Stephen Russo – Guest Contributor
25 September 2017
It is likely that the planned Libyan presidential election of 2018 will be delayed due to the split in the country between the two leaders: Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar in Eastern Libya and Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli. This is in spite of the UN backing Sarraj and the GNA (Government of National Accord) and attempts by the UN and France to broker peace between the two opposition leaders, which included the agreement to a presidential election in 2018. However, the peace deal did not set a date for the presidential election, giving way to more potential unrest.
As the Syrian Civil War wages, the Libyan conflict has quietly become a major issue in North Africa. Ever since the 2011 Arab Spring and the death of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has faced a major political challenge. With Libya split between Field Marshall Haftar, located in Tobruk, and Fayez al-Sarraj, located in Tripoli, there is little hope of resolving the conflict. While the level of violence is not that of Syria, the road to peace has been difficult. The proposed agreement formed in Paris between the two opposition leaders, with help from French President Emmanuel Macron, has not settled on an election date and allows both parties to choose targets, as no definition of how to combat terrorist groups has been addressed. In addition, many of the western countries aiding in the settlement are reluctant to give a role to Haftar in the UN backed government. This has led to tension between those in support of Haftar and those backing Sarraj, especially since both leaders are believed to be running in the presidential elections next year.
Hafter has continued to gain strength and momentum in Libya, while Sarraj and the UN-backed government has weakened. For example, in July, Haftar’s forces took control of Benghazi after three years of fighting. In conjunction, Sarraj can barely move safely in Tripoli and has been barred from entering eastern Libya by Haftar. This move by Haftar has increased the gap between the two parties, as other members boycotting the Presidential Council have backed the decision. Haftar is supported by smaller regional factions, as well as by allies in the region, most notably the UAE and Egypt, while Sarraj has struggled to control his base in Tripoli and as his presidential council comes under fire from these smaller factions. In addition, Haftar is taking the initiative to meet with other African countries, in particular Tunisia and the Congo, before joining Sarraj at the African Union’s summit on the Libyan crisis, while also meeting with the Italian defense minister on September 26th. With Haftar showing off his political desire, there continues to be a split in Libya.
While the divide between the two leaders is troublesome for a peaceful solution, there are just as many legal challenges to overcome before the elections. Libya would need to agree to either a new constitution or electoral law and organize polls before the planned elections, making it more difficult to plan an election, which does not include the difficult task to unite the country’s divided institutions to agree upon law and the official body to create law.
Analytic confidence for this analysis was moderate. No specific structured analytic method was used. There was strong agreement between sources with little to no conflict among the sources. Most sources were updated or written within the last three months. The analyst’s expertise in Middle East politics is minimal, and the work was completed alone. The task complexity was moderately complex.