Libya – The Impacts of the Ceasefire on Libyan Politics

Libya – The Impacts of the Ceasefire on Libyan Politics

On 21 August 2020, the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli and its rival administration controlling Eastern Libya announced their commitment to a ceasefire and to finding a political solution to the conflict that has ravaged the country since 2011. So far, the truce has been successful in preventing further violence. However, it has opened the door to political infighting within both parties which could compromise the overall inter-Libyan dialogue. 

A lasting ceasefire 

As of early October, the ceasefire agreement signed by the GNA and the administration affiliated to the Libyan National Army on 21 August has been largely successful, despite incidents involving pro-Haftar militias in Sirte. This truce definitely constitutes a step forward since it was, for once, willingly coordinated by the two rival parties rather than unilaterally declared or imposed by external actors. 

Beyond interrupting the bloodshed, the ceasefire has also enabled a constructive political dialogue. During a round of consultations held in Montreux, Switzerland, on 7-9 September, key Libyan stakeholders and members of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) agreed on a road map for a comprehensive political solution to the conflict. This includes holding new presidential and parliamentary elections within 18 months. In parallel, members of the GNA and the House of Representatives based in Tobruk held talks in Morocco and reached an agreement on criteria regarding the allocation of key positions in Libyan institutions. 

Last but not least, as a result of the truce and the lifting of the blockade imposed since January by the LNA, the country’s oil production is on the rise and exports are set to restart

Redistribution of power and internal struggles 

An unexpected side effect of the ceasefire has been to redistribute power within the Western and Eastern governments, fuelling  political infighting. 

On the GNA’s side, tensions emerged rapidly due to corruption allegations, financial integrity issues and militias. Following large popular demonstrations denouncing  corruption and poor services in the west of the country, the GNA’s Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, briefly suspended his  Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, because the latter supported the protesters. Sarraj’s announcement on 16 September that he would resign by the end of the following month fragmented the GNA further. Internal rivalries were truly exposed in broad light as three contenders started competing to replace him: Bashagha, Ahmed Maiteeq – Vice President of the GNA– and Khalid al-Mishri – Chairman of the High Council of State. 

In the eastern part of the country, the power shift is more subtle, but its consequences are equally significant. Khalifa Haftar, the head of the LNA, appears to be on a descending trajectory while Aguila Saleh, President of the House of Representatives in Tobruk, is on his way to become the new figurehead of the eastern bloc. Haftar had already suffered a blow in June, as his 14-month offensive on Tripoli was pushed back. The ceasefire further reduced Haftar’s power and enabled Saleh’s rise in two ways. First, Saleh was the one to sign the ceasefire agreement on behalf of the eastern administration, alongside Sarraj. Then, the ceasefire provoked a shift in the conflict dynamics from military action to political dialogue. In this new context, Saleh is more suitable, as a politician, to take the lead on what is coming next. The EU’s decision to drop sanctions against him also clears his path to power, since it signals that he is now an acceptable interlocutor in the peace process. 

As a result of the ceasefire, both coalitions are thus highly unstable due to internal power shifts. 

What’s next for Libya? 

Although the situation in Libya is moving away from open hostilities and towards a political process, the situation remains uncertain. 

First of all, the outcome of the GNA’s internal power struggle has the potential to facilitate or negatively impact the inter-Libyan dialogue. The process is most likely to lead to a promising outcome if either Maiteeq or Mishri were appointed to replace Sarraj. Indeed, the two men have managed to maintain ties not only with Turkey, the GNA’s main international ally, but also with Russia, which supports the LNA. Moreover, Maiteeq negotiated the end of the LNA-imposed oil blockade directly with Haftar’s son in Moscow, while Mishri declared in early September that he was ready to meet with Haftar himself. As a result, the political dialogue between Tripoli and the eastern bloc is most likely to succeed if one of them becomes the head of the GNA. On the contrary, a return to violence is possible if Bashagha lands the position. The GNA’s Interior Minister is indeed known for his preference for military options and his power base is largely constituted of militias from Misrata. However, this could only happen with Turkey’s consent. . 

It is also worth noting that Sarraj made his resignation conditional upon an agreement over a new government being negotiated before the end of October. Without one, it is highly likely that he will stay in power. If he does, the process will benefit from leadership continuity on the GNA’s side and from Sarraj’s reputation as an acceptable interlocutor among some eastern factions, their foreign allies and other international players. 

Finally, the current multiplication of negotiation platforms between the two sides is likely to compromise the overall inter-Libyan dialogue. Indeed, consultations and conferences led by different foreign or Libyan actors every time have recently been held in Switzerland, Morocco, Egypt and Germany. While it signals a willingness to find a political solution, this further reinforces internal power struggles and confuses the dialogue between the warring sides. 

Despite those concerns, the permanent and countrywide cease-fire signed by the GNA and the LNA on 23 October seems to indicate that Libya is on the right track to reach a full peace deal. 

Categories: Africa, Security

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