One year after the start of the Berlin process aimed at containing foreign meddling in Libya, recent developments seem to suggest that the political dialogue is slowly moving forward. Acting UN Special Representative of the Secretary General Stephanie Williams deserves credit for putting a failing peace process back on track, skilfully adopting a multifaceted approach and taking advantage of the changing international outlook after the change of administration in Washington.
Diplomatic efforts coordinated by the UN Support Mission in Libya were able to move the peace process forward, offering rival factions in the war-torn country a serious chance to end the decade-old chaotic transition. On 24 January delegations of the House of Representatives (HoR) and the High Council of State (HCoS) meeting in Bouznika, Morocco, found a common understanding to appoint “sovereign positions” according to art.15 of the Libyan Political Agreement, on which they had been negotiating since late last year.
This followed another agreement to hold a referendum on the draft constitution before general elections expected to be held on 24 December 2021. While the Constitutional Committee was reaching this compromise in Hurghada, Egypt, the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum approved the selection mechanism for a new executive authority. This paves the way for the appointment of a new Presidency Council composed of three members (representing the historic regions of Cyrenaica, Fezzan and Tripolitania) and a new Government of National Unity with a separate Prime Minister.
Despite the progress made on the political and economic tracks (with the board of the Central Bank of Libya meeting for the first time in six years, in December 2020 and agreeing to unify the official exchange rate between Libyan dinars and US dollars), the picture is still blurred. Internal opposition to agreements reached mostly outside Libya has started to mount among marginalised stakeholders and hardliners unwilling to compromise. At the same time, the race for the leadership is magnifying the hyper-personalisation of the Libyan politics, with those competing for the driving seat having already been around long enough, preventing a much-needed turnover.
Williams, who has already warned against the “dinosaurs” of Libyan politics and has accused the party of the “status quo” of hindering the peace process, is expected to step down in February, replaced by Jan Kubiš, currently UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon. While the replacement raises obvious questions, since it takes place at a critical juncture of the peace process, reports about the continued presence of foreign forces and mercenaries in Libya offer a clearer picture of the situation on the ground.
Recent US calls on Russia, Turkey and the UAE to cease all military intervention in Libya come after the 23 January deadline, established by the October ceasefire agreement to withdraw foreign forces and remove mercenaries. However, satellite images, showing a trench and fortifications along the Sirte-Jufra “red line”, suggest that foreign forces are in no rush to leave Libya. Their prolonged presence indicates that even though political and diplomatic talks have moved to centre stage for now, a frozen conflict is still running in the background.
Associate Fellow for the Conflict, Security and Development Programme at the IISS and Maghreb Analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation, he regularly publishes on issues such as political developments, security and terrorism in the North Africa region