In conjunction with the Libyan House of Representatives’ vote of confidence, by a majority of members present, for the Government of National Unity (GNU) headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, armed clashes have escalated among some militias deployed in the capital of Tripoli. These militias are now turning into a major impediment to the success of the transitional phase. On the other hand, there are many catalysts that may support the position of the new executive authority to address all the challenges, chief of which is the spread of these militias in the west of the country.
Coinciding with the historic approval of the House of Representatives, from both the west and east of the country, granting confidence to the Dbeibah government, several challenges have emerged that may hinder the transitional phase:
- Clashes between armed militias: On 11 March, the capital saw clashes between members of militias deployed in Tripoli. Clashes occurred between the Tajoura Lions militia and the Daman militia that are backed by the Stability Support Service and that are mainly loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA), which will hand over power to the new GNU. These clashes, which saw an exchange of fire by light and medium weapons, arose from mutual accusations by the militias of hostile acts against each other. The clashes coincided with Dbeibah’s arrival in Tripoli, which he chose as the seat of the new government.
- Dilemma of the "man from Misrata" in Tripoli: There has been hostility in recent years between Misrata and Tripoli, the two most prominent cities in the west of the country. This hostility has turned into a competition for influence between militias affiliated with Misrata and those affiliated with Tripoli. In light of this, and given that Dbeibah is from the city of Misrata, some militias fear that Dbeibah’s influence will include a tendency to exclude and neutralize Tripoli militias, similar to the policies of the GNA Minister of Interior Fathi Bashagha, also from the city of Misrata, who wanted to curb the Tripoli militias through a major security operation shortly before the Geneva Forum chose a new executive authority.
- Rejection of the political process by some militias: By their nature, militias operate in the framework of an environment of conflict rather than peace. Thus, some militias in western Libya—including the Tripoli Protection Force and Western Region (loyal to the GNA)—have rejected any progress in the political process, including the results of the Geneva Dialogue that chose the new executive authority. The Tripoli Protection Force described the progress made in the Political Dialogue Forum as a "dangerous deviation from the right path." Meanwhile, it accused the UN mission of "personal interference in directing the political path towards certain goals that do not serve the interest of Libya," according to a letter sent by the militia to the UN Secretary-General and certain ambassadors claiming numerous violations in the recent political agreements.
- Obstruction of the commitments of the transitional phase: The main goal of the new government and presidential council resulting from the Geneva Dialogue is the creation of an environment suitable for the implementation of its most important commitment: general elections in December 2021. The new executive authority may find it difficult to achieve this goal in the event of an escalation by the militias or amid the possibility of disputes arising among them over influence and loyalty to the new executive authority, especially since the militias’ relationship with the GNA did not proceed in a straight line. Of course, this would be a major obstacle to completing the requirements of the transitional phase and is the most significant challenge currently facing the GNU, particularly since some of these militias are rejecting any attempts to be merged into or surrender weapons to any new authority.
Although the armed militias represent a significant challenge for the new Libyan executive authority, there are numerous catalysts that may support the work of the new authority to make the transitional phase a success, including the following:
- American pledge to hold accountable those who obstruct the political process: In an important signal of US support for the new Libyan executive authority, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan issued a statement on 12 March 2021, on behalf of US President Joe Biden, congratulating the Libyan people for establishing a Government of National Unity that will lead to general elections on 24 December 2021. Sullivan also pledged to hold accountable those who impede the current transitional phase, saying, "[W]e will promote accountability for any parties that seek to undermine the electoral roadmap Libyans have established." This could represent a fundamental shift in the US position compared to Trump’s vague policies towards the Libyan conflict. On the other hand, it may be an important deterrent, either to the militias or perhaps even to the dubious roles of some countries in Libya.
- UN Security Council support for the transitional phase: On 13 March 2021, the UN Security Council welcomed the Libyan House of Representatives’ vote of confidence for the new GNU headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, which is tasked with guiding the country to the elections scheduled for the end of this year. The council members called on all parties to implement the cease fire agreement and urged member states to respect its full implementation. Furthermore, the Security Council called for the withdrawal of all foreign and mercenary forces from Libya and full compliance with UN rules. The Security Council also supported the necessary preparations for conducting free and fair national elections this coming December.
- Relative decline in Turkey’s dubious role: The formation of the new executive authority received major regional support, even from some countries that have inflamed the situation in recent months. For example, Turkey supported the new authority despite maintaining Turkish-backed foreign mercenaries in western Libya. International and regional pressure have become a catalyst for the expulsion of mercenaries in the near term, amid the recognition of all parties of the futility of military escalation and the need to complete the transitional process in order to achieve stability, both inside Libya as well as regionally and internationally.
- Broad Arab support for the new Libyan executive authority: The new authority has gained major support from the Arab countries active in the region, led by the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. These countries have expressed support for the transitional phase leading to general elections, and their support is important for blocking any dubious regional actors, especially given Libya’s major importance for Arab national security.
Overall, the new executive authority faces significant challenges to the success of the transitional phase, chief of which are the armed militias that have been deployed for a full decade and possess various tools of influence. However, various catalysts, especially at the regional and international levels, support the new authority’s chances of fulfilling its tasks successfully. Ultimately, this depends mainly on the ability of this authority to be an expression of all Libyans, while rejecting any dubious regional alignments.