The Libyan political crisis is escalating, with two competing governments, an ongoing struggle for “wealth and power” between East and West, and a failure to agree on an orderly framework for elections.
In a new episode of the Libyan internal division series, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya revealed, on Monday, “the failure of the Libyan parties to agree on the constitutional framework regulating the elections,” calling for a new meeting within 10 days to resolve the contentious points.
On Sunday, the Libyan parties concluded their discussions on the constitutional track in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and it was expected that a final agreement would be announced in the third and final round of talks, which did not happen.
The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Libya, Stephanie Williams, affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to “support all Libyan efforts to end the prolonged transitional stages and the instability that has affected the country,” according to “AFP”.
Consequences of ‘protracted conflict’
Libya suffers from a “long-term conflict”, in light of a “political stalemate in the country”, which raises experts’ fears of future negative repercussions, according to a report by the United States Institute of Peace.
Therefore, the Libyan political analyst, Hamad Al-Maliki, asserts that the real challenge is related to the “prolongation of the crisis”, which may cause a new military escalation, considering that the Russian invasion of Ukraine “casts a shadow over Libya.”
Speaking to the media, he warned against Libya turning into a new theater for settling scores between Russia and the West, and at that time the Libyan citizen would become “just a stuffing of defenders for these forces,” as he put it.
Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, the country has witnessed an ongoing struggle for power, and the division is exacerbated by the presence of two governments, the first in Tripoli, which came according to a political agreement a year and a half ago headed by Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh.
As for the parallel government headed by Fathi Bashagha, which was appointed by Parliament last February and granted it confidence in March, it is based in Sirte (central) Libya.
And during the past month, Bashagha, with the support of Parliament and Army Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, made a failed attempt to seize power in Tripoli, and that attempt caused a battle inside the capital, which led to deaths and injuries.
Militias and foreign powers
According to the Washington Post, the conflict has devastated the oil-rich country, splitting the country between two governments, each backed by armed militias and foreign governments.
Commenting on this, Professor of International Law and Libyan Political Analyst, Muhammad Al-Zubaidi, points out that “militias” are the password in the Libyan division, considering the crisis “primarily a security one.”
Speaking to the media, he said that if the militias unite and reach an understanding, they “steal wealth,” and if they fight and fight, “they destroy the country,” as he put it.
The last major round of conflict in Libya ended in 2020, and many Libyans fear that the “current political confrontation” will lead to the “eruption of a new civil war”.
The researcher specializing in Libyan affairs, Abdel Sattar Hatita, believes that the military escalation and the return to “civil war” is a difficult but “possible” scenario.
In statements to the media, he indicated that “many countries in the region, including the United States, are seeking to give precedence to a “political solution over any possible military solution.”
In statements to “Reuters”, Friday, Bashagha denied “igniting the political impasse in a new war,” adding, “There will be no movement of force from east to west or west to east.”
Bashagha spoke of “the Turkish forces that came to Libya during the era of the former internationally-backed Tripoli government,” in which he was the Minister of the Interior, and that helped repel a 14-month attack launched by the eastern Libyan forces led by Haftar.
Al-Zubaidi warns of the consequences of a “military escalation” because Libya will then turn into an “international conflict arena.”
Military confrontations will not be limited to “a war between the Libyan army led by Haftar, and between armed groups and militias in western Libya,” as there are “international forces” standing behind the two governments, according to Al-Zubaidi.
Struggle for power and money
Since April, groups in eastern Libya have closed several oil facilities to demand Bashagha’s control of power in the capital, impeding a large part of Libyan crude production and putting new pressures on “international energy prices,” according to “Reuters”.
The Libyan parliament approved a budget of 90 billion dinars, equivalent to $18.6 billion, for the Bashagha government, but the Central Bank of Libya has so far been working with the “Tripoli government”, and it has not shown any public indication that it will hand over the money.
Al-Zubaidi talks about the “systematic looting of the Libyans’ wealth” and the disruption of “future development plans”, which led to the destruction of “the country’s capabilities,” as he put it.
As for Al-Maliki, he says that the crisis centers on a struggle over “power and money”, and it is also related to “the nature of the state and the shape of the political system.”
History of “Libya Distinguished”
For a period of time, all attempts to establish a legitimate government failed because it ignored Libya’s “distinguished history,” according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal.
The Kingdom of Libya was established in 1951, and for 18 years, Libya was a well-developed parliamentary democracy, but in 1969, the fledgling democracy in Libya was overthrown, after Gaddafi’s coup and the abolition of the monarchy in the country, according to the “Wall Street Journal.”
Therefore, the current split between the Dabaiba and Bashagha governments is “expected”, because all political dialogues talk about “power-sharing”, and the historical roots of the crisis have not been touched, according to Al-Maliki.
According to Al-Maliki, the crisis is “rooted historical”, as a result of the abolition of the “federal system” in 1963, which caused an escalation of the crisis inside the country, until it came to an “armed revolution” against the centralization of the “Gaddafi regime” in 2011.
The “government in Tripoli” is trying to follow Gaddafi’s approach in ruling the three regions of Libya, “Curca, Tripoli and Fezzan”, centrally and without returning to the federal system, which deepens the crisis, according to Al-Maliki’s opinion.
But the current division is not limited to the Dabaiba and Bashagha governments, as it also includes the two governments on the one hand, and the followers of the Gaddafi regime on the other, according to Hatita.
Hatita says that the first front receives international and regional attention and care, while the second front, represented by the former regime, is still shunned by the international community and some countries of the region, although it is “popular in the Libyan interior.”
Citizens pay the price
The Libyan people were counting on the Cairo talks to reach a consensus on the constitutional framework regulating the general elections, after the failure to hold the elections on December 24, due to differences over the constitutionality of the laws regulating the electoral process at the time.
To resolve that conflict, the United Nations noted, on Monday, the importance of “holding comprehensive and transparent national elections at the earliest possible date, and meeting the aspirations of nearly 3 million Libyans who registered to vote,” according to AFP.
But the United Nations turned a blind eye to the “economic path”, which provided for the fair sharing of wealth among the three historical regions, and also stipulated the restructuring and unification of the Central Bank, which exacerbated the crisis, according to Al-Maliki.
The “Libyan citizen” suffers a lot, and he alone pays the bill of the crisis afflicting the country, after the division of the country into “east and west”, according to Al-Zubaidi’s opinion.
Al-Zubaidi talks about “escalating economic problems”, related to a low standard of living and the absence of cash, and “growing service problems”, represented in the absence of medical services and the destruction of infrastructure.
Libya suffers from “continuous educational problems” after the postponement of studies this year as a result of the failure to print books and school curricula, all in light of a “severe societal division” and an ongoing war between cities and tribes, according to Al-Zubaidi.
In early 2021, Libya was the seventh-largest producer of crude oil in OPEC and the third-largest total producer of petroleum liquids in Africa, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration.
At the end of 2021, Libya held 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves, and owned 39% of Africa’s proven oil reserves.
According to the Financial Times, Libyan oil production is suspended at about 700,000 barrels per day, amid fears that the conflict will reduce production to about 100,000 barrels per day, equivalent to less than 10 percent of the country’s production capacity.
This is what Hatita comments on, saying: “The vast majority of Libyans live in difficult conditions,” describing the lives of Libyans as “miserable” despite the abundant oil wealth.
The power struggle negatively affects salary flows, the work of power plants, and other daily utilities necessary for life, according to Hatita.
These facts raise a new question about the paths to resolving the Libyan dilemma, and how does Libya succeed in getting out of its “escalating crisis”?
According to Hatita, the paths of the crisis in Libya are “intertwined and complex”, but they are “solvable” as a result of some international pressures, especially after the United States intervened in order to “accelerate the end of the crisis”, in light of the current international and regional circumstances.
In a related context, a return to the 1951 constitution, and the distribution of power and wealth among the regions of Libya, could rebuild “the state corrupted by centralization and exhausted by wars,” according to al-Maliki.