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The new Libyan governance: An equation with several unknowns

Special series: "Towards a new Libya?" Part 1 of 6

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Wednesday, April 7th 2021 à 15:53 | Read 574 times

After the chaos of two civil wars, the first to depose Muammar Gaddafi, the second for supremacy over the country initiated by eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar against the legitimate UN-backed president and prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj, Libya now has a new provisional governance in charge of organizing future national elections as early as December 2021.

Libyan Political Dialogue Forum discusses future of Libya (photo: UN/Violaine Martin)
Libyan Political Dialogue Forum discusses future of Libya (photo: UN/Violaine Martin)
LIBYA. Libya has entered a new era since Fayez al-Sarraj, president of the Presidential Council and prime minister since December 2015, and his opponent Khalifa Haftar finally decided to throw in the towel. On October 23, 2020, they signed a ceasefire marking the end of the second Libyan civil war. Their obvious failures to lead the country - the first tried to do so by draping himself in UN legitimacy and the second by choosing an armed conquest - and their (temporary?) withdrawals, allowed the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) to emerge.
Established at the end of 2020 under the aegis of the UN (via the United Nations Support Mission in Libya - UNSMIL), this body brings together the various parties to the conflict. This is already an achievement in itself. Its seventy-five members - all of whom have declared themselves ineligible for political office during the entire transition period - appointed a transitional government on February 5, 2021 in Geneva, pending future national elections. Mohamed Menfin became head of the three-member Libyan Presidential Council and Abdel Hamid Dbeibah became Prime Minister. A vote of confidence by the House of Representatives on March 10, 2021 in Sirte (after three days of discussions) endorsed this decision, allowing the two men to officially take the reins on March 13, 2021.

President Mohamed Menfin represents Cyrenaica and his two vice-presidents, Moussa al-Koni and Abdullah Hussein Al-Hafi, represent Fezzan and Tripolitania respectively. Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah (61) was born in Misrata (Tripolitania). Moving from two rival governments (one in the west and the other in the east) to a single executive reflecting the country's diversity already appears to be a first victory. The ingredients for the reunification of Libya are now there. It remains to be seen whether the mayonnaise will rise.

Little by little, with the help of twenty-six ministers and six ministers of state - two of whom are women: Foreign Affairs and Justice (a first) - they will all have to try to heal and close the still festering wounds that plague this country of 1.7 million km².

"Since I took up my responsibilities in early February, a succession of achievements by Libyan stakeholders has shown that once seemingly insurmountable divisions can be overcome with determined political will and responsiveness to the demands and aspirations of the Libyan people," said Ján Kubiš, the new head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), which has 112 permanent staff based in Tripoli and Benghazi, at the end of March 2021.


EU supports new Prime Minister

The new Libyan governance: An equation with several unknowns
This balance remains fragile, as Christian Graeff, French ambassador to Libya from 1982 to 1985, notes in the exclusive interview granted to (to be read Friday, April 9, 2021 in our columns): "The appointment of Mr. Dbeibah is already torpedoed by rumors of 'arrangements' that would have intervened between him and Libya's two major sponsors: Russia and Turkey. UN experts also accuse the newly appointed prime minister of bribing LPDF delegates through his cousin (Ali al-Dbeibeh). This wealthy businessman, a member of the Forum, is said to have pushed the family line to the point of paying subsidies to his co-religionists to promote the appointment of Abdel Hamid Dbeibah.
Alain Chouet, a former French intelligence officer (1972 to 2007 at the DGSE, where he was head of the security intelligence service), is more severe: "This is not real governance, just a false representation with people all of the same opinion."

Formerly close to Gaddafi - he was head of the Libyan Investment and Development Company (Lidco) - and to Turkey, the businessman-engineer Abdel Hamid Dbeibah has the confidence of the Europeans, the United Kingdom and the United States. In a joint statement on March 11, 2021, their respective foreign ministers welcomed "the vote of confidence by an overwhelming majority of the members of the House of Representatives meeting in Sirte from March 8 to 10 in the government formed by Prime Minister-designate Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, which will serve as the interim government of national unity. We pay tribute to the Libyan people for their determination to restore the unity of their country. We congratulate all Libyan actors for having facilitated the vote of this institution that represents the voice of the Libyan people and for having taken part in a constructive manner.

Better yet, Jean-Yves le Drian, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and his German (Heiko Maas) and Italian (Luigi di Maio) counterparts traveled to Tripoli on March 25, 2021 to meet with him. "Libya is our immediate neighborhood and we cannot look away from the consequences that the Libyan crisis may have in Europe, in terms of security, in terms of terrorism, and in terms of migration. And in the same way, the stability of Libya is one of the keys to the security of the Sahel, North Africa and the Mediterranean," they declared with one voice.


"The events of the last five years have shown how fragile the agreements are," said Jean-François Coustillière (photo: F. Dubessy)
"The events of the last five years have shown how fragile the agreements are," said Jean-François Coustillière (photo: F. Dubessy)

The chimera of national elections at the end of December

Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, who holds a master's degree in planning and construction techniques from the University of Toronto in Canada, will have to lay the foundations for the reunification of his country and its institutions within ten months. The time of his interim. As the architect of the new Libya, he intends to create a ministry for national reconciliation. A site full of pitfalls with a single prospect: to organize simultaneously a presidential election and legislative scheduled for late December 2021.

On Wednesday, April 7, 2021 in Tunis, Ján Kubiš insisted in his opening speech at a meeting of the LPDF's Legal Committee, composed of seventeen members, on USMIL's commitment to "fully support the holding of national elections on December 24, 2021, in accordance with the LPDF's roadmap and the overwhelming demand of the Libyan people. It is high time for the relevant constitutional institutions to establish a constitutional and electoral framework as soon as possible to enable the elections to be held."  Not to be fooled, however, a few days before, in late March 2021, the head of Manul asserted, "as we consider how best to assist the new interim executive authority in advancing its priorities, we must be mindful of the pitfalls that lie ahead, particularly those aimed at delaying or impeding the path to the December elections."

Of all the experts interviewed by, however, none believes in Santa Claus.
"I am a temperamental optimist, but I am not optimistic about the success of the Libyan Dialogue Forum and the holding of free national elections before the end of the year," says Christian Graeff. "Even if the elections were to be held, this does not mean that their outcome will be accepted by all," notes Henry Marty-Gauquié, Honorary Director of the European Investment Bank (EIB) and member of the JFC Conseil analysis group, with little confidence.
"What kind of organization? And under whose control?", raises Alain Chouet putting forward his "experience of forty-six years in Arab countries" and not believing in a sudden democracy. "The West approaches Libya as if it were Scotland or Ireland. No! It doesn't work like that," he says.

"Everything seems to be in place for the expected success of the approach. It remains to be seen what the relationship will be between these various personalities when it comes to resolving sensitive issues and, above all, fighting corruption. The events of the last five years have shown how fragile the agreements, institutions and other commitments are, often falling victim to renewed violence," moderates Rear Admiral (2S) Jean-François Coustillière, a member of the JFC analysis group on international relations issues in the Mediterranean. However, he concludes, "so to say that the deadline for free national elections before the end of the year will be respected seems to me particularly uncertain. However, it is not forbidden to hope..."

During ten years of civil war, the protagonists have not ceased to throw salt on the wounds, widening the divisions to the point of fearing a partition of the country. Healing will therefore take time. "To claim unification, it would be necessary to get the tribes to agree on the sharing of wealth (unequally distributed: oil in the east, trade in the west, and reserves to be exploited in the south) and to build a common national identity," says Henry Marty-Gauquié. He suggests "creating a tribal pact to unite the populations of the three regions."


For Alain Chouet, Libya is "an invention of modern times, a creation of Gaddafi." (photo: Alain Chouet personal archives - DR)
For Alain Chouet, Libya is "an invention of modern times, a creation of Gaddafi." (photo: Alain Chouet personal archives - DR)

The country that did not exist

Historically, Libya's internal borders have never been truly stable. "Libya is a complex country located at the crossroads between the Maghreb, the Mashreq and Africa. It is made up of three subsets: Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan. Muammar Gaddafi maintained the balance of this country by playing between the various political, clan and feudal forces, primarily the tribes. Using the redistribution of oil profits, violence and clientelism, the 'Guide' nevertheless saw his power weaken until his disappearance," emphasizes Jean-François Coustillière.
"Libya does not exist! It is only three provinces, each populated by rival clans and tribes. It's a modern-day invention, a creation of Gaddafi's that didn't survive him," summarizes Alain Chouet. The forty-two years of undivided power of the "Guide" only gave the illusion that Libya was one.
"Libya was a unified territory only during Greek antiquity (Phoenician conquest) and Roman antiquity (Septimius Severus)," recalls Henry Marty-Gauquié. For the honorary director of the EIB, it is therefore "an artificial creation, a consequence of Mussolini's colonial adventure and the aftermath of the fighting of the Second World War. This geographical dimension does not resonate with popular opinion, nor with the tribal leaders of the three provinces."
The National Transitional Council (NTC), intended to prepare for the post-Gaddafi era (lynched on October 20, 2011 in Sirte) took over in the midst of the civil war, with the blessing, and recognition, of France. He could have laid the foundations of a nation, but will have lived only a year and a half (late February 2011 to early August 2012). "The fall of Gaddafi could have provided an opportunity to build this unity, but it was missed by a transition process truncated to show quick results, and too politicized. This made it impossible for the will for unity to take root. In short, nothing lasting has been done...", regrets Henry Marty-Gauquié.
To be continued on Thursday, April 8, 2021, our new article in this series: "The (priority) tasks of the new executive and the (indelible) stains of the previous ones".


Henry Marty-Gauquié suggests "creating a tribal pact to federate the populations of the three regions." (photo: F.Dubessy)
Henry Marty-Gauquié suggests "creating a tribal pact to federate the populations of the three regions." (photo: F.Dubessy)


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