In October 2011, the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was murdered near the city of Sirte during the First Libyan civil war, resulting from the hugely consequential popular movement of the Arab Spring which overtook the whole MENA area. The bloody end of the rais, without a regular process, sounded like a dark omen to outside observers. And in fact, in the last ten years, Libya has undergone two more civil wars (May 2014-December 2015 and April 2019-ongoing) and many inconclusive international meetings, some supported by UNSMIL, others instead as personal initiatives of foreign governments.
The Skhirat Agreement, signed on December 2015 after one year of tough negotiations, ended with the formation of the Government of National Accord (GNA), officially backed by the United Nations and the international community, but never recognized by general Khalifa Haftar and consequently by the opposite government in Tobruk, the House of Representatives. For these and other reasons, like the fact that the population did not elect it, Tripoli's GNA never had real weight among Libyans. To date, this government has not been able to satisfy the most basic needs of its citizens and has become increasingly held hostage by criminal cartels, which have become the defacto managers of the terriotry in a capillary style. Divisions have increasingly taken root, not only between the two political entities of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica but also between the Libyans themselves. For this reason tensions have grown over the years, without the international community making a real contribution.
French President Emmanuel Macron organized two conferences in Paris – on 25 July 2017 and 29 May 2018 – to put the two contenders in agreement with a view to new elections under the banner of democracy, the same democracy for which, according to Haftar, the Libyans are not ripe. However, neither Macron nor the other international actors have given this notion the slightest weight, continuing with several inconclusive conferences. The conference in Palermo of November 2018 and Abu Dhabi of February 2019 have resulted in ultimately weakining the role of UNSMIL and its last envoy, Ghassan Salamé.
The Libyan National Confrence intended to be held in Ghadames between the 12th and 14th of April 2019, never ended up taking place dispite months of prepartion. This was due to an Invasion of the capital Tripoli carried about by general Hafter and the Libyan National Army (LNA) undeir the guise of liberating the city from Islamist militia groups. A few truces and ceasefires have been acheived over the last year and half of war, but none were very long lasting. Also, the conference held in Berlin in January 2020 has not been particularly fruitful until now, in spite of all the efforts of the former acting-special envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams. The conference indicated three tracks: economic, political and military, but many problems are on the path. The first consequence of the political track was the creation of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LDPF), with representatives of the three main Libyan region to find common ground for a new government and programmed elections for 24 December 2021. Still, during the last virtual meeting in December, nothing significant was achieved.
On the military side, the situation is even worse. In spite of the ceasefire signed by a 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission on 24 October 2020, and the announcement for 23 January 2021 of a massive withdrawal of all the foreign forces active on the ground in support of the GNA (Turkey and Qatar) and the LNA (Egypt, UAE and Russia), both sides are actively reinforcing their positions over the Sirte-Jufra line. In the meantime, Turkish advisors are training cadets in Tripoli, while the Russian Wagner Group is using the Qardabija airbase through its mercenaries.
What can be done to improve the peace process in the future?
At the moment, in Libya, the situation is very complicated. So far the peace process has yet to besuccessful and, after the latest UNSMIL special envoy, Ghassan Salamé may be reluctant to take on such a responsibility anymore. Finally, on 18 January a new special envoy was chosen: the Slovakian Jan Kubis who has served as Special Coordinator for Lebanon since 2019. He worked for a long time also in Iraq and Afghanistan, gaining profound diplomatic experience.
It is clear that the Libyan file needs a robust change of strategy.
In the last ten years, Libyans, in every region of the country, have been unable to achieve peace, plus they are armed to the teeth and supported by foreign actors who have their own agendas. A policy option which has not yet been explored is to deploy a UN contingent, or even a Multinational Force and Observers, able to defend the strategic infrastructures and Libyan citizens. A contingent made of soldiers from different countries, which brings order and support the disarmament process of militias and criminal gangs that up to now the Libyans alone have yet completed. Meanwhile, the three most important institutions (Libyan Central Bank, National Oil Corporation and Libyan Investment Authority) should be re-commissioned and definitively unified.
How to do this remains a complex problem, but it is certainly necessary for the international community to admit the collective failures that have occurred so far and to give a serious change to the peace process that in Libya does not seem to be possible through onlythe normal means of diplomacy.