Libya is currently experiencing a number of political and military developments that raise concerns about the trajectory of the country’s crisis and what the future may hold, particularly with regard to ending the transitional phase and overcoming the current state of instability and the ongoing conflict between the political bodies and the actors in control of interactions. There are also the swift changes in the military and security environments, of which the clashes in Tripoli on 14 August were the most violent episodes in recent months. In addition, there are ongoing differences within the military establishment, issues related to the expulsion of mercenaries from the country, and conflicting interests of outside parties.
The Libyan scene has grown increasingly complex over the past few years and underachievement have continued to dominate its interactions, making it very challenging to end the transitional phase and bring institutions and political bodies together. However, due to the repeated setbacks and missed opportunities caused by internal and external complications, any talk of a political breakthrough or consensus leading up to the presidential and parliamentary elections has become suspect.
The current situation in Libya is not dissimilar to the situation in 2021, when the chance to hold elections was missed, and this highlights the difficulty of holding presidential and parliamentary elections this year. Although every effort was made to remove roadblocks to the political track with the goal of holding elections in 2023, recent developments show how challenging it will be to do so in the months left in the year. If the road map created by the House of Representatives (HOR) and the High Council of State (HCS), which set a time period of 240 days for holding elections, starting from the date of the issuance of laws, is accepted, elections will not be held for at least 8 or 9 months.
It appears that both internal and external parties are convinced of the difficulty of completing the political course this year. This is evidenced by the statements of Abdoulaye Bathily, the UN Special Representative for Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the international community, which have shifted from discussing holding elections this year to holding them as soon as possible. This indicates that everyone involved in the scene is aware of how challenging it would be to fulfill that entitlement amidst the complexity that currently rules the scene. If this were to happen, the period of the transitional stages—which began its twelfth year at the beginning of this year—would be extended without any clear signs of a desire or ability to stop the spiraling repetition and succession of transitional stages.
The Libyan crisis and its current interactions are characterized by intricate complications and crises, which point to the continuation of the current state of affairs, especially in light of the recent rapid developments on the political and military levels. These crises and complications include the following:
1. The Change in the High Council of State’s Leadership: After Khaled al-Mishri, who had led the HCS for five years since his election in 2018, was ousted following the HCS’s periodic elections, in which Takala defeated al-Mishri by 67 votes to 62, the HCS underwent a change in leadership. The narrow margin of victory reflects the HCS’s internal strife and the wide range of preferences among its members. Regardless of the causes of al-Mishri’s defeat, this change have sparked debate over the political arrangements in light of Takala leadership’s potential influence, given his earlier rejection of the thirteenth constitutional amendment and the recommendations of the 6+6 Joint Committee for Preparing Electoral Laws, which may bring back the apathy between the two chambers to the level it was prior to the recent consensus.
Some people also believe that Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh, the head of the Government of National Unity (GNU), will benefit from these changes, especially now that their conflict with al-Mishri has reached a boiling point. As a result, this may have an impact on how elections are conducted in the future and the efforts to create a unified government, which may further complicate the situation. However, the initial actions and statements of the new Speaker of the HCS indicate the possibility of a continuation of the state of consensus, but this will depend on the ability of internal and external parties to exert influence and advance the political track.
2. Tension between the UNSMIL and the HOR: Tensions between UNSMIL and the Libyan HOR have risen in recent months. Bathily’s opposition to the outputs of the 6+6 Joint Committee, which he deemed insufficient and incapable of leading to the completion of the political track, is the primary cause of the dispute, as the HOR viewed this as a violation of the UN Representative’s authority. Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the Libyan HOR previously stated that the UN representative is not Libya’s ruler, indicating that the UN mission’s goal is to assist the Libyan people, not to determine who rules.
In general, this tension may worsen in the upcoming phases, especially if Bathily insists on presenting his initiative to establish a committee to negotiate electoral laws, which could result in Libya entering a conflict of transitional maps because the House of Representatives rejects this strategy and sees it as a violation of the UNSMIL’s work obligations and because determining the form and arrangements for the following stage is within the inherent competence of the HOR.
3. Difficulty Controlling the Armed Factions: The recent clashes between the 444 Brigade’s elements and the Special Deterrence Forces, which occurred after the latter detained the 444 Brigade’s commander, Colonel Mahmoud Hamza, show how difficult it will be for the GNU to fully tighten its control over the armed militias in the west and how the pacification of the West, even if it lasts for a long time, will only be temporary. This raises questions about al-Dbeibeh’s capacity to maintain stability in western Libya because the rivalry between the militias in the West could at any time ignite a conflict, especially given that their allegiance is based on petty goals and attempts to establish hegemony and project power.
4. Barriers to Integration: Repeated clashes in western Libya are evidence of how challenging it is to deal with Libya’s militia system. Despite the Special Deterrence Forces and the 444 Brigade’s affiliation with the GNU and their official status, their armed conflict highlights the absence of institutions in western Libya, the state’s declining influence, and the vulnerability of the regular security forces in favor of the emergence of militias and armed brigades, which, due to their equipment and armament superiority, have grown to be a significant player in the security and military equation in western Libya, making it challenging to transcend their roles. This is especially true given that these militias are replacing the state and are working to increase their influence in the security and political equations.
In response to the recent clashes in Tripoli, the Misrata Brigades stated in a statement on 15 August that in the event that the Presidential Council and the GNU fail to resolve the conflict, it will mandate a military force from among the revolutionaries to do so. Perhaps this statement reflects their perception that they have additional power that enables them to fulfill roles other than the traditional and crucial ones played by security institutions and state agencies, particularly in terms of enforcing security and restoring stability, which aggravates the severity of the crisis.
5. Border Neighborhood Effects: A significant issue that could have a direct impact on Libya’s overall arrangements is the security situation and instability in its neighboring countries. These worries grew as the conflict in Sudan broke out and the subsequent military takeover in Niger occurred, as regional instability would reflect on the Libyan scene after the country’s southern region came to be encircled by a number of dangers that made it susceptible to direct influence.
In light of a number of factors, including the military coup in Niger and the state of competition between the West and Russia over influence in the Sahel and Sahara regions in general, the escalation of security unrest in Libya’s neighboring countries may transform the country into a backdoor for these crises, thereby impeding efforts to resolve the crisis. Additionally, the conflicting parties in Sudan and Niger may use the southern region of Libya as an incubator to expand their influence there due to their tribal and demographic ties to that region. Add to this the difficulties posed by the environment created by this scene, which encourages the growth of terrorist organizations and organized crime groups that are adept at taking advantage of security gaps, as well as the expanding asylum phenomenon, which adds to Libya’s security burden.
In short, the likelihood of concluding the political process and holding the Libyan elections in the near future has decreased, according to the overall political developments and military clashes in the western part of the country. The continued influence of armed militias, the increase in the proliferation of weapons outside of state institutions, the ongoing threats posed by foreign mercenaries in Libya, the difficulty in unifying the military institution, along with political differences and a lack of confidence between the political bodies and institutions involved in the scene, all contribute to further crisis and a prolongation of the current situation.