SIM REPORT: North Africa, ISSUE 3
Libya: Positive developments as GNA head aims to hand over power by late October, though road to peace remains fraught
Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, who heads Libya’s United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, said Wednesday night (16 September) that he wants to hand over power to a new administration by the end of October.
His statement comes amid increased efforts toward peace talks aimed at ending the country’s conflict between militias linked to the GNA in the west and those linked to renegade Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in the east. An inter-Libyan dialogue was held in the coastal Moroccan city of Bouznika from 6 to 10 September, bringing rival parties together in an event that, according to Sarraj, has ‘laid the groundwork for a new process for the unification of state institutions and holding parliamentary and presidential elections’. During the talks, delegates from the rival camps reportedly agreed on a preliminary deal that aims to guide the country towards elections within 18 months and demilitarise the city of Sirte, strategically located in the middle of Libya's Mediterranean coast and close to major oil fields and export terminals.
Another positive development was announced on 16 September, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu saying Turkey and Russia have moved closer to an agreement on a ceasefire and political cooperation in Libya during their latest meetings in Ankara. Ankara and Moscow are the main power brokers in Libya’s conflict, with Russia backing LNA forces under Haftar and Turkey backing the GNA. An agreement between the two would significantly de-escalate battlefield tensions. It is worth noting that previous ceasefires have taken place; in March, Turkey and Russia agreed to halt hostilities, with both sides saying violations have since occurred. The GNA declared a ceasefire in August which was rejected by Haftar who accused the GNA of planning a Turkish-backed offensive in Sirte. A Turkey-Russia ceasefire would likely reassure Haftar, though he is likely to continue to resist any truce if he suspects his interests are being side-lined in the negotiations
It is worth noting that these developments come amid an increase in anti-government sentiment in the country that has the potential to derail any positive momentum. The Tobruk-based interim government allied with Haftar resigned on 13 August amid street protests against service delivery failures, worsening living conditions, rampant corruption, and mis-governance in eastern urban centres including Benghazi, Marj and Bayda. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani submitted the resignation of his government to HoR speaker Saleh; HoR lawmakers will review the resignation of al-Thani's government, which is not internationally recognised, in their next meeting. No date has been set for the session.
The government’s tender of resignation was likely an attempt to appease the protesters and return a calm to the region. However, the poor living conditions are likely to remain a feature of life for the medium-long term outlook. Even if a political resolution is eventually agreed upon, the process will likely be long and arduous due to frequent interruptions by the various militia and mercenary groups who are fighting for their own interests or the interests of other countries. Indeed, in addition to the protests in the east, similar demonstrations have taken place in recent weeks over power cuts and corruption in Tripoli and other cities in the west, suggesting a growing appetite for anti-government activity.
Should al-Sarraj hand power to a new administration in October as vowed, a resurgence of infighting could break out among senior GNA figures as well as between armed groups based in Tripoli and the nearby coastal city of Misrata, which would lead to further insecurity and greater anti-government sentiment. In the coming six-week period, operations managers should monitor the situation for updates regarding an agreement on a new administration while expecting continued militia clashes and anti-government unrest that will undermine this process and contribute to instability and insecurity on the ground.
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