The Quest for Stability in Libya

Nine months ago, Germany hosted the first Libya Conference in Berlin. On Monday, October 5, it was time to assess how to advance stability further in the war-torn North African nation. However, although a ceasefire is currently in place, various actors are continuing to pursue their interests in the Libyan conflict and standing in the way of progress.

Libya’s War-Torn Reality

The people of Libya long for a better future. Their country has degenerated into a hell, used as a pawn by international actors. Crime is rising. The economy is in ruins, and jobs are scarce. It is no surprise that the people of Tripoli have been protesting against the government, against mismanagement, and the infrastructure’s deterioration for weeks. The fact that two protesters were recently shot dead by government security forces only fueled their anger.

After nearly a decade of war and chaos, Libyans long for peace, security, and economic prosperity. The previous month provided some hope. Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj announced his resignation at the end of the month. His power was crumbling, and thus the resignation is not necessarily entirely voluntary. Moreover, Sarraj fell out with his interior minister and felt pressure from armed groups within Tripoli.

Even Sarraj’s recent military successes did not help. With the help of Turkey, he was able to stop the offensive of the Libyan National Army (LNA) and its leader Khalifa Haftar who were advancing on the capital. Sarraj even forced Haftar’s troops into retreat. As a result, Sarraj can now control the flow of refugees to Europe – powerful leverage, as his supporter Erdogan knows.

Showdown in Sirte

Hafter, on the other hand, has maintained control over the rich oil reserves in the east. The two camps now face each other on the front-line town of Sirte. Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt support Haftar as their interest lies – among other things – in Libya’s gas and oil.

However, fighting Islamic militias is another important reason for them. Hence, Russia and the Emirates have sent military equipment and mercenaries into the region despite the arms embargo.

Despite all the saber-rattling on both sides, and the staggering amount of weapons and mercenaries sent to Libya, no one is interested in an escalation, let alone a protracted proxy war with Turkey on Libyan soil. It is one of the reasons why a window opened for diplomacy in August when both sides, although Haftar only agreed to a ceasefire and negotiations under strong international pressure.

The Battle for Power and Money

Since then, envoys from both warring parties have been looking for compromise lines in Morocco and Egypt through mediation. It is a tough battle for power and money. After months of blockade, Haftar has now resumed oil production. Both sides should benefit from it. An exchange of prisoners is also on the agenda, as is the formation of a unity government and, in the end, elections.

Numerous questions remain, however, particularly regarding the military on both sides. Who will be in charge of the Libyan army? How will the military units of the West and the East be integrated? Will they play a similar role as the armed militias are currently playing within the security apparatus? These are tough questions, and the potential process will need to find answers for them.

Aiming for a Diplomatic Solution

Nonetheless, the negotiating climate at the recent meeting was described as constructive. Representatives from 16 states and international organizations seek to take ownership of the situation starting on October 5 at an international conference.  This comes almost nine months after the Berlin Libya Conference, at which the participants could only agree on soft summit resolutions.

All actors involved are cognizant that a political solution’s chances of success are significantly better than a military solution. A quick breakthrough is nonetheless unlikely. The conflict is too complicated, the interests too conflicting, the mistrust too great. However, the chances of a peaceful settlement in the crisis-ridden country have never been as great, for better or worse.