The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) continued its efforts to assume control over vital institutions this past week amid unprecedented international support. The GNA secured the buildings of various ministries, including Housing, Social Affairs and Youth and Sports, but deliberately avoided the more politically contentious ministries, such as Defense and Interior.
While the House of Representatives (HoR) government in Tobruk delays and impedes the political transition process, the GNA is nonetheless asserting its authority in Tripoli and laying the foundations for governance. These actions are supported by the international community, which is pressuring the GNA to provide leadership for the fragmenting country.
The HoR has the potential to reject the new government, denying the GNA legitimacy in the eastern region of the country. Yet the international community, through high-level diplomatic visits, has made it clear the momentum of support is behind the GNA. On Apr 12, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni met with GNA officials at Tripoli’s Abu Sittah Naval Base, where the GNA is currently headquartered. On Apr 14, the British, French and Spanish ambassadors to Libya followed suit and arrived in Tripoli to meet with the Presidential Council of the GNA.
This was their first visit to the capital since departing in 2014 and marked a critical step towards foreign embassies resuming operations in Tripoli. And on Apr 16, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in the Tripoli for similar meetings.
The high-level visits by foreign delegations come amid reports that diplomatic missions will consider returning to Tripoli. Indeed, UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler already announced the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) will resume operating from the capital. If the GNA demonstrates its ability to provide adequate security guarantees, foreign embassies are likely to return. This would make it more attractive and feasible for international businesses with interests in Libya to reenter the market once again.
Aware of the significant security challenges lying ahead, the EU may deploy security forces to Libya, if approved by the GNA, to support the new government in its early phases and to protect their own personnel and assets in country. Their first priority, though, is to ensure a recognized unity government exists in the capital, one that can provide a level of legitimacy to international security forces operating in the country under its invitation and approval.
In light of these political developments, the General National Congress (GNC) government in Tripoli continues to oppose the GNA and has refused to step down, though is increasingly isolated as an institution. The US Treasury Department, under the authority of an Executive Order issued by President Obama, added GNC Prime Minister Khalifa Ghweil to a growing list of sanctioned individuals deemed to be hindering the political reconciliation process or exploiting the current situation for their own benefit.
The EU previously announced their own set of sanctions on Apr 1 against GNC Prime Minister Khalifa Ghweil, GNC President Nouri Abusahmain and President of the HoR Ageela Saleh. Further rounds of targeted sanctions are likely to be announced against prominent politicians and militia commanders deemed to be obstructing the new government.
The majority of Tripoli and Misrata militias have shifted their support behind the GNA, though some continue to support the GNC, setting the stage for potential conflict in the future. The GNA will likely attempt to negotiate with the remaining anti-GNA militias in an effort obtain their support. Nonetheless, public support for the GNA will likely grow, particularly as the political, economic and security situation continues to deteriorate and ordinary Libyans become desperate for change.
In the end, the success of the GNA may be more dependent on its ability to ease the concerns and problems of the general population than on appeasing the remaining anti-GNA militias. There will come a time when Libyans ask themselves how much their lives have improved since the GNA came to power in Tripoli, before they begin calling for political change once again.
The GNA entered Tripoli by sea on Mar 30, in a risky move that has proven successful thus far. Now, their next challenge will be to secure the capital and unite the diverse populations and regions of the country amid the growing threat of the Islamic State. The HoR’s support in this process is not guaranteed, and there is little indication the GNC is transferring power in the near future.
But the security threats emanating from Libya, coupled with the migrant crisis, are destabilizing its neighbors and directly impacting Europe. As a result, the time may be approaching when the GNA and international community decide to move forward without the other two governments.