How is Libya governed today?

Civil war in Libya: French embassy reopened, members of the transitional government sworn in

The latest developments

Since the fall of the ruler Ghadhafi in 2011, the conflicts have been violent. Two rival governments, a general as a warlord and repeated peace talks: the background and developments.

The latest developments

  • France has reopened its embassy in Libya, a country of civil war. «Back to work!», Wrote the French diplomatic mission on Monday (March 29th) on Twitter. Head of state Emmanuel Macron had already announced the plans last week. The country wants to signal its support for the newly elected interim government in Libya. This replaced the internationally recognized government based in Tripoli and the opposing government based in the east of the country and is to lead Libya to nationwide elections on December 24th. In 2014, France relocated its diplomatic mission to Tunisia. The year before, the country's embassy in Libya's capital Tripoli had been attacked.
  • The members of the new interim government for Libya have been sworn in. On the way to reforms and stability, the country must now be reconciled and the divided state institutions must be united, said parliamentary chairman Agila Saleh at the ceremony in Tobruk on Monday (15 March). Parliament last week expressed its confidence in the interim government of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbaiba, who also took the oath of office on Monday. It is intended to replace the internationally recognized government based in Tripoli and the opposing government based in the east of the country and lead Libya to nationwide elections on December 24th.
  • Turkey has again prevented EU marines from controlling the UN arms embargo against Libya. According to information from the German Press Agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara vetoed the search of two merchant ships suspected of being used for illegal transports to the civil war country in North Africa in February. Both were sailing under the Turkish flag in the Mediterranean and were therefore not allowed to be inspected against the will of the Turkish authorities. The government in Ankara fears that the EU operation in the Mediterranean could put the party it supports in Libya at a disadvantage. It is also suspected that the Turkish government itself is involved in arms transports.
  • Germany is sending another ship to the Mediterranean for the EU mission to monitor the arms embargo against Libya. About 220 soldiers will be on board the "Berlin", as a spokesman for the navy for the German press agency confirmed. They are supposed to control cargo ships sailing towards Libya in the Mediterranean. According to current plans, the task force supplier "Berlin" is to leave Wilhelmshaven on Friday (March 5th) at 4 pm. The multifunctional ship, which is more than 170 meters long, is expected in the area of ​​operation in the middle of the month. Germany is currently participating in the EU mission “Irini” with a P-3C Orion long-range reconnaissance aircraft. The aim is to stabilize the civil war in North Africa and to support the UN-led political peace process. In addition to arms smuggling, oil smuggling should also be prevented.
  • A well-known Trump supporter and founder of the American military company Blackwater was one of the main participants in a secret mercenary operation in Libya, according to a confidential UN report. According to a panel of experts at the United Nations, Erik Prince proposed a military operation in Cairo to the Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar in April 2019, which should help the general in his fight against the internationally recognized government of the country. The UN report, which was presented to the Security Council on Thursday (February 18), is available in parts to the German Press Agency. According to this, this so-called "Operation Opus" should support Haftar in his march on the government in Tripoli with armed aircraft, reconnaissance flights, boats and a program for the kidnapping and killing of high-ranking enemy persons. Prince then brought war planes to Libya and thus violated the arms embargo for the civil war country.

Who is fighting whom in Libya?

On one side is the Libyan General Khalifa Haftar with his troops. Haftar is also behind the parliament, which fled to the city of Tobruk. On the other hand, there is the government under Fayez al-Sarraj, which is recognized by the international community and based in the capital Tripoli. The UN is constantly making new attempts to mediate between the conflicting parties.

Why are there two governments, one in Tripoli and one in Tobruk, and what is the prehistory of the civil war?

Libya has been fragmented since long-term ruler Muammar al-Ghadhafi was overthrown by an international military operation in 2011. The militias, which formed a front against Ghadhafi during the civil war, wrestled among themselves for domination in the country and for control of the oil and gas reserves after his death.

To this day, armed groups, including criminal gangs, Islamists and local tribes, control cities and entire regions. A transitional parliament elected in 2012 could not stabilize Libya. Parliamentary elections were held in June 2014, but instead of unifying Libya, they drove its collapse. Secular forces won the election, but the Islamist losers did not want to recognize the result and took up arms.

The newly elected parliament fled the fighting to the eastern city of Tobruk. The institutions have been divided since then, there are two governments, two central banks and two security apparatuses in Libya. The militias benefit from the chaos. They make their living smuggling oil, weapons and people.

Who is Khalifa Haftar?

The 77-year-old Khalifa Haftar had served as a general under Ghadhafi until the 1980s, when he fell out with the dictator. In 2011, Haftar returned to eastern Libya after years in the United States. In 2014 he gained influence. He declared war on the “terrorists”, not only referring to jihadists from the Ansar al-Sharia or ISIS terrorist group, but also moderate Islamists and, quite simply, political opponents.

After the elections in June 2014, he got behind the newly elected parliament, which had fled to the city of Tobruk in the east of the country. In his troops, which he calls the "Libyan National Army", the warlord has assembled former soldiers from Ghadhafi's armed forces, local militias, Salafists, and Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries. In 2016 he conquered important oil export ports, in 2017 he defeated the jihadist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi and further expanded his influence.

In the following year he was able to bring large parts of the south under his control. In January and February 2019, it occupied the important Sharara and Feel oil fields in the Murzuk Basin. He controls almost all of the country's oil fields and export ports. The government of Sarraj was able to stop its march on Tripoli with the help of Turkish troops in the summer of 2020.

I've collected recent data to give you an overview of # Haftar's LNA and why it's a mistake to adopt his narrative of being 'the Libyan army'. # Libya # Tripolipic.twitter.com/z8te4fyrRo

- Dzsihad Hadelli (@dhadelli) April 21, 2019

Who is Fayez al-Sarraj?

The Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, who is recognized by the international community, has been in office since March 2016. In December 2015, the UN managed to secure a peace agreement between the rival camps in Libya. The agreement was signed in the Moroccan city of Skhirat, and Sarraj was appointed prime minister of the new “unity government”.

Since then he has ruled Tripoli, but is far from controlling the country. Sarraj was never recognized by the parliament in Tobruk. And in Tripoli, too, his government has only limited influence, with powerful militias in the capital having largely brought the state apparatus under their control. In mid-September 2020, after protests against the government and conflicts in its ranks, the 60-year-old announced his resignation by the end of October at the latest. However, at the request of the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, among others, he postponed his withdrawal until the peace talks are over in November.

Which states support Haftar?

Haftar's main foreign supporters are Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Both states see the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists as enemies and want to weaken them in the region. From the beginning, Haftar presented himself as an opponent of the Islamists. For Egypt, securing the common border is also a priority. The Emirates supplied weapons and carried out drone and air strikes. Saudi Arabia is also helping Haftar.

Russia is also on Haftar's side. Russian paramilitaries of the notorious private task force "Wagner" have been fighting alongside Haftar's troops since September 2019. Politically, Moscow has long been close to the renegade general. Haftar has often visited the Kremlin. In recent years, Russia has also printed banknotes worth around 10 billion dinars for the parallel central bank in eastern Libya. The interests of the Kremlin in Libya are on the one hand political - it wants to underline its great power role and expand its influence in Africa. On the other hand, after the end of the UN embargo, Moscow hopes that arms deals with Libya will continue. These flourished before Ghadhafi's fall, when the Libyan dictator bought weapons from Russia for billions.

Who is Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj's support?

The main supporter of the government in Tripoli is currently Turkey. It has been supplying weapons to the forces allied with Sarraj for a long time. Turkey sent troops to Libya in January 2020. There are clear indications that it is also recruiting Syrian mercenaries for the mission.

With his official interference in the conflict, Erdogan hopes to build an ally who will be supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and thus ideologically close to him. But he also wants to benefit from the natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. At the end of November 2019, Turkey signed two agreements with the government in Tripoli at the same time: one on military aid, which enables Ankara to send air, ground and naval units and the delivery of weapons. A second agreement defines the maritime borders of the two countries in the eastern Mediterranean - although there is no common maritime border between Libya and Turkey. In this way, Turkey wants to secure the exploitation of mineral resources on the sea floor. Qatar also supports Sarraj.

What is the role of the EU?

The European Union has been passive and indecisive for years. It officially recognizes the government of Sarraj in Tripoli. France, however, appears to be supporting Haftar: In 2019, Haftar's anti-tank missiles from France were found in a recaptured military camp.

It became known in 2016 that Paris Haftar had also provided military assistance in the fight against jihadists in the past. France has economic interests in the oil sector in Libya. The country is important for France above all because of the neighboring Sahel zone, whose stability is being sought in Paris. In the Elysée Palace, one seems to consider Haftar more suitable than Sarraj as a partner in the fight against terrorists in this region.

Another problem within the EU to solve the Libya conflict is the position of Greece. The country wants to block all EU decisions on Libya as long as Tripoli adheres to an agreement with Turkey on maritime borders in the Mediterranean. From the Greek point of view, the agreement between Ankara and Tripoli, in which the two divide their zones of influence and interest in the Mediterranean, violates international law.

One of the areas affected is a region south of the Greek island of Crete in the so-called Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Greece, where rich raw material deposits are suspected. Turkey started exploring this zone in 2020, escalating the conflict with Greece almost to war.

At the end of October 2020, the EU imposed sanctions on companies from Turkey, Jordan and Kazakhstan, as well as two people from Libya, who are said to have violated the UN's arms embargo against Libya. In April 2020, a new naval mission called "Irini" was launched to monitor the embargo. However, their success so far has been limited. For the EU, securing its external border in the Mediterranean is linked to the issue of migration. «Irini» is supposed to operate away from the routes normally used by boats with migrants, but would have to rescue people in distress according to maritime law in an emergency.

It is unlikely that the EU will send up to 10,000 military observers to monitor a future ceasefire, as proposed in a strategy paper in early October 2020.

What about the USA?

The US is largely staying out of the Libya conflict. Because their relationship with those involved in the war is ambivalent: On the one hand, the USA is allied with Turkey and enemies with Russia. With Russia supporting Haftar, the US is finding it difficult to criticize Turkey for sending troops to help Farraj. On the other hand, the USA is more or less openly on the side of Greece and thus against Turkey in the gas dispute in the eastern Mediterranean. The US is also allied with Egypt - so they also want to avoid a conflict between Turkey and Egypt (which Haftar supports).

With material from the agencies