Karen Dabrowska

Libya Herald

Originally published: 11th March 2021

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Libya experts identify challenges for
Government of National Unity

CAABU Council for Arab British Understanding

Three Libya experts identified the challenges for the Government of National Unity (GNU) at an international zoom conference: Ten Year’s On, Libya’s Uprising Revisited hosted by the London-based Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) on March 9.

The first speaker Hala Bugaighis co-founder of the first Libyan think tank the Jusoor Centre for Studies and Development said that the new government appointed through the peace process is going through a tough time with cabinet formation. “The prime minister designate adopted a strategy to share government positions with different groups: tribal groups, militias, political actors and so on. He did this to gain loyalties and avoid any disruption to the vote of confidence. But this form of settlement and negotiation also means compromising the national best interest.”

Bugaighis described how many of the interest groups were putting pressure on the government and suggested different scenarios to serve their own interests. “All of this is backlashing and is having a negative effect on what is meant to be a trust building phase and reconciliation process. Each of these actors will start to demand a share in government projects, government contracts, appointments to embassies and so on.”

Turning to the elections scheduled for December 2021 Buhaighis said the new government was appointed for completing the election process. “There is a general agreement that the referendum on the draft constitutional should be held before the elections. According to the election commission the referendum will not be possible before six months. It is unlikely the first draft will be accepted and it will be returned to a constitutional commission for redrafting and a second vote. If the elections are held before the referendum it will show a lack of trust of the democratic process in Libya.

“The head of the state council stated that the GNU may prolong its term for two years before holding national elections. Taking this and other challenges into account there is a high likelihood that the elections will not be held by the end of the year.”

Bugaighis concluded that the government should focus on areas defined in the road map prepared by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya like elections, public services and economic recovery. “They need to work with a transparent public procurement process this will help to counteract any blackmailing that is going on at the moment from the different spoilers on the ground.”

Emadeddin Badi a nonresident senior fellow with the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Atlantic Council spoke about the relationship between security and economic reform pointing out that is ironical that despite all the violence that was unleased as part of the revolution Libya kept the institutional architecture of the Qadhafi system. “Most of the contours of the Jamahiriya were preserved except that Qadhafi’s monopoly on violence devolved to local militias. This brought about various forms of hybrid security across the country.”

Badi believes that keeping Qadhafi’s institutional economic system and hoping that by establishing patronage networks and bringing armed groups under the state would restore the state’s monopoly on violence proved to be a non sustainable and really dysfunctional arrangement. “On the one hand you had an ideological battle of the governance blueprint between revolutionary and counter revolutionary forces world wide – not just within the Libya and that was conducive to the emergence of a foreign-sponsored, authoritarian leaning security architecture which was familiar because that is the way it operated under Qadhafi. If the institutional and economic side of things is not addressed there will be a re-emergence of that blueprint,” Badi said.

“Viewing security sector reform as a by product of the peace deal is a very blinkered view. If economic overhaul is not accompanied by security sector reforms armed groups will reconfigure themselves and reinvent themselves and continue to do what they have been doing.”

Badi concluded that the current ceasefire is sustained by the perception that the cost of relaunching the war is perceived as to high. “It is expected that the new government will accommodate all the local factions and all the foreign interveners. That is a huge endeavor – Qadhafi could not do it. The next three months are going to be critical in terms of seeing whether this arrangement will be semi sustainable. If the system proves sustainable with the forthcoming elections no one will want to disturb it either domestically or internationally. Ultimately it will be the Libyan people who will lose out if their country is not restored.”

Mary Fitzgerald an associate fellow at The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College in London said the question now is what the external backers of the various Libyan factions will do. “Everyone is being positive, at least in public statements, about the UN peace process and the possible new government. The external power brokers are watching and waiting to see if this incoming dispensation will serve their interests.”

Fitzgerald said no one is going to make a move while the new government is coming together. “It is what happens after that is important and the question of whether the incoming government will be allowed the breathing space to establish itself and deliver on its short mandate of nine months leading up to elections. Another concern is that foreign states pay lip service to various dialogue processes while doing something different on the ground. The January deadline for the departure of all foreign mercenaries passed with little evidence that many of them had actually left. If the key meddlers in Libya feel that the incoming government doesn’t suit their interests what are they going to do?”

Fitzgerald identified a positive development in the role of the US which no longer backs General Haftar. “We now have people in the administration in Washington who know about Libya are informed about Libya and in many cases care about Libya which was not the case under the Trump administration.”