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How Libya’s UN recognised government is doing everything but its job

Head of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj inspects the scene after a house hit by airstrike of the Haftar’s forces in Tripoli, Libya on October 14 2019 [Hazem Turkia / Anadolu Agency]
Head of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj inspects the scene after a house hit by airstrike of the Haftar’s forces in Tripoli, Libya on October 14 2019 [Hazem Turkia / Anadolu Agency]

Last Tuesday, 17 December, marked four years since the Libyan Political Accord (LPA) was signed in Skhirat, Morocco creating the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj. That government was supposed to be a caretaker authority for a two-year transitional period at most. It was tasked with two crucial undertakings: to deliver a draft constitution and have Libyans vote on it; and organise an election, while it managed the country and economy in the meantime.

In March 2016, the GNA arrived in Tripoli from Tunisia, where it was based after the LPA was signed. The UN mission in Libya conducted arduous negotiations with different militias in Tripoli to get their agreement for the GNA to take office in the capital. A couple of powerful militias had refused to let the GNA into Tripoli but changed their minds. On 30 March, and in complete secrecy, Al-Sarraj and his colleagues boarded an Italian frigate and headed to Tripoli for a temporary office on a navy base east of the city.

Having neither an army nor a police force, the GNA found itself at the mercy of different militias controlling the capital and surrounding districts. On 23 December, 2016, in an attempt to boost its authority, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2259 and recognised the GNA as the only legitimate government in Libya, giving it control over the country’s huge oil wealth.

READ: Egypt calls on UN ‘not to register Turkish-Libyan deal’ 

Gaining access to vast revenues from Libya’s oil reserves, the government started to pay its protectors, the militias, making them richer and more powerful. However, next to nothing has been spent to alleviate the misery of the Libyan people. The GNA has literally become a hostage to different armed groups over which it has had minimal control, while providing them with legitimacy as they claim to be under government control whenever it suits them to say so.

The militias’ control over the GNA started to interfere with its work, hindering what few services it could deliver to ordinary Libyans. Under the government’s watchful eye, corruption became the only game in town and militias gained more legitimacy and cash.

The GNA’s legitimacy started to erode in the face of its failure to improve the lives of the Libyan people. Al-Sarraj and his government found themselves doing everything except what they should be doing. Four years on and the constitution is still in draft form; security is lacking; elections have not been held; and the GNA itself has never gained a constitutional prerequisite of parliamentary approval by an open vote of confidence. It has become the de facto authority given much-needed credibility by being preceded by the magic words “the UN-recognised government” whenever mentioned.

Haftar’s forces kill migrants in Libya - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Haftar’s forces kill migrants in Libya – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The agreement that created the GNA is worthless, as many politicians who negotiated it in the first place have washed their hands of it. Against this backdrop, foreign interference in Libya has increased, turning the conflict into a full-fledged proxy war.

When UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame took over the role on 22 June, 2017, he inherited  a shattered process in a divided country where the political elite is busy making money and quarrelling over petty issues such as their office furniture and the type of car that they should be using. Salame pushed hard to launch his roadmap for the country, setting 14 April 2019 as the date for a national conference. Just ten days beforehand, Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an attack on Tripoli rendering the whole political process useless. Eight months later and the LNA is still unable to enter Tripoli while the conflict has become an open proxy war with Libyans bearing the brunt of the fighting. Egypt, the UAE and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia are supporting Haftar while Turkey and Qatar are helping the GNA to stay in power.

It was only a matter of time before Russia stepped into the mess, siding with the LNA. Moscow has always denied any role in the current conflict around Tripoli but Russian drones and mercenaries are helping Haftar. Turkish-supplied drones and African mercenaries are supporting the GNA in an increasingly protracted aerial war of attrition and destruction at the expense of ordinary Libyans.

READ: Turkey to establish military base in Libya 

To make things even worse, the GNA has given in to Ankara’s blackmail by signing a treaty delineating Libya’s maritime borders with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean in return for further military assistance. That was the purpose of the Memorandum of Understanding that the two sides signed on 27 November. The MoU unleashed a hail of condemnation from Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and the Libyan public alike. The European Union, meeting today in support of Greece, is expected to release a statement rejecting the deal as “a violation of international law.” Turkish leaders, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have repeatedly expressed their readiness to send troops to Libya, but only if the GNA asks for them. Under enormous military pressure from Haftar’s forces, the GNA might well ask very soon, unless the situation on the ground changes drastically.

While the war rages, killing and displacing more Libyans, the GNA continues to do everything but its main job. It may well be the “UN-recognised government” but whatever national legitimacy it might once have had has all but disappeared.

Four years down the line, those who signed the LPA do not consider it to be a viable document that could bring an end to Libya’s miserable state of affairs. The UN will still mediate between the conflicted Libyan political elites whose major decisions are taken for them in Ankara, Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Moscow, but the destruction of Libya by its young people funded by its own money will continue unabated.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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