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The Political Turmoil in Libya: Examining the Dual Governance Dilemma

The Political Turmoil in Libya: Examining the Dual Governance Dilemma The Political Turmoil in Libya: Examining the Dual Governance Dilemma
The Political Turmoil in Libya: Examining the Dual Governance Dilemma

Libya, a country that was once a beacon of hope in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, has descended into a state of political turmoil since 2015.

The root of this turmoil lies in the existence of two rival governments, each backed by different factions and operating in separate regions of the country. This dual governance dilemma has not only hindered the country’s progress but has also led to increased violence and a collapsing infrastructure.

The Political Turmoil in Libya: Examining the Dual Governance Dilemma
The Political Turmoil in Libya: Examining the Dual Governance Dilemma

The first government, known as the Government of National Unity, is based in Tripoli and is supported by Turkey, Qatar, Algeria, and Palestine. On the other hand, the second government, the Government of National Stability, is backed by the House of Representatives and the Libyan National Army and operates from the easternmost region of Cyrenaica, with its headquarters in Tobruk. These two governments emerged as a result of the conflict between the Libyan Dawn and Operation Dignity forces, which eventually agreed on a cease-fire in January 2015.

However, instead of bringing stability and unity to the country, the existence of these two governments has only exacerbated the political crisis. The rival factions have failed to effectively govern and restore order in Libya. The country’s infrastructure has been left in ruins, and the administration has collapsed, leaving the Libyan people to suffer the consequences of this political impasse.

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In the first few months following the establishment of the dual governance system, both governments faced numerous challenges. In March 2015, the prime minister in Tripoli, Omar al-Hassi, resigned amidst allegations of financial mismanagement. His successor, Khalifa al-Ghawil, also struggled to address the corruption and inefficiency that plagued the government. Similarly, in Tobruk, the prime minister Abdullah al-Thani raised concerns about corruption in his administration, further highlighting the lack of governance and accountability in both regions.

The Political Turmoil in Libya: Examining the Dual Governance Dilemma
Khalifa Haftar in a video released on 28 April 2020. LNA War Information Division/AFP

This dual governance dilemma has also had severe implications on the security situation in Libya. The power struggle between the factions supporting the rival governments has led to widespread violence and clashes, particularly in Benghazi. Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army, and Islamist forces have been engaged in a fierce battle for control of the city, further exacerbating the fragile security situation in the country.

The international community has been grappling with the challenge of addressing the dual governance dilemma in Libya. Efforts to reconcile the two governments and establish a unified administration have largely been unsuccessful. Various peace initiatives, including the Skhirat Agreement in 2015 and subsequent meetings in Geneva and Berlin, have failed to bring about lasting solutions. The lack of trust between the factions, coupled with the vested interests of external actors supporting the rival governments, has hindered progress towards a peaceful resolution.

In January 2015, both Libyan Dawn and Operation Dignity forces came to an agreement on a cease-fire, marking a significant development in the situation. Consequently, Libya found itself with two contrasting governments – one located in Tripoli and the other in Cyrenaica led by Khalifa Haftar and his army. The government under Haftar’s leadership was headquartered in Tobruk within the easternmost region. Simultaneously, Haftar’s forces engaged in clashes against Islamist groups in an attempt to gain control over Benghazi.

Regrettably, these dual administrations were plagued by inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Libya had suffered extensive damage to its infrastructure and witnessed the collapse of its administrative capabilities. At the end of March 2015, Omar al-Hassi resigned from his position as prime minister of Tripoli due to allegations of financial mismanagement. He was subsequently succeeded by Khalifa al-Ghawil. Around the same time, Abdullah al-Thani, who served as prime minister in Tobruk, expressed concerns about corruption prevailing within his government.

The incursion of the Islamic State (IS)

The Political Turmoil in Libya: Examining the Dual Governance Dilemma
The Political Turmoil in Libya: Examining the Dual Governance Dilemma

The incursion of the Islamic State (IS) into Libya was a direct result of the civil war that had been ravaging the country. As the governments in Syria and Iraq faltered, IS saw an opportunity to expand its influence in Libya. Local tribes and Islamist militias were recruited to support their cause, and Ansar al-Sharia pledged their loyalty to IS in exchange for funds. In October 2014, IS sent its own fighters from outside, and the city of Derna became the first IS province in Libya.

However, IS faced significant challenges in maintaining control over Derna. Other militias in the area opposed their presence, and the local population did not support them. In June 2015, a revolt broke out against IS, ultimately resulting in their expulsion from Derna in July.

Despite this setback, IS found greater success in the city of Sirte. They arrived in February 2015 and swiftly took control, extending their influence along the coastline. They also seized strategic assets such as an airbase, the Great Man-Made River irrigation scheme, and a power plant. In a show of force, they even attacked the neighbouring militia centre of Misrata and set fire to oil installations along the Gulf of Sirte.

IS did not simply establish a physical presence in Sirte; they also sought to exert social control over the population. They established their own police force and sharia courts, leading to a strict enforcement of their beliefs. Those deemed criminals were swiftly executed, and communication lines were tightly controlled. As part of their ideological agenda, IS militants destroyed Sufi shrines and launched a campaign against anyone they considered apostates. Any opposition or uprising against their rule was swiftly and brutally suppressed.

The Proposed Ceasefires

The Political Turmoil in Libya: Examining the Dual Governance Dilemma
The Political Turmoil in Libya: Examining the Dual Governance Dilemma

In the war-torn nation of Libya, the concept of a ceasefire has become a distant dream. For years, conflict and bloodshed have plagued the region, leaving countless lives shattered and a nation in ruins. However, amidst the chaos, there have been several proposed ceasefires in recent years, offering a glimmer of hope for peace and reconciliation.

One such proposed ceasefire took place in January 2020, when the United Nations rallied eleven countries, including France, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Egypt, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, to attend a conference with the goal of ending the fighting. In a rare display of unity, the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Haftar agreed to a ceasefire proposed by Russia and Turkey.

Unfortunately, this initial ceasefire was short-lived. Within a matter of months, it became evident that neither side was willing to risk defeat, and the fighting intensified once again. However, amidst the chaos, a shift in advantage began to occur, with the GNA regaining control of strategic locations such as the al-Watiya air base on the outskirts of Tripoli. This progress finally led to the lifting of the siege on Tripoli by the GNA in June, marking a significant turning point in the conflict.

By the end of June 2020, a de facto ceasefire had been established, as both sides seemed to be cautiously considering a path towards peaceful resolution. This fragile truce was further strengthened in October 2020 when it was formalised on paper, specifically along the frontline between Sirte and Al Jufrah in central Libya. The terms of this formal ceasefire included the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries, the reintegration of armed forces into a unified body, the establishment of a joint operations centre for police and security forces, and the reopening of land and air routes. Additionally, both sides agreed to an exchange of prisoners, showing a willingness to foster trust and cooperation.

The negotiators’ primary objective was to resume the flow of oil. To achieve this, they devised a plan to reopen the Ra’s Lanuf refinery and Es Sider oil terminal in the eastern region. On October 11th, oil pumping recommenced at the El Sharara oilfield in the southwest, which happened to be the largest field in the country.

These actions set the stage for addressing one of the most challenging issues: determining how national institutions like the Central Bank of Libya should be shared and how oil revenues should be distributed between the western and eastern regions of the country.


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