After a decade of war and division, Libya has made progress toward peace this year. In March, a Government of National Unity (GNU) was formed to unify the warring Western-based Government of National Accord and the Eastern-based authorities supported by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who commands forces known as the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (or Libyan National Army). The GNU is a provisional body meant to lead the country to long-delayed elections on December 24. While some progress has been made — a cease-fire agreement has been signed and the executive has been unified — many challenges remain. Chief among those challenges is developing a framework for national reconciliation and addressing the destabilizing role of foreign powers.
This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the uprising that overthrew the four-decade dictatorship of Muammar Qaddafi. In the intervening decade, Libya has been mired in conflict and political gridlock, exacerbated by competing power centers and longstanding tribal hostilities. What’s more, a host of foreign powers have entered the fray, looking to pursue their own interests rather than build a peaceful Libya. While there is momentum toward peace in recent months, Libyans will have to decide for themselves how to arrive at reconciliation and build a roadmap to get to a sustainable peace. But what does that look like?
Libyans have taken an uncertain step toward ending nearly a decade of civil war, agreeing in U.N.-mediated talks to hold national elections in December 2021. The discussions, in the neighboring capital, Tunis, fell short of yielding a transitional government to oversee the elections and the establishment of a new constitution. The talks are shortly to resume. From Tunis, USIP’s Nate Wilson notes that the step is positive for a country that began 2020 with a surge in warfare and the involvement of foreign forces. Making this peace effort effective will require restraining that foreign involvement, he says, and will need to ground the talks in grassroots support.
As global and regional players jockey for influence, international efforts to resolve the conflict remain stymied and ineffective. Meanwhile, Libya’s vast oil reserves—which provided a decent standard of living for many Libyans prior to 2011—have been under blockade, devasting the economy and livelihoods and leading to mounting frustration among Libyans. Further muddying the waters, the prime minister of the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj, announced he would step down in October and transfer power to a new administration.
Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar over a year ago launched his offensive to seize Libya’s capital, Tripoli, from the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). The battle for Tripoli had been at a stalemate for months until late May when hundreds of Russian military contractors, supporting Haftar’s Libya Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), retreated from fighting on the frontlines. The role of outside powers continues to drive Libya’s conflict, with Turkey, Egypt, the UAE, and Russia all heavily involved. Just yesterday, the U.N. mission in Libya said that the two sides agreed to resume cease-fire talks but did not say when these renewed talks would start.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic spread across the globe, Libya’s health system—like many of the country’s institutions—was in crisis. The country’s public health infrastructure has been neglected since the 2011 uprising and even before it was in need of a fundamental overhaul. On top of that, many of the foreign medics in Libya fled following the conflict in 2011 and have not returned.
Back in November 2019, the foreign minister of Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), Mohammed Syala, told USIP that the key to ending Libya’s civil war was the cessation of foreign involvement. Yet, despite international efforts, foreign interference—from Turkey to the UAE, from Russia to European states—has only deepened. What’s next for Libya’s civil war and how can the U.N. and European Union (EU) play a constructive role in bringing the conflict to a close? USIP’s Nate Wilson and Thomas Hill discuss the EU’s effort to enforce an arms embargo, the impact of the conflict on Libyan society, Turkey’s involvement in Libya and more.
Tags: Dialogue, Mediation & Negotiation Published: January 21, 2020 / By: Nate Wilson; Thomas M. Hill More than eight years since the death of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya remains in state of protracted conflict with rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk. Backed by the U.N., the Tripoli-based government has been at a stalemate with the eastern-based Libya Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) led Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, who launched an assault on Tripoli in April. Foreign backers have flooded into the country to advance their own interests—but this has only exacerbated the conflict. Over the weekend, a long-delayed conference in Berlin aimed to put Libya on a path to peace and end foreign interference. USIP’s Nate Wilson and Tom Hill explain what happened at the conference, how the U.S. fits into this picture and where Libya’s conflict goes from here.
On March 23, 2020, as COVID-19 was first appearing in many conflict-affected areas, UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a call for warring parties to cease hostilities and instead wage battle against the pandemic. Drawing on an examination of conflicts in Afghanistan, Colombia, Cameroon, Israel and Palestine, Libya, the Philippines, Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere—this report looks at how COVID-19 has affected conflict parties’ interests, positions, and capacities, and provides recommendation for how the international community leverage the pandemic to promote peace.
Factional violence and civil war have prevented Libya from transitioning to a secure, democratic government in the eight years since Qaddafi’s fall. But USIP’s Nathaniel Wilson says the path to peace still exists, and that “these kinds of generational revolutions take more time than that to play out.”