Libya, the (unreachable) stabilization

Since the defeat of long-term dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, many actors have failed in the attempt to mediate a negotiated solution to the Libyan crisis.

So far, the bottom line of the crisis has been the self-appointment of General Haftar as leader of the Libyan National Army in 2014, splitting Libya into two main areas of influence, in addition to other contested areas in the South. During these last years, Haftar has solidified his authority replacing elected municipal leaders with loyal military officers[1]. Meanwhile, his army has seized key localities, including the strategic military base in the Jufra district in central Libya in June 2017. His strategy aims at reshaping the power balance on ground, seizing control of Libya’s oil infrastructure in the East. These initiatives allowed him to consolidate his power in the region while building alliances with tribes in the West. After several months of peace negotiations that led to the UN-brokered Libyan political agreement signed in Morocco in 2015, Haftar announced last December it was void. Haftar explained his decision in a TV speech underlying that “the military institution will not submit to any party unless it has gained its legitimacy from the Libyan people.”[2] Main domestic players on ground are general Khalifa Haftar, head of the LNA, which exerts control the eastern part of the country (mainly in Cirenaica); and Fayez Al-Sarraj, chairman of the Presidential Council and Head of the UN-backed Government of National Accord. However, it would be inaccurate to reduce the country’s problem to the confrontation between Haftar and, as a number of other factors have been affecting the scenario.

Sarraj’s role has not however allowed him to fully control the region. In the South, political and ethnic fragmentation dominates and other important forces, such as pro-Haftar forces and Third Force (controlled by the GNA) hold unpredictable positions.

The reality of the Libyan disaster is that after more than seven years since the fall and killing of Gaddafi, none of the objectives hoped for after his death has been achieved. Not only has the country broken down into a progressively endemic civil war, but the chaotic securitarian, political and administrative situation has made it home to terrorists, criminals and traffickers of human beings. The UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, set out an action plan earlier in September 2017, proposing to amend the stalled 2015 one by setting up a Joint Draft Committee for Libya to review the accords. The first stage of Salame’s roadmap appears to be the most difficult one, as it envisages amending the executive branch structure in the Libyan Political Agreement. However, talks to amend the agreement concluded in a hint of urgency last October, as in-depth discussions were not concluded over the composition, structure and responsibilities of the executive authority. In this regard, the UN envoy expressed his doubts over of the main key points of his action plan: holding elections by the end of the 2018. Before the elections, a new electoral law should be approved in advance by the House of Representatives in consultation with the High Council of State, as required by the Libyan political agreement of Skhirat. Achieving this goal could, however, meet several obstacles.

Tobruk’s resistance to the never-acknowledged National Accord as well as the reluctance of the GNA and Sarraj to open spaces for debate with other political forces could negatively affect this process. Likewise, the descent into the field of Saif al Islam Gaddafi, the son of the former Libyan dictator, opens the possibility of a return to the political scene of groups still loyal to the colonel who came out weakened, but not destroyed by the ‘revolutionary’ process.

In July, Egypt proposed an initiative to unite the Libyan army forces and restructure the Libyan army. The main aim was to unite Libya’s military institution, currently divided in its leadership. In fact, in the West some military officials are under the leadership of Sarraj, while others are under the control of the former parliament which has been reconvened in Tripoli, the General National Congress (GNC) led by Khalifa al-Ghawil.

The initiative to amend the accords, after numerous meetings between the officers of Tripoli and Tobruk, seems to be stalled since after numerous meetings many aspects are still undefined: the relationship between the military institution and civil power; the arms embargo and its violations; the ability to keep the agreement in the absence of the continuous control of a foreign partner and mainly over the new leadership of the military institution. During the latest rounds of negotiations February 2018[3], the issue of who should lead the unified forces remained persistently unresolved. In a statement on March 4th, 2018, Prime Minister Sarraj underlined the absolute necessity to unify the country’s military institution as a first step towards securing the borders[4]. Since the very first days of March, armed clashes were renewed among warring parties in Southern Libya, where the Sabha Municipality said that more than 120 families were forced to leave the area, with over 700 displaced people estimated[5]. During the last round of talks, which took place in Cairo on March 20th, 2018, the various military factions agreed to continue convening in Cairo to discuss the possible solutions for the unification of the military.

The situation in the South is one of the most complexes, as it has been one of the most affected from the vacuum left by the institutions dismantled during the first civil war that broke out in 2011. From the beginning of February 2018, Sebha, the major center of the Fezzan province, was the scene of clashes between two rival clans, Tebu and Suleiman, have mainly affected Sebha’s southern and eastern neighborhoods. According to the representative of the Sebha hospital, Oussama al-Wafi, since the beginning of February there would have been 6 deaths and 12 wounded between the two factions. Hamid Al-Khayali, the city’s first citizen, declared that pro-Haftar forces were cooperating with the Tripoli government to “purge the area of foreign fighters”[6].

Between the two factions, tensions are very high, often resulting in direct confrontations that have so far caused the death of several men from both sides. In particular, Haftar’s LNA forces conquered in March 2017 the oil fields of Ras Lanuf, hunting militias linked to those of Misurata and advancing towards the Gulf of Sirte. Clashes occurred in the desert and in the governorate of Sebah, as well as south of Sirte. However, Haftar is likely to be furthered encouraged to run-up for the country’s presidency, seems he appears to be among the favorites. It is however true that, at least for the moment, the presidential consultations do not seem to be imminent: the registration of citizens in the appropriate lists continues, but the security conditions to guarantee an election campaign and a regular election do not seem to be there, especially in the western and southern part of the country.

In a brief to the UN Security Council, Salame revealed there is little opportunity to amend the Libyan Political Agreement, confirming however that the aim for the UN is to hold presidential elections by the end of 2018[7]. It is difficult to say whether this objective will be achieved, but above all, it is even more difficult to say whether or not the consultations can restore stability to a country that has been at war for seven years.



Pilar Buzzetti

Master’s degree in Government and Policies (LUISS “Guido Carli”)



Notes and references

[1] Mezran, K., & Miller, E. (2018). Flawed Diplomacy in Libya. The Cairo Review of Global Affairs. Retrieved from

[2] Assad, A. (2017, December 17). Libya’s eastern warlord Haftar pronounces end of LPA and its bodies. The Libya Observer. Retrieved from

[3] Emam, A. (2018, February 25). Talks in Cairo focus on Libyan military unity, differences persist. The Arab Weekly. Retrieved from

[4] Mahmoud, K. (2018, March 5). Sarraj Stresses Need for Unifying Military Institution to Ensure Border Security. Asharq al-Awsat. Retrieved from

[5] Assad, A. (2018, February 28). One killed, four others injured in renewed clashes in Libya’s Sabha. The Libya Observer. Retrieved from

[6] Nasr, J. (2018, March 8). Libya’s Haftar tells ‘mercenaries’ to leave country. Anadolu Agency. Retrieved from

[7] Assad, A. (2018, March 21). UN envoy briefs Security Council about little chance remaining for Libya political agreement. The Libya Observer. Retrieved from