By Pierre Gugenheim and Karan Kochhar
A sense of liberation and optimism had blossomed for the future, as Qaddafi’s death had officially ended a forty-two-year autocratic regime in Libya. The wake of Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings in the March 2011 ‘Libyan Spring’ had raised hopes of an exit of ‘the oldest autocracy of Africa’. Scores of people, exhausted from seven months of fighting, had come onto the streets expressing unfettered joy. The people of Libya had proclaimed that things can only get better now with Qaddafi out. However, six years down the line the situation is quite different from the expectations. The sense of liberation has now boiled down to rivalries over the country’s oil reserves. Competing rival groups have taken over the political structure, preventing any progress from taking place, and establishing a regime of chaos and heightened militancy.
In a bid to achieve consensus, two main factions met last week in Celle-Saint-Cloud to discuss solutions, backed by the French President Emmanuel Macron. Fayez al-Sarraj, Prime Minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), and General Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), agreed to implement a ceasefire and hold elections next year. Endorsing 2015 UN guidelines, the two ‘strongmen of Libya’ are working towards “national reconciliation process involving all the Libyans”. However, key issues of contentions such as control of oil reserves and scope of counter-terrorism were not expounded upon, indicating that agreement might be short-lived.
Incessant in-fighting forecasts gloom
Presently, there are two major warring political factions in Libya. The first one is the Presidential Council (PC), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Tripoli-based PC was formed in 2016, out of the UN-orchestrated Libyan Political Agreement. The second centre of power is the House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk. The 2015 UN deal also included the Government of National Accord (GNA), combining PC as the executive arm and HoR as the legislative body. The latter is seen as mostly inefficient, as it held only two quorate meetings throughout 2016, and rejected the PC proposed government line-up. The popularity of Haftar in Tobruk and the rest of eastern Libya also explains the HoR’s undermined legitimacy.
Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s capacities are also restricted. The call for new elections in 2018 implicitly recognised the inability of the al-Sarraj government to unite the different factions. Regional specialist Patrick Haimzadeh said that the agreement might have ambivalent effects, as it is based on the false assumption of a bipolar Libya.
Any form of a solution with General Khalifa Haftar would have to pass through the PC, which is composed of leaders of small, yet significant factions. Without any strong cohesion, the PC could disintegrate to form smaller governments exercising autonomy over their respective regions. The National Salvation Government’s leader, Khalifa Al-Ghwell, claimed, ‘”The power of Sarraj is illegal. As to Haftar, he is the leader of a criminal militia” The latter still has the ambition the conquer Tripoli and sends regular raids in the Tripolitaine region. Across the country, dozens of warlords and other influent actors claim a part of legitimacy.
The added threat of terror
Libya is a stage for several national and international protagonists. Apart from al-Sarraj, who enjoys the nominal support of certain militias in western Libya, the other eight members of the Presidential Council represent different factions. For instance, Deputy Abdessalam Kajman aligns himself with Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party, while deputy Musa al-Kuni represents south Libya’s regionalism. On an international perspective, Tobruk has the broad support from UAE, Egypt and Russia. The Government led by Prime Minister al-Sarraj has the backing of the United Nations and its affiliated members. GNC, for its part, has the endorsement of Turkey and Qatar.
At the Celle-Saint-Cloud meeting, Fayez al-Sarraj and General Khalifa Haftar shook hands and agreed to implement a cease fire. Both of them insisted that the only acceptable form of force would be counter-terrorism initiatives. However, with these many players, the question of what constitutes counter-terrorism was largely left under defined. ISIS and Al-Qaeda-related groups are still controlling Derna and large parts of the hinterland, making the porous trans-Saharan borders solid rear bases for Islamists. This vacuum left to terrorist formations is a blow to Libya, where the only positive development of Qaddafi’s reign was the ‘de-radicalization’ of Muslim movements.
What about the Oil?
After ousting Qaddafi, Libyans hoped that the new leadership would steer oil exports to pre-conflicts levels of 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd). The road to recovery was smooth with Libya reaching 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) in about a year. However, as the majority of the oil reserves and distributive networks were located in the eastern part of Libya, energy policies quickly became a high political stake. It has become a key argument between Tobruk and Tripoli.
The conflict resulted in an expansion of the Petroleum National Guard (PNG) to safeguard oil interests from Tobruk. In a sharp reaction to the expansion, Haftar led forces attacked and captured major oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider in September last year. Haftar’s Libyan National Army lost and regained control from Islamists Militias over these ports in a span of a couple of months earlier this year. The constant shifting of control of major oil ports has severely impacted the exports with production falling to just 500,000 barrels per day (bpd), denting Libya’s foremost source of revenue.
The historically low price in 2015 and the following stagnation have severely hit a poorly diversified economy. Though unification of National Oil Corporation was discussed during the meeting, the question over the control over the oil reserves still looms large.
Burdensome legacy, turbid horizon
The recent talks in Celle-Saint-Cloud, that concluded with a ten-points plan, are definitely an improvement compared to the national situation just one year ago when things could have ballooned into a civil war. However, the current Libyan political structure is a piecemeal government which lacks any form of cohesion. Qaddafi’s rule was based on the power of a single hand, without any balance in authority that has today resulted in the existence of unviable institutions incapable of holding steady power. General Haftar is, unfortunately, playing into this doomed legacy of the dead ‘King of Africa’.
The struggle for political power has turned into a battle of egos, where the only solution is a coalition government. However, the prospect of developing a functional integrative government remains mainly theoretical for now. Technical issues, such as the absence of a clear definition of ‘counter-terrorism’ or the non-ratification by Haftar and Sarraj of the 10-points plan, reveal the several limitations. If left unaddressed, these could lead to a quagmire-like situation, where fragmentation could breed the fertile ground for Islamist groups and warlords. Libya needs to snap out of its broken history and establish stability through compromises before it is too late.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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