Insights

Libya at risk of a new escalation

Tensions in Libya could escalate into a dramatic crisis. The international community is assessing alternative solutions, including a ‘mini-government’ to lead the country to general elections. By Daniele Ruvinetti

Hussein Eddeb / Shutterstock.com

The current political situation in Libya is dangerously close to breaking point, with a risk of unsettling scenarios opening up for the Mediterranean, Europe and, ultimately, Italy.

The institutional impasse we have been witnessing for months has not been overcome, and there is a concrete risk that, with the passing of time, the current balance among political forces may be altered.

Current Prime Minister Fathi Bashaga, the former Minister of Interior who was appointed by Parliament, does not seem to have the capacity to hold a seat in government offices so far. He has tried to enter Tripoli – even pushing his hand slightly – but the UN-appointed Prime Minister, Abdelhamid Dabaiba, who lost parliament confidence, has shown that he is now backed by militias and is ready to take up arms to remain in the capital. To Dabaiba, leaving Tripoli would mean accepting to hand over power, which he is not willing to do, since he was elected by the UN’s Libyan Political Dialogue Forum. On the other hand, Bashaga affirms his legitimacy comes from the vote in the Tobruk-based parliament. It is worth remembering that the self-exiled Chamber of Deputies in Tobruk is the last legitimately elected parliament – as a result of voting in 2014 – and the same one that granted confidence to Dabaiba in March 2021.

Popular legitimacy and voting have always been at the heart of the debate in Libya. Such a mandate was entrusted by the UN to Dabaiba, and it was in theory part of the main objectives of the Bashaga government. Elections would indeed bring the ongoing stabilisation process to completion. However, they seem to be a remote possibility at the moment.

Carrying out national elections in the short term appears impossible, and there is a need to preserve the precarious balance which has been in place for months, and to avoid the risk of returning to arms. In this context, the international community seems to be looking at alternative solutions, which include the possibility of setting up a ‘mini-government’ to lead the country to elections.

This idea, which is currently gaining ground, was also discussed during the recent high-level meetings held in Cairo, which suggests there is international support for this. Egypt has played the role of mediator for the Libyan ceasefire (having supported the Cyrenaica front in the civil war) and is brokering relations both between factions within the country and with regional stakeholders.

The idea of an interim government is based on the current balance of power, in which neither Dabaiba nor Bashaga has full capacity for action, and the need to entrust power to a third party.

This would have to be someone impartial, hailing from the West (Tripolitania) but with good relations with Cyrenaica and Fezzan. In other words, it should be an inclusive figure who can, within a year or at most a year and a half, bring the country to the ballots with the help of a small and efficient government, designed to enable the electoral process. This process, in turn, will find a legal basis in the new Constitution that Libyan political groups are discussing in Cairo, with Egyptian mediation.

In these dynamics, there is room for Europe to play a political role. This is particularly true in the case of countries such as Italy and France, which can take charge of the current situation in a coordinated fashion, and contribute to the easing of tensions, to stop them from escalating into a full-blown crisis. The fact that the new French Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna, is a former Ambassador to Italy could boost increased coordination with regard to foreign countries such as Libya.

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