After a few failed attempts, it appears Libya’s feuding factions have finally agreed upon a U.N.-backed proposal to form a unity government. Unfortunately, support for the plan is not universal, and it remains to be seen if the framework will evolve into a fully-functional, enduring national government.
Both the internationally-recognized government-in-exile and the Islamist militia currently occupying the capital of Tripoli have been feeling pressure from the Islamic State, which is making a big push to add Libyan territory to its “caliphate.” It is clear enough to both Libyans and international observers that ISIS is benefiting enormously from the ongoing strife between rival Libyan factions.
Al-Arabiya and AFP report that the new unity government will have 13 ministers and five ministers of state, including three women. That is half the number of ministers in the unity proposal that failed last month, in part because dissenters thought the cabinet was too large.
Sources told Al-Arabiya that “Mahdi Al-Burghuthi, who defected from the former Libyan regime’s army to join the rebels, was chosen as the country’s new defense minister.” Burghuthi was also named defense minister in the previous unity proposal. Several other officials for the new government were also named.
“However, on Monday the Minister of Finance and Minister of Wounded and Missing (MoWM) withdrew from Libya’s unity government in a sign that divisions remain,” the report continues. Two other members of the council refused to sign on to the unity government framework, complaining that the process for nominating ministers was not sufficiently transparent.
Heavy pressure was brought upon both Libyan factions to get the new system up and running. “There is no time to lose for the national unity government to assume its functions and securely establish itself in Tripoli,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, as reported by AFP. He went on to threaten anyone who might obstruct the formation of the new government with international sanctions.
“The time of tactical maneuvering is over. Now it’s time for Libya to show responsibility,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier agreed. “Germany, Europe and the international community are ready to offer any help to support the Libyan government in this. This also applies to state-building and the training of security forces.”
“We call on Libyans suffering from the fighting … and the members of parliament to support the Government of National Accord, which will provide the framework to fight terrorism,” said Libyan council member Fathi al-Majbari, as reported by Reuters.
“The journey to peace and unity of the Libyan people has finally started,” declared Martin Kobler, the U.N. envoy to Libya.
A more pessimistic analysis at the UK Guardian paints the unity government as effectively a third power in Libya, casting doubt on the willingness of either the nominal government or the Islamists of Tripoli to completely dissolve into the new framework, to say nothing of the independent warlords haunting the post-Qaddafi wasteland. This analysis portrays the U.N. as having far less influence with either Libyan faction than it claims, as it’s still recovering from a payola scandal involving previous envoy Bernardino Leon.
The ISIS threat is definitely growing in Libya. Over the weekend, Islamic State militants operating near Benghazi claimed they were able to shoot down a MiG-23 fighter belonging to the internationally-recognized government. There are fears that ISIS might actually be preparing to relocate its “caliphate” to Libya, as its grasp on Syrian territory becomes untenable in the face of the Russian-Iranian-Assad onslaught.
Haaretz reported over the weekend that foreign-born ISIS fighters seemed especially willing to hand territory back to the Assad regime (which they actually hate less than they hate rival elements of the Syrian rebellion.) This report notes ISIS recently announced the completion of a training course for fighters intended to help capture the suburbs of Tripoli, while a recent Islamic State document hungrily described Libya as “a theater of action that provides incomparable access for attacking Europe and vessels at sea.”