New horrors in Libya

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial
Wednesday 31 Aug 2022

The latest round of violent clashes in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Saturday is the most serious in two years.


Killing 32 and wounding 160, mostly civilians, the warring militias did not even spare hospitals in their effort to control more territory, hoping this will improve their future negotiating power. With the ongoing stalemate, failure to hold elections or appoint an interim government, it is the Libyan people that continue to pay the price, however.

As soon as the fighting broke out, Egypt called on all Libyan parties, national and social forces to end escalation, prioritise dialogue and avoid violence. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry appealed all Libyan parties to exercise restraint in order to spare bloodshed, and emphasised the urgent need to protect civilians, achieve calm, and preserve the safety and security of the people. The statement confirmed that Egypt has been keen to reach a consensual solution to meet the aspirations of Libyans and realise a vision to reach the desired stability in Libya.

At the moment the fighting in Tripoli has subsided, but fears remain that a major new conflict might break out if the key Libyan parties continued to place their personal interests first, ignoring serious efforts by Egypt and the United Nations to set a clear roadmap to meet the urgent needs of the Libyan people.

The Government of National Unity led by Prime Minister Abdel-Hamid Dbeibah cannot continue to argue that it will only hand over power to an elected government knowing that no parliament or presidential elections are likely to be held any time soon. When Dbeibah was named prime minister after the UN-brokered ceasefire in October 2020, one clear commitment he made was that his main mission would be to work towards conditions in which presidential and parliamentary elections could be held by December 2021. Equally important, he declared he would not be a candidate in the proposed elections.

Unfortunately, Dbeibah failed on both fronts. No elections were held in December, and he broke his promise by announcing he would be running for president. Worse, he used the year he spent as prime minister to build his own constituency, showering Libya’s oil revenues on his supporters. Thus, the only legitimate body in Libya elected directly by the people in 2014, the House of Representatives, opted to appoint a new prime minister who is no stranger to Tripoli or to Libyan politics since 2011, former interior minister Fathi Bashagha.

Since his appointment in February, Bashagha made several peaceful attempts to assume his post as premier in Tripoli. Those attempts failed, however, and he adhered to a pledge he made not to enter Tripoli by force. Clashes among militias in Tripoli are not new, and cannot be blamed on the current dispute between Bashagha and Dbeibah or the failure to hold elections.

The real problem lies in the interference of regional powers that have no right to be in Libya in the first place. Turkey, known for its support of political Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, has been a key obstacle to reaching a settlement or forming an interim government that would help restore the country’s unity and territorial integrity, ignoring the fact that one of the key conditions of the ceasefire agreement reached a year ago was the withdrawal of all foreign troops and mercenaries. Observers confirmed that Turkish troops, using the cover of “advisers”, played a key role in the latest round of fighting in Tripoli.

Until conditions allow elections to be held, the Libyan people need and deserve a functioning government that has a chance to reunite the country and its key institutions, namely the army and the national oil production. This requires the support of the many regional and international parties involved in Libya in ongoing military and constitutional talks among Libyans in both Cairo and Geneva.

The key condition to make this dialogue successful is a commitment by all Libyans not to use force to resolve their differences. They should also commit to protect civilians and refrain from taking any actions that could escalate tensions and deepen divisions. The current political stalemate and all aspects of the crisis afflicting Libya cannot be resolved through armed confrontation. These issues can only be resolved by the Libyan people exercising their right to choose their own leaders.

Nobody is in a better position to reflect the will of the people than the House of Representatives, which managed to come up with a candidate who has all the right credentials to lead Libya in the coming stage. But Turkish opposition to this attempt to bring relative stability to the country and prepare the constitutional and legal grounds to hold elections is currently the key obstacle.

Libyan leaders have a clear responsibility towards their fellow citizens and future generations to make the necessary historical compromises to enable the required breakthroughs. The House of Representatives and the High Council of State, with UN backing, should immediately resume serious consideration and review of the constitutional proposal, approving critical elements, safeguards and guardrails that are indispensable for holding national elections and thereby ending the endless cycle of transitions and interim periods.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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