The “Libyan Political Agreement” (LPA) is the somehow controversial outcome of the month-long, United Nations-sponsored negotiations between various Libyan stakeholders in Skhirat, Morocco. It was signed on December 17, 2015 and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council a few days later. The LPA is the foundation of the current stabilization efforts led by UN Special Representative Ghassan Salamé, strongly supported by Italy, France, UK, the U.S. and many other nations. It is also the justification for Libya’s international recognized government, the “Government of National Accord” (GNA), led by prime minister Fayez Al-Serraj.
According to several senior law experts, the LPA expires after two years, on December 17, 2017. Actually, this period of time is mentioned in the LPA itself. Article No. 1/ 4 of the LPA states unequivocally that “The term of the Government of National Accord shall be one year as of the date of granting it a vote of confidence by the House of Representatives. In case the Constitution was not finalized during its term, it shall be renewed automatically for one additional year only. In all cases, the term of the Government shall end immediately after the formation of the Executive Authority as per the Libyan Constitution, or the expiry of its specified duration, whichever is earlier”. It can be argued, that with the endorsement of the LPA by the United Nations Security Council and the international recognition of the GNA as Libya’s legitimate government, the two-years period started de-facto right away on December 17, 2015, even without a vote of confidence by the “House of Representatives” (HoR), Libya’s internationally recognized parliament.
How to overcome the “expiry”?
However, presumably the validity of the agreement will be somehow extended, although this was not foreseen, or, even more likely, the date will be simply ignored. The United Nations, the European Union, several European nations, and the U.S. follow the argumentation, that the two years of the legal force of the agreement have not even started, because the agreement has not yet been voted into law by the HoR.
Notwithstanding that this can be certainly argued correctly, it leaves the question open, how a government can be recognized, while claiming that the agreement establishing the very same government has not yet entered into force. It is doubtful, that there is any legal justification for this.
As a consequence, the already very limited legitimacy and credibility of the GNA will be certainly further undermined.
The situation in Libya’s capital area is increasingly difficult. The population of Tripoli, suffering from a lack of security by virtue of fighting between rival militias and a very high crime rate, day-long power cuts, shortages in water supply, a cash crisis, deteriorating health care and a fuel crisis, is very much disappointed by the achievements of Fayez Al-Serraj and his government. The powerful city of Misrata, 210 km eastward of Tripoli, has already indicated that it will not agree to any amendment of the LPA.
The Commander of the “Libyan National Army” (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who has threatened several times to take Tripoli by force, insists on country-wide elections in spring 2018, as it was agreed between him and prime minister Al-Serraj last July in Paris, under mediation of French president Emmanuel Macron. Militias claiming to be part of the LNA, control already the Tripolitanian coast between Zuawara and Zawia, cities located between Tripoli and the Tunisian border. Some of those militias are Madkhali Salafists, financed by Saudi-Arabia. The same brand of Salafists fights for Haftar in the East and provides the backbone of GNA-loyal militias in Tripoli. Abdelraouf Kara’s Rada Force and his Nawassi Brigade are not only among the best trained and equipped military forces in Tripoli, they control also strategic important locations, like the harbor and Mitiga International Airport, including the military aircraft and helicopters located there.
As a consequence of the “expiry” of the LPA and the worsening living circumstances in Tripoli, eventually street riots could take place. Subsequently, Khalifa Al-Ghwell could try to assume power again with his “National Salvation Government”. He was selected by the “General National Congress” (GNC), Libya’s first democratic elected parliament, as prime minister of the Islamist-leaning NSG in March 2015 after the Supreme Court ruled the 2014 elections unconstitutional. Such an attempt could eventually work, if Al-Ghwell could get sufficient support from the mighty Misrata militias and if he could find an arrangement with the major Tripoli militias currently supporting the GNA. Those would certainly not defend the GNA against major street riots. However, Al-Ghwell would undoubtedly not be accepted by the HoR, let alone by Haftar and the international community. He would not have access to the financial resources of the Central Bank of Libya, which receives the payments for the country’s oil and gas exports.
Eventually, Field Marshal Haftar could attempt to take control of Tripoli after December 17, exploiting the links between the Madkhalis, and oust the GNA with the help of other militias, he is allegedly in contact with. Such an arrangement would also need the tacit acceptance of the majority of the Misrata. However, even if Haftar would be successful, he would probably not be recognized by the United Nations, the European Union and most western countries. Without this recognition, it would be difficult for him to sell oil and get control over the revenues. Haftar is fully aware, that any form of military rule would be strongly rejected by the international community.
But it would be a possibility for the Field Marshal to name someone else, who has already a recognized role, like the speaker of the HoR, Agheela Saleh, or the head of Libya’s Supreme Court as a caretaker president, with the only task to organize elections early next year, while the LNA ensures security.
However, if Haftar would be able to assume control over Tripoli for whatever purpose, he would need to demonstrate the population very quickly the benefits of his rule, which could be tough. Otherwise it would be very difficult for him to stay in power.
The most likely scenario after December 17 is, that the further undermined legitimacy of the GNA will lead to an increased destabilization of the country, even without Al-Ghwell or Haftar taking action. This would intensify the centrifugal forces, which could lead to a violent break-up of Libya.
As a pretended way out of the dilemma, the call for presidential and parliamentary elections in the first half of 2018 will get stronger. Despite the country is not yet ready any time soon, it could well be that such elections will be held anyway. If Haftar runs for presidency under the current conditions, he has a good chance to win, getting even the majority of votes in the greater Tripoli area.