The official rejection of Libya’s UN-backed national unity government by the country’s internationally-recognised Parliament in Tobruk is disappointing but not particularly surprising.
Two days before a peace accord was signed last month in Morocco by representatives of Libya’s two governments, the heads of the country’s rival parliaments met in Malta and made it clear they would not be signing any agreement. They said they needed more time before committing themselves to the deal.
Libya has had two rival governments and parliaments since 2014, one in Tobruk and the other in Tripoli, and the county has always been unstable since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. A lack of State institutions, no civil society, no political parties, no professional army and no rule of law under the brutal Gaddafi dictatorship coupled with the West’s lack of a long-term strategic vision for Libya post-2011 is largely responsible for the prevailing unfortunate state of affairs.
Both Libyan governments rely on a loose coalition of militias for their security but the absence of any central authority or national army over the past few years has created a power vacuum and paved the way for the growth of the so-called Islamic State in the country. As Libya descended into chaos and was on the verge of becoming a failed State, December’s UN-brokered unity deal offered a glimmer of hope but this was unfortunately short-lived.
Foreign Minister George Vella is correct to say that the prolonged uncertainly in Libya is cause for concern because it could only benefit IS. Indeed, the longer Libya remains divided the stronger IS will grow, spreading their poisonous ideology, committing terrible atrocities and planning terrorist attacks against Europe. As IS loses territory in Syria and Iraq, it is very evident that the jihadists have identified Libya as their next target as they take advantage of the country’s instability.
The lack of a central government in Libya is also a driving factor behind human trafficking and the large number of refugees leaving the country for Europe, which is already overwhelmed by a huge influx of migrants from Syria and other countries plagued by conflict. Furthermore, should IS make strong territorial gains in Libya this would inevitably lead to a mass exodus of Libyan refugees, with obvious consequences for both Malta and Europe.
The priority now is for the international community, particularly the EU and the UN, to redouble its efforts at getting the two sides in the Libyan conflict to compromise with each other.
Dr Vella is also right when he says that the imposition of sanctions by the EU against certain Libyan individuals not in favour of this proposed government would probably only make the situation worse.
Tobruk lawmakers rejected the proposed new government because they said the 32-member Cabinet was too large and also because they disapproved of a clause in the deal that transfers military power from Khalifa Hafter, head of Tobruk’s armed forces, to Fayez Serraj, prime minister-designate of the proposed national unity government, who is a member of the Tripoli Parliament.
The objections do not seem insurmountable and the Tobruk Parliament did not reject the UN-mediated deal but the suggested new Cabinet. One hopes the Libyan presidential council –formed under the terms of the December accord to name a new government – will be able to bridge the differences when it submits alternative proposals shortly.
Time is running out and every day that Libya has no central government simply works in the jihadists’ favour.
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