Muammar Gadhafi. Four years on, Libya is torn between two governments, dozens of militias, and hundreds of armed groups.

What was supposed to become a democratic country under the rule of law turned into political chaos under the rule of approximately 1,700 militias and armed groups, including fighters loyal to the self-declared Islamic State.

The Libyan government has been incapable of maintaining order and rebuilding state institutions amidst escalating violence since the overthrow and consequent death of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi. The Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) fought to consolidate legitimacy after replacing the General National Congress (GNC) in 2014, but has been facing unceasing opposition from multiple fronts.

In September 2014, Operation Dignity was launched with the aim to attack Islamist militant groups in Benghazi, and call for the termination of the GNC. To counter this revolutionary movement, an alliance of militias and Islamists created Operation Dawn.

This in turn gave rise to the contemporary conflict between the Dawn coalition, which controls Tripoli and much of Western Libya, and the Dignity coalition, which controls parts of Cyrenaica and Benghazi.

Each coalition has its own self-declared government, parliament, and military chiefs. With two opposing coalitions at the heart of the government, jihadists affiliated with Ansar al-Sharia and the self-declared Islamic State took advantage of the prevalent political instability, aggregated their presence, and further escalated insecurity.

Comprehending the post-revolutionary political landscape in Libya is key to understanding recent events, and analysing the prospects of the UN-brokered peace plan.

At the security level, the situation looks bleak. Over the last three weeks, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for three minor bomb attacks in Tripoli, tribal clashes have erupted again in Kufrah, and a new Operation Doom was declared in Benghazi, aiming to support the Dignity coalition in their bid to finally liberate what remains of the central and south-eastern quarters of the city.

At the political level, the HoR withdrew its delegation from talks aimed at producing a government uniting the secularist and Islamist coalitions. The reason behind the withdrawal was that the HoR did not accept the latest demands of the GNC to amend the fifth Draft Agreement on Political Transition in Libya, as proposed by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

First, the HoR rejected the GNC’s proposal of a 120-seat upper house, known as the State Council, to which the GNC would have 90 members. Second, the HoR rejected the removal of the Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan National Army General Haftar and his Chief of Staff Abdul Razzak Nazhuri in return for GNC militias’ support for a deal.

The removal of these two key figures has serious repercussions on the unison of the House of Representatives, particularly because Haftar has been the driving force behind the union of the Eastern, pro-secular, militias into the army’s command structure, and behind fighting hardline Islamists, including the affiliates of the Islamic State in Benghazi.

With all these issues in mind, what will a UN-brokered peace deal signify?

On the one hand, the deal is likely to result in an unwieldly political structure that will make it difficult to make central decisions, thus delaying legislation. More importantly, even with a negotiated deal, the new Libyan constitution still needs to be presented and accepted.

On the other hand, the creation of a National Unity Government, as proposed by the UNSMIL, is an important step in the right direction. This will make the political landscape more conducive to international support for institution-building and security sector reform in Libya; specifically, in securing facilities in the fight against the Islamic State.

Will a deal be struck? October 21st is the date to find out.

About Author

Leen Aghabi

Leen is a Human Security Research Fellow at the WANA Institute; a policy think tank headquartered at the Royal Palaces in Jordan. Prior to that, Leen completed an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics (LSE). Leen's views are her own. Follow her on Twitter @LeenAghabi.