The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), which met in Geneva on 6 February 2021, has reached an agreement on the choice of the leadership of the executive authority for the transitional phase responsible for holding the parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 December 2021. While the results of the vote came as a surprise, they reflected the scales and stakes of the current political conflict in Libya in the prospect of reaching a final deal for the political solution.

This paper deals with developments in the Libyan situation, and monitors prospects for a possible settlement of the political crisis in the light of the equation created by the choice of the new leadership.

The surprise of the election of the Transitional Executive Authority

After a long round of negotiations, the LPDF meeting in Geneva reached an agreement on the selection of an interim leadership to conduct the transitional phase in Libya during 2021. While the popular estimates had previously referred to the likely victory of the list that includes the Speaker of the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk Aguilah Saleh, the Minister of the Interior in the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli Fathi Bashagha, the Commander of the Western Military Zone (WMZ) Osama al-Juwaili, and the southern politician Abdul Majeed Seif al-Nasr, the elections ultimately resulted in the victory of the list of Muhammad Yunus al-Manfi and Abdul Hamid Dabaiba, with a narrow margin (39 votes against 34 votes). Thus, the new Presidential Council (PC) comprises Muhammad Yunus al-Manfi as President, with his two deputies Musa al-Koni and Abdullah Hussein al-Lafi, while Abdul Hamid Dabaiba was elected Prime Minister.

However, what is the background and the nature of the leading figures in Libya, about whom the positions and estimates differed?

  • Muhammad al-Manfi, PC Chairman: al-Manfi belongs to the Manfah tribe in eastern Libya from which the well-known national leader Omar al-Mukhtar descends. He became involved in the student movement loyal to Colonel Gaddafi during the period of university studies. His father was a Governor of Tobruk State during the Gaddafi era and was close to him. He was elected as a member of the General National Congress (GNC) in 2012 after the fall of Gaddafi, from where he later split and joined the National Forces Alliance (NFA) led by Mahmoud Jibril. The GNA appointed him Ambassador to Greece before his expulsion therefrom after the agreement to demarcate the maritime borders signed by the Prime Minister of the Tripoli Government Fayez al-Sarraj with Turkey in 2019. Some reports suggest that he is close to the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, but he denies them and considers himself a liberal who believes in openness to all political trends.
  • Musa al-Koni, PC Member: al-Koni descends from the Tuareg and belongs to the Ghadames region in southern Libya. He served as Gaddafi's Ambassador to Mali from 2005 to 2011 before joining the uprising that toppled Gaddafi. He was a member of the Sarraj-led PC in before his resignation in 2017.
  • Abdullah Hussein al-Lafi, PC Member: al-Lafi comes from the Zawiya region in western Libya which he represents in the HoR. He has no explicit political positions, although he is affiliated with the leaders of western Libya.
  • Abdul Hamid Dabaiba, Prime Minister: Dabaiba hails from the city of Misrata. He is a businessman who built his fortune during the Gaddafi era. He managed major companies and supervised many infrastructure projects, including airports, roads and stadiums. His cousin and father-in-law, the businessman Ali Dabaiba, was one of the most prominent confidants of Colonel Gaddafi. Abdul Hamid Dabaiba has strong commercial interests with Turkey, chairs the Board of Directors of the Libyan Investment and Development Company (LIDCO), and leads the Libya al-Mustakbal (Libya Future) Movement.

While some estimates have indicated that the Turkish Brotherhood line is the beneficiary of the election of the new leadership, the truth is that the new leadership figures do not belong to the Brotherhood line, and have connections with most of the existing political formations, including symbols of the previous era such as Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. They are likely to follow the line of moderation and seek consensual settlements that guarantee the success of the interim solution path.

The Libyan political forces and the regional and international actors have unanimously welcomed and supported the new leadership. However, many intractable problems and challenges remain before the transitional executive authority, mainly forming a consensual government that would win the approval of the Libyan Parliament, dismantling the armed militias, rebuilding the national army, unifying the fragmented country, writing a final constitution for the country, and reforming the deteriorating economic conditions.

Scenarios for the Libyan political situation

Three distinct scenarios could be discerned according to the currently conflicting indicators regarding the composition and directions of the Libyan transitional leadership, and the positions of local political actors and external parties thereon.

First scenario: the transitional leadership succeeds in reaching consensual settlements that ensure the formation of a national unity government within the deadlines set in the Geneva Accord (before 26 February 2021), and its approval by Parliament before 19 March 2021. While most actors expressed their readiness to respond to the path of forming the government, it is difficult to define a consensual mechanism for parliamentary voting on it due to the multiplicity of parliamentary representation centres, the escalation of conflict between the HoR in Tobruk and the HoR in Tripoli, and the difficulty of meeting in a neutral third place (such as Ghadames and Sabratha). However, approval of the government may be achieved by referring to the LPDF, which is the mechanism that enjoys international sponsorship, as decided in the "road map" governing the current transitional period.

According to this scenario, the government would succeed in absorbing the military and security crisis within the limits of the current balance lines by preventing a return to war and restoring life to administrative institutions at the minimum levels, while keeping foreign military intervention in the narrowest scope and devoting the main attention to organising the elections scheduled for 24 December 2021. Among the indicators supporting this approach is the new US administration’s explicit and strong support for the current transitional equation, to the extent that it has vowed to “hold to account those who threaten stability or undermine the political process in Libya”, the readiness of the actors on the ground to cope with it while trying to influence it in their own favour, and the emergence of an implicit consensus between the external actors to preserve the existing general framework for the final solution.

Second scenario: the transitional process stalls and the new leadership is unable to manage the current phase as a result of its lack of control over the crucial internal balances that are controlled by the armed political groups, militias supported from abroad, and influential tribal actors. According to this scenario, the appointed government would be weak and unable to control the security situation, dismantle the armed groups and expel foreign mercenaries. It would also find great difficulties in dealing with the conflicting external pressures, which would necessitate the extension of the transitional phase and the resumption of the national dialogue rounds under international sponsorship without the possibility of predicting the course of subsequent events.

Third scenario: the collapse of the peaceful settlement process, the return of Libya to the suffocating crisis situation and the renewal of war and violence, which could lead to the failure of the transitional government, similar to the failure of the GNA experience.

While the first scenario is more likely, the second scenario remains highly plausible, and the third scenario cannot be ruled out in the event of the decline in foreign sponsorship, especially the US pressure that, according to its initial indications, supports the current settlement deal.

Conclusion

  • The LPDF, which convened in Geneva on 6 February 2021, elected the leadership of the executive authority for the transitional phase pending the parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 December 2021. While the winning leaders are not from among the high-profile personalities in the Libyan political scene, the list is characterised by suitable balances. While the PC  President (Muhammad Yunus al-Manfi) is from eastern Libya, one of his deputies is from the Tuareg (Musa al-Koni), the other is from Zawiya (Abdullah Hussein al-Lafi), and the Prime Minister (Abdul Hamid Dabaiba) is from Misrata.
  • While some estimates have claimed that the Turkish-Brotherhood line is the beneficiary of the election of the new leadership, the truth is that the new leadership figures do not belong to the Brotherhood line, and have contact channels with most of the existing political formations, including symbols of the previous era.
  • While the Libyan political forces and regional and international actors have unanimously supported the new leadership, difficult challenges remain before it, foremost of which being: forming a consensual government that would win the approval of the Libyan Parliament, dismantling the armed militias, rebuilding the national army, uniting the dispersed country, writing a final constitution for the country, and fixing the deteriorating economic conditions.
  • The most plausible scenario is the one whereby the transitional leadership would succeed in reaching consensual settlements that ensure the formation of a national unity government within the deadlines set in the Geneva Accord (before 26 February 2021), and its approval by Parliament before 19 March 2021 or alternatively its approval by the LPDF. Among the indicators supporting this scenario is the strong support by the new US administration for the current transitional equation, and the readiness of the actors on the ground to keep pace with it while trying to influence it in their own favour.

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