A Libyan protestor carries a placard depicting general Khalifa Haftar during a demonstration in support of the army and against the UN-backed unity government in Benghazi this month
A Libyan protestor carries a placard depicting general Khalifa Haftar during a demonstration in support of the army and against the UN-backed unity government in Benghazi this month © Abdullah Doma - AFP/File
A Libyan protestor carries a placard depicting general Khalifa Haftar during a demonstration in support of the army and against the UN-backed unity government in Benghazi this month
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Rim Taher
Last updated: March 24, 2016

In Libya's chaos, unity government only adds to disarray

Banner Icon It was meant to finally bring an end to Libya's political chaos and unrest, but the creation of a new UN-backed unity government has only added to the country's disarray.

Desperate to resolve years of political deadlock that has allowed jihadists to gain an important foothold on Europe's doorstep, the United Nations and Western powers have been pushing hard for the acceptance of a Libyan power-sharing deal announced in December.

Under the agreement, Libya's rival administrations -- one supported by the internationally recognised parliament in the east and the other backed by an Islamist-backed militia in Tripoli -- are supposed to cede power to a new Government of National Accord (GNA) under prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj.

But so far the only thing the two sides seem able to agree on is their mutual disdain for the new authority.

"The birth of this government in this way has done nothing but worsen the political crisis... create new conflicts and further destabilise" the country, said Mohamed Eljarh, a Libya analyst at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

The extent of the crisis was hammered home on Wednesday when UN envoy Martin Kobler was prevented from travelling to Tripoli to work on installing the GNA.

"Again had to cancel flight to Tripoli... UN must have the right to fly (to) Tripoli," he wrote on Twitter, without specifying what had blocked the mission.

The GNA has not been formally endorsed by either parliament but it announced earlier this month it was taking office on the basis of a petition signed by a narrow majority of Libya's elected lawmakers.

The United States and its European allies have called on the government to swiftly move to Tripoli and take up power, threatening sanctions against those who undermine the political process.

But neither of Libya's rival administrations has so far shown any willingness to cooperate.

"Unless the international community can give the GNA control over Libyan finances, a powerful national army, and somehow make it legitimate in the eyes of the Libyan people, the GNA is poised to become the weakest of Libya's three competing national authorities," said Michael Nayebi-Oskoui, a US-based Middle East and North Africa analyst.

A LONG WAY FROM STABILITY

Libya collapsed into lawlessness following the 2011 NATO-backed ouster of longtime strongman Moamer Kadhafi.

Heavily armed groups rushed to the fill the power vacuum and in mid-2014 a militia alliance including Islamists overran Tripoli, forcing a recognised government that had struggled to function to flee to eastern Libya.

Eljarh said there was no hope of the GNA taking power in Tripoli "as long as the main armed groups are not ready to pledge allegiance" to the new authority.

"The international community would need to be ready to provide it with military protection if needed," he said.

And any attempt to force the government on Tripoli would be "a major security risk likely to cause clashes between armed groups".

The stakes are high. Just across the Mediterranean from Europe, Libya has become the latest stronghold of the jihadist Islamic State group.

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IS has seized control of Kadhafi's coastal hometown of Sirte and launched a wave of attacks, both against rival Libyan forces and across the border in Tunisia.

The group claimed responsibility last year for two attacks in Tunisia -- on the Bardo national museum and at a beach resort near Sousse -- that killed a total of 59 tourists.

The lawlessness has also seen Libya became a favoured jumping-off point for smugglers bringing migrants on dangerous sea journeys to Europe.

Around 330,000 migrants have landed in Italy from Libya since the start of 2014, as Europe already struggles to cope with the influx of those fleeing five years of war in Syria.

Despite the international pressure, Nayebi-Oskoui said Libya is in such a shambles that it is unlikely the GNA will make a difference soon.

"Libya's fractured social and tribal structures require a strong and legitimate central government," he said. "Unfortunately we seem to be a long way from realising that objective."

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