Peacemaking in Libya

After the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya was thrown into chaos. The National Transitional Council, created to govern the country following Gaddafi’s demise, allowed for a peaceful transition of power to the General National Congress (GNC). This arrangement continued until 2014, when it was replaced with the House of Representatives (HoR). An election was held, although it was marred by low voter turnout, violence, and limited access to polling places. However, some politicians (primarily the defeated Islamists) refused to recognize the results of the 2014 election and instead continued to meet as the GNC. They used two armed groups, LROR and Central Shield, to take control of Tripoli, Libya’s capital, and formed the National Salvation Government (NSG). Meanwhile, the HoR was forced to meet in Tobruk, in the far east of the country. Thus began Libya’s second civil war within a decade.

General Haftar

The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar, pledged its loyalty to the Tobruk government. It fights Islamist factions with the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as well as groups of Gaddafi loyalists. Meanwhile, the NSG is forced to rely on a slew of armed groups, many of which are opposed to each other, known collectively as the Libya Dawn Coalition (LDC). In addition, tribal militias and terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al-Qaeda took advantage of the power vacuum to take control of small parts of the country.

Over the last few years, numerous attempts have been made to bring peace to Libya. In 2015, a series of talks began in Geneva under UN supervision. The negotiating parties also met symbolically in the LNA-controlled town of Ghadames. However, the GNC never sincerely participated in the talks, rendering them useless. Meanwhile, fighting continued, as did terrorism, which spread into neighboring countries. Later that year, however, the UN was able to successfully mediate another round of talks, hosted by Morocco and Malta. All major factions participated, and they agreed to establish a unity government proposed by UN special envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon. Finally, in January 2016, the Government of National Accord (GNA) was proclaimed. However, the project soon became a failure that summer, when the HoR withdrew recognition of the GNA. The next year, the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, in support of the GNC, took over several ports from the LNA. This prompted General Haftar to proclaim the entire agreement null and void.


In 2018, representatives of the GNA and the Tobruk government met in France, where they agreed to hold elections by the end of the year. France donated $1 million for the election, while Italy insinuated that elections wouldn’t actually be held. Italy is one of the countries most influenced by the Lybian Civil War, since it is a common destination for Libyan migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Unlike France, Italy has generally been suspicious of the legitimacy of the Tobruk government. Meanwhile, France overtly supports General Haftar. Ultimately, the Italians were correct, and elections will not be held on time. Italy is now holding new talks, to ensure that the elections actually occur. However, General Haftar withdrew, refusing to negotiate with Qatari-backed groups, “and other supporters of al-Qaeda”. Italian PM Giuseppe Conte personally flew to Libya to request Haftar’s attendance, to no avail.

Moving forward, it seems that a political settlement to the Libyan Civil War is becoming increasingly unlikely. As of now, all sides still claim they seek a unified, integrated government, but make no effort to create one. Meanwhile, partition plans have been proposed, but they too are problematic for their own reasons. Haphazard peace efforts seem to be the only way forward, but they can, at best, stabilize the country, rather than provide for a permanent solution.