The EU hailed a ‘milestone’ as Libya embarked Saturday (6 February) on a new phase of its post-Gaddafi transition, after an interim executive was selected to lead the country until December elections following a decade of chaos.
In a potential turning point accord widely welcomed by the international community, four new leaders from Libya’s west, east and south now face the task of unifying a nation torn apart by two rival administrations and countless militias.
Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, a 61-year-old engineer, was selected Friday as interim prime minister by 75 Libyan delegates at UN-led talks outside Geneva, the culmination of a process of dialogue launched in November.
It marked the start of a new chapter for Libya after the failure of a 2015 UN-brokered deal that established a Government of National Accord headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.
Libya has been mired in violent turmoil with divisions between the GNA in Tripoli and a rival administration backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar in the east.
Acting UN envoy Stephanie Williams, who facilitated the week-long talks in Switzerland, called it a “historic moment”.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “I do believe it is a breakthrough”. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell welcomed “an important milestone”.
Libya: @JosepBorrellF on behalf of #EU27 welcomes agreement on the transitional government as important milestone. 🇪🇺 ready to work w/new President Mohammad Younes Menfi & PM Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah. https://t.co/bDiyWFKcel
— Peter Stano (@ExtSpoxEU) February 7, 2021
In the centre of the capital Tripoli, citizens guardedly welcomed the news.
“At first, Libyans were not optimistic,” said 43-year-old Adil al-Kakli.
“But yesterday, the joy was palpable, because we saw these initiatives for the emergence of a state,” he added, while cautioning that the plan to hold elections in December remained too ambitious.
Fellow citizen Louay Khouzam, 37, said she saw “hope for change”, but still believed that polls will not happen before the end of the year.
But on social media, many Libyans warned of a likely repeat of several past failed efforts to restore stability and security to their country.
Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the US welcomed the interim government, but cautioned of a “long road ahead” and said it would have to offer Libyans essential public services.
Hailing from the city of Misrata, newly selected premier Dbeibah had led the Libyan Investment and Development Company under dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was toppled and slain in a 2011 revolution.
The wealthy businessman has 21 days to form a cabinet, then another three weeks to win a vote of confidence in parliament, by 19 March at the latest.
A three-member presidency council has also been chosen to head a unity administration and steer the North African state towards the ballot box on 24 December.
The vote is part of a complex UN-led process aiming to build on a fragile ceasefire in force since October that has cleared the way for a resumption of oil exports on which the country is dependent.
Mohammad Younes Menfi from eastern Libya, a former ambassador expelled by Greece in December 2019 in protest at an agreement between Tripoli and Ankara, is to head the presidential council.
Greece joined the international chorus of approval of the deal, announcing the imminent reopening of its diplomatic missions in Libya.
Menfi’s deputies are Moussa al-Koni, a member of Libya’s long-marginalised Touareg minority from the south of the country, and Abdallah Hussein al-Lafi, from the western city of Zuwara.
Haftar’s spokesman on Saturday congratulated Dbeibah and Menfi as well as “the Libyan people” on the outcome of the selection process, a day after Sarraj wished the new executive “success in their mission”.
But analysts have expressed initial scepticism.
The new executive authority “will find it very difficult to exert any influence in eastern Libya” and will even face opposition in western Libya, said Wolfram Lacher, a senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
Dbeibah was considered an outsider candidate — in large part due to his past close ties to Gaddafi — compared to the influential speaker of the eastern-based parliament, Aguila Saleh, and powerful GNA interior minister Fathi Bashagha.
Lacher said “the four people who were elected (Friday) don’t really have a common interest… other than getting to power” and staying in power.
The selection also came as a surprise to Tarek Megerisi, of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“#Libya’s UN process careened over the line producing a new authority which frankly nobody would have expected,” Megerisi tweeted, suggesting the favourites were handicapped by longstanding demands for an end to elitism, corruption and poor public services.