The election of the Libyan interim Government of National Unity (GNU), in January, under the supervision of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), and the approval of all disputing political factions in the country, brought hope that the political solution for Libya might really work. This was the first time, the Libyans came to an agreement, after six years of a brutal civil war (2014-2020) that claimed the lives of thousands, including innocent civilians, and created a tribal chaos that empowered terrorism and foreign interventions. Fast forward to our present day, the euphoria has diminished and Libya is on the brink of a new civil war that will undermine the entire political solution process.
The GNU is an interim government, that came to power with two difficult missions on its to-do list. The first mission is to unite Libya; eastern and western. The second mission is to hold general elections, on the 24th of December, that would set the foundation for a stable system of governance. The GNU, aided by UNSMIL and the international community, are exerting tremendous efforts to achieve the second mission of holding the elections on time, but very little is exerted on the first and most important mission to unite the Libyans.
GNU leaders are spending the majority of their time traveling and signing agreements with regional and European key players. That is important, despite the fact that GNU is an interim government and thus all the international agreements and protocols of cooperation that it signs are also temporary. Meanwhile, GNU is exerting a very little effort, on the domestic level, to establish a working mechanism of coexistence amongst disputed Libyan political groups. That is much more important than their international tours.
Last week, on the 20th of June, the Libyan National Army (LNA), commanded by General Khalifa Haftar, in Benghazi, blocked the border crossing between Libya and Algeria and declared it a military zone. GNU responded immediately by an official statement prohibiting the movement of military troops, whatever their affiliation is, without direct instructions from the central military command in Tripoli. The Tripoli-based army is commanded by GNU and receives training and ammunition from Turkey; while the Benghazi-based LNA receives support from Russia and France.
LNA’s unilateral move happened on the same hour the GNU Prime Minister announced the re-opening of the coastal road, as a sign on Libya’s unity. LNA has always opposed the opening of the coastal road because it means submitting to the GNU military and kicking the Russian mercenaries, who support LNA, out of the country. Unfortunately, the next day the GNU had to close the coastal road, once again to avoid clashing with LNA.
Two days later, on June 23rd, at the conclusion of the Berlin II Summit on Libya, GNU’s Foreign Minister mentioned that the foreign troops and mercenaries, either affiliated to Russia or Turkey, will start to gradually depart from Libya, in the following days. Yet, one week has passed since then, and no one left. On the contrary, the security situation is getting worse. Earlier this week, on June 26th, clashes erupted between two tribes in Benghazi, leaving at least five people killed. The militia elements and the weapons used in these clashes brought to mind the notorious battle of Benghazi, that erupted in 2014, and continued during the first three years of the second Libyan civil war.
In that sense, the GNU needs to re-evaluate its achievements in contrast to its assigned priority missions. Unifying western and eastern Libya must be accomplished before continuing with the preparation for the general elections, in December. In particular, the lack of unity among the Libyan military troops in eastern and western Libya poses a huge threat to the entire political process. The continuity of the military division justifies the continued presence of foreign military troops and mercenaries, and complicates the process of disassembling local militia. Ironically, the international community keeps calling for removing foreign troops and mercenaries from Libya, rather than focusing on ending the division of the Libyan military forces, which is the only reason why foreign troops can continue to exist on the Libyan soil.
That is not pessimism; that is logic. Elections need a secure environment to produce enduring results that can truly save Libya. The only way to create this secure environment is by unifying the eastern and western militaries, before it is too late.
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