Libya after the spin and deception
By Richard Galustian,
Analyst, columnist, and writer on Libyan affairs
Foreign intervention came to Libya last week, Not military but political, as the United Nations broke its own rule book to push through a new Libyan government without democratic support or any basis in law.
While the world is focussed on watching for signs of intervention there of a military kind, with the discovery of US special forces on the ground and US jets poised to unleash air strikes on ISIS, the UN struck with a very different weapon.
On 17 December, the United Nations announced that, despite both Libya’s warring parliaments disagreeing, it was going ahead and forming a new united government.
By forming a third government that risks being seen as a puppet, the UN is taking a gigantic risk that may blow back in its face.
First of all, the UN has no right to dictate Libya’s government – the mandate of its special envoy runs only to mediation, not government-forming.
A confluence of events helped the United Nations stitch together its new, grandly-titled Government of National Accord (GNA) which some call the national unity government.
A year of failed negotiations had seen the civil war worsen, tens of thousands of foreign migrants leave Libya’s shores and tens of thousands of Libyans leaving their homes as well, and the elected parliament in Tobruk and its Islamist rival in Tripoli showing no sign of wanting to make a deal. Meanwhile the so-called Islamic State (IS) continues to grow, its intrusions in the oil fields in the Sirte basin alarming western diplomats.
At an international conference on Libya in Rome on 13 December, according to a good source, US Secretary of State John Kerry threw a “diplomatic tantrum”, demanding that assembled diplomats get Libyan unity government formed any way they could.
His reported anger was because he had just cut a deal with new best pal Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over hitting IS in Syria. But without the ability to strike also in Libya, Kerry knows IS is free to fall back to north Africa.
Libya in fact is part of a huge international jigsaw, in which EU and American sanctions against Russia over its action in Ukraine are on the table, together with joint action in Syria. As American and Russian-led coalitions bomb IS in Syria, so reports have begun to circulate that in Libya IS is expanding. This month is units moved close to the UNESCO world heritage site at the ancient Roman city of Sabratha, now in danger of destruction. Kerry and Lavrov, along with their counterparts in several Arab states, said enough is enough. IS must be tackled and must be hit on all fronts – which meant hitting it in Libya also.
With both Tripoli and Tobruk adamant they would not agree to foreign intervention, the UN’s solution has been to create a third administration, the GNA, which will agree to foreign intervention.
The signing ceremony in Skhirat on 17 December was spun brilliantly by the United Nations. It is true that 80 MPs from Tobruk and 25 from Tripoli were in attendance. But neither parliament has been asked to approve the new unity government – a last minute change by the UN to the terms of the deal.
In fact the GNA is approved only by Libya Dialogue, whose members were tasked not with agreeing it, but negotiating it and reporting back to their parliaments. Until the Rome conference, these people had no authority to actually sign the plan. That came, last minute, from the UN changing the rules.
The cherry on the top for leaders of this so-called new GNA is that international recognition status will now be changed. It will be taken away from the government chosen by the elected parliament and given, courtesy of the UN, to them. At the stroke of a pen, they will own Libya’s $100 billion in foreign assets.
British and Italian troops have been pledged to support – read, enforce the will of – this new government, and are due to carve out a safe zone, like Bagdad’s Green Zone, probably in the UN complex in the most salubrious residential complex in Tripoli.
But beyond this new Green Zone, Tripoli will remain a patchwork of competing militias, jealously guarding their own turf.
Yes, this new government, beholden to the UN and the West, is likely to invite western strikes on IS. But whether it will actually govern anything is another question. The two existing governments, the one in Beida appointed by the HoR and led by Abdullah Al-Thinni and the other in Tripoli appointed by the GNC and led by Khalifa Gwell, have yet to stand aside and declare they have resigned. It does not look like happening.
In the case of Tripoli, how then is the GNA going to get into the city and get its hands on the levers of power?
One has to wonder then if IS is really the West’s biggest problem in Libya.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Libya Observer