Libya: staggering on

Summary: continuing anarchy. Limited bloodshed but the population suffering. UN efforts stalled, elections not very likely.
Since our posting of 22 September there has been relatively little media interest in Libya, with most reports concentrating on reports of the slave trade (our posting of 20 November). The picture we described in September has hardly changed: “the internationally backed Government of National Accord never fully established, three competing governments, ‘Field Marshal’ Khalifa Haftar strengthening his position in the East supported by Egypt and the UAE”.
The picture remains one of anarchy rather than civil war, with sporadic fighting yet relatively low casualties both military and civilian (compared with Iraq, Syria or Yemen). IS remains a threat but no longer controls territory having been defeated by Misrata forces at least nominally loyal to the GNA. Haftar continues to claim victory over Islamists in Benghazi. Oil production is regularly threatened at the local level but has remained reasonably high; the proceeds are used to fund the competing governments and pay the militias, which they do not control. Crime is a major threat to ordinary life. The banking system is limping. A Bloomberg report quotes an ordinary Libyan: “We’ve lost confidence in all the political figures in parliament, in the two governments, east and west. Libyans now live in poverty. The banks are empty. People are unable to buy medicine, food or anything. There are gasoline shortages, electricity failures, water disruptions and general insecurity.”
The action plan proposed in September by the UN representative Ghassan Salame has stalled. In an important interview on 4 December Salame spoke of holding elections before the end of 2018 if all the main political players agreed in advance to accept the results, but according to the former academic now political party leader Guma El-Gamaty “Calling for elections in Libya in 2018 without addressing the underlying causes of violence and instability is effectively putting the horse before the cart”. Many conditions must first be met, otherwise new elections may merely produce yet another ineffective contender for the role of government.
Haftar has reportedly claimed that the “National Army” which he controls is now the “sole legitimate institution” in Libya, and rejected the authority of any government or parliament until new elections can be held. A spokesman for the “National Army” has reportedly welcomed elections as soon as possible, on the basis that “the army will secure polling stations across the country.” According to an International Crisis Group report Haftar’s apparent ambition to do a Sisi may provoke action including military action by his opponents, particularly by militias in western Libya which broadly accept the GNA, and he has been repeatedly warned by the international community including his closest supporters Egypt and the UAE against undermining UN-led peace efforts.
There are enigmatic reports that Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, in Qadhafi’s time widely regarded outside Libya as his likely successor, will be a candidate in presidential elections. He has been sentenced to death in a Tripoli court but reportedly released and is now possibly in hiding somewhere in Libya. He is backed by Libyans in Egypt including a cousin who probably has access to family funds (frozen according to both Libya and the UN) and might have some tribal support, but most analysts dismiss his chances.
For more detail we commend a new but apparently undated report “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players” by Mattia Toaldo and Mary Fitzgerald published by the European Council on Foreign Relations.

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