Libya’s new executive authority was named in Geneva in early February 2021 by the members of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), following the victory of the list led by Libya’s ambassador to Greece, Mohamed al-Menfi, and the businessman Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. The list won the backing of various local political elites, as well as foreign states active and influential in Libya, and was then granted formal legitimacy through a vote of confidence at the parliament in Sirte, before being sworn in in Tobruk.
To be more precise, the executive authority was granted confidence on 10 March, meaning its hundredth day falls on 20 June, and 180 days remain ahead of it!
Today, 100 days after the new executive authority took power in Libya, we seek to assess its achievements by comparing them to the legal commitments set out in the Roadmap for the Preparatory Phase of a Comprehensive Solution—specifically, those detailed in the first and sixth articles thereof; in the second paragraph of the rules governing the Roadmap; and in all articles of the section pertaining to the executive authority.
By comparing these stated commitments with what has actually been achieved on the ground, we can identify ten challenges that have hindered the work of the Government of National Unity and reduced its chances of successfully achieving the tasks with which it has been entrusted.
The greatest challenge
The principal objective, or ultimate goal, of the preparatory phase is to strengthen political legitimacy through elections, both presidential and parliamentary, held on a constitutional basis. According to Paragraph B of Article 4 of the Roadmap, the executive authority is obligated to provide the administrative, financial, and security conditions necessary to enable the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) and other state institutions concerned with the electoral process to undertake their duties in the best possible way.
Among these conditions, according to Article 1, Paragraph 2.8, is a highly important matter of organizational security; namely, to “Address the issue of the administrative numbers, according to the Libyan legislation in force and to international agreements and conventions ratified by the State.”
Almost nothing has been accomplished by the government on this front, except for the letter sent by the Minister of State for Prime Ministerial Affairs to the Ministry of the Interior on 20 March with regards to preparing an integrated plan to secure all electoral centers and to work to ensure the success of the electoral process.
The legislative challenge
The constitutional rule remains in progress, even though we are now on the verge of July; the month set by HNEC Chairman Emad al-Sayeh as the deadline for receiving the constitutional rule to begin preparing the electoral process. The LPDF’s legal committee members failed to agree on certain issues, and thus referred them back to the dialogue committee, which in turn transferred them to the state and parliamentary councils, and the period of their attempt to implement the legislative rule ended without any benefit, which will return the constitutional rule for presentation before the LPDF on 28 June.
The security challenge
The Government of National Unity is supposed to have worked to extend national sovereignty over all Libyan territory; end the presence of foreign forces and the state of armed conflict; and provide Libyan citizens with security. In reality, this has not happened. There have been multiple challenges, whether regarding the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, which no longer plays any active role, or with respect to unifying the military institution. It suffices to note that the Ministry of Defense has still not been named or assigned any representatives yet, nor has a single letter been circulated from the prime minister in his capacity as defense minister. The leadership of the general staff is another thorny matter. Whereas parliament has appointed Major General Abdulrazek al-Nadoori as chief of staff, the prime minister instead recognizes his predecessor Fayez al-Sarraj’s appointee Muhammad al-Haddad, in a move seen as mistaken by many.
The presence of foreign forces has not ended: thousands of foreign mercenaries remain on Libyan soil. Nor do citizens enjoy safety and security. Crime is rife in all Libyan regions, and lawlessness reigns, unfortunately.
It appears the executive authority has no ability to liberate national, sovereign decision-making from coercion, moral or material. Notable examples include an armed group storming a hotel used as the general headquarters of the Libyan Presidential Council in Tripoli, searching for the Council’s President; another armed group storming the Foreign Ministry in Tripoli; and bombings in Sebha. Nor has the city of Benghazi been free of such turbulence. In mid-April, the Government of National Unity announced it would postpone its first visit to Benghazi, after the city’s airport authorities had prevented government security officials arriving by air from Tripoli from benefiting from security arrangements for their visit. The government was also deliberately absent from the military parade conducted by the Libyan National Army in Benghazi in mid-May.
The social challenge
The Presidential Council thought the issue of formal national reconciliation was an end in and of itself, and thus fell into the trap of institutionalizing reconciliation. It issued Resolution No. 5 of 2021, establishing the High National Reconciliation Commission in accordance with Paragraph 6.1 of Article 2 of the presidential terms of reference, and became preoccupied with the problems of naming its members, and studying its structure, work mechanisms, and prerogatives, all of which have prevented it from achieving tangible results to this day.
At the same time, it neglected more practical sub-issues, such as the effects of the various conflicts, starting with ending the phenomena of arbitrary arrests, detention, and enforced disappearances; and releasing prisoners of conscience and the unlawfully detained. We have seen no real efforts undertaken to bring about the safe and voluntary return of those expelled and displaced both within and outside the country.
The institutional challenge
The Government of National Unity was formed to unite the two former rival governments: the Government of National Accord, headquartered in Tripoli; and the Libyan Interim Government, headquartered in Benghazi. Among the many tasks assigned to the executive branch was the unification of state institutions. The Roadmap tasked it with strengthening local governance and administrative decentralization by enabling local institutions and municipalities to carry out their functions.
Did the government undertake this unification process perfectly? Residents of the Cyrenaica region; the seat of the previous interim government—also known as the Abdullah al-Thani cabinet—say it did not. Instead of institutions being unified, they say, institutions in Cyrenaica were shut down, and their employees dismissed, in a blatant return to much-resented centralization, with no solace for the Fezzan region!
The economic challenge
The text of the Roadmap assumed that the new government would control public expenditure, and work to combat corruption by adhering to the principles of financial responsibility, transparency, and effective cooperation with supervisory institutions.
With regards to combating corruption, we have not seen fair trials. Nor has agreement been reached with respect to such sovereign posts as the governor of the central bank, and the heads of the supervisory, administrative, and accounting bodies. Nonetheless, we commend the first decision taken by the Dbeibah government (No. 1 of 2021), which suspended private accounts in public companies and investment funds. The decision was described by analysts at the time as reflecting the government’s focus on economic issues and imbalances, in light of the corruption suffered by the country in years past.
We have not observed any expenditure controls. It suffices to note the new appointments; the new temporary headquarters; and numerous costly trips undertaken by members of the executive authority.
Unfortunately, the budget has not yet been approved, and therefore the government continues to lack working mechanisms. As such, we have seen no tangible improvement in the level of services provided to the people, whether in terms of electricity or healthcare. The Covid-19 vaccination campaign is poorly organized and deeply flawed, while banking services have changed little. There remains a lack of liquidity and bank clearance between commercial banks. Even water services remain poor, to say nothing of reconstruction.
The media challenge
The Roadmap obligates the executive authority to ensure the success of elections through confidence-building measures, including facilitating the media in a manner that maintains the cohesion of the national social fabric and ensures calm.
In reality, however, the media have remained at fever pitch. After a short-lived attempt to calm the atmosphere, hate speech has only grown more intense, especially in May, after the eastern Libyan channels celebrated the anniversary of what they termed the “Dignity Revolution,” prompting channels in western Libya of opposing political persuasions to adopt flagrant hate speech.
The human rights challenge
The new executive authority is supposed to promote human rights and positive cooperation with judicial institutions. In reality, we have seen only negligible efforts on this front. Amnesty International has called in vain on the government to rein in militias and armed groups responsible for kidnappings, torture, forced disappearances, and other crimes. The government has proved equally unwilling or unable to meet calls to hand wanted persons over to the International Criminal Court.
The Roadmap also obligates the government to support the Libyan Civil Society Commission in its tasks, and to lift restrictions on the activities of civil society institutions. Instead, the directors of the Commission’s branches in Tripoli and Ajdabiya were both kidnapped, while restrictions remain in place on certain cultural civil society organizations.
The international challenge
The executive authority has tried to manage the foreign policy of the Libyan state in a manner that maintains calm and cordial relations with regional and international partners. Accordingly, we have seen rapprochement with the UAE, Qatar, Egypt, and Turkey, as well as communication with the European Union, the United States, and Russia. However, given the absence of any specific and comprehensive plan or vision, we fear the government will falter at some stage, not least since the aforementioned states all have differing and indeed competing interests in Libya.
It has also become clear that the executive authority is bound by the agreements previously signed by the prime minister of the Government of National Accord; particularly those signed with the Turkish state, despite the fact these were never ratified by the Libyan parliament.
Elsewhere, there have been frequent reports of new agreements reached that may impose long-term obligations on the state, whether with regards to oil and gas exploration or policies for combating clandestine migration.
What can the government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibah offer in the remainder of its very short life? (Approximately three of its nine months have passed; i.e., it has completed around one third of its term.) What are the opportunities upon which we might advise it to seize and build?
The Government of National Unity must come out from the Second Berlin Conference on Libya on 23 June with a plan for international pressure on those obstructing its work from both the inside and the outside, not least since there exists international will to prevent a return to war.
The government’s legitimacy remains strong, albeit diminished. It can modify many of its policies so as to correct its course. Therefore, we advise it to race against time and focus on governmental solidarity and inter-ministerial coordination, and to follow decentralized policies with strong oversight. We also advise the presidency to turn to social reconciliations and issues of local conflicts, as well as to concentrate on security and on sending stronger messages regarding its desire and ability to hold elections on 24 December 2021.
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