Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


On 10 March 2021, Libya’s Government of National Unity (GNU), led by Prime Minister Abd al-Hamid Dabaiba, won a parliamentary vote of confidence with a sweeping majority. This is the country’s first new government since 2015, when the interim Government of National Accord (GNA) was established. Foreign actors involved in the Libyan conflict - such as Egypt, Turkey, Russia and the United Arab Emirates - were quick to express their congratulations and voice support for the GNU.

Even if there is optimism over the GNU’s prospects, the new government faces complex challenges. On 3 May Najla al-Manqoush, Foreign Minister of GNU urged Turkey to implement the UN Security Council Resolutions demanding the repatriation of more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya. Her remarks came at a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Meanwhile Russia is seeking to preserve its influence in Libya by embracing Libya's GNU and supporting Libya's plans to hold national elections in December 2021. Anyway, Russia also maintains residual links with Khalifa Haftar and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, in case the GNU's authority weakens.

As for China, will the recent shift in Libya’s political sphere change its approach to the country with a more active Chinese presence or Beijing will wait for a more definitive outcome in terms of a final political settlement?


With the ninth largest petroleum reserves globally, Libya was poised to become the heart of the prospective United States of Africa, and a liaison between African countries and Europe. Instead, Libya imploded. Since 2011, a protracted civil war and the government’s continuous struggle to impose authority over the country’s large territory has lowered the prospects of economic development.

Ever since Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow in 2011 by Western-backed opposition, Libya has been in crisis. In the end the warring sides signed a Libyan Political Agreement to form the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). However, the GNA, founded in 2015, was unable to complete the process of reunifying the country, and before long a renegade opposition Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar challenged it.

Libya suffered from an interlinked political, security and economic crisis which weakened state institutions damaging its economy and facilitating the proliferation of non-state armed groups.

The state’s fragmentation has provided a fertile environment for the development of a pervasive war economy, highly damaging for the future of the state while undermining peace efforts and fueling state disintegration.

Current situation

The economic situation in Libya is stark, and the political and social climate gives little hope for a quick recovery. The military operations around Tripoli that started in summer 2019 have cut short the best attempt at an economic revival in a decade. The outbreak of COVID-19 in Libya and in the region has wreaked havoc on Libya’s already diminished capacity for production and sustenance. The recurrent oil supply shocks coupled with the fall in global oil prices raise concerns over the country’s macroeconomic prospects. 

To put the country back on the growth trajectory, the dominant public sector, which employs some 85% of the active labor force in the Libyan economy, will have to be reformed from scratch and organized, foreign investment will have to be encouraged with proper guarantees, and economic sectors will have to be fiscally primed.

The silver lining is that Libyan population is skilled and relatively well educated, and is poised to help with national reconstruction. The newly independent media have ushered in transparency and accountability. These institutions, and the energized citizens who work with them, are the greatest assets of the troubled Libyan state.

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), consisting of 75 participants representing the main Libyan geographical, social and political constituencies, decided on a “political roadmap” on 15 November 2020. The roadmap states that parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on 24 December 2021.

The new Special Envoy to Libya and head of UNSMIL, Ján Kubiš, gave his first briefing in this capacity on 24 March.

Foreign schemers

A serious challenge for the GNU is the range of foreign actors operating in Libya. In the west, Turkey and mercenaries under its control are consolidating their positions; in the country’s centre are Russian mercenaries; and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) continues to pour military supplies into the east via Egypt. And although Russia, Turkey and the UAE have acquiesced to the Dabaiba government, they have not significantly altered their activities or signaled a withdrawal of their forces.

The challenge foreign actors pose is their interest in sustaining a status quo in which the Libyan government remains weak in order to maximize their power to influence events.

Dabaiba’s efforts to balance political and armed factions, and to organize elections is complicated by their presence. As long as foreign actors remain involved in Libya and are able to wield influence, efforts to address core issues salient to Libyans - such as functional governance, safety and security, and the power of armed groups and criminal actors - will remain particularly difficult for the new government.

Libya and Turkey

Najla al-Manqoush’s remarks were seen as a rebuke to Turkey, which has deployed troops and Syrian mercenaries to fight along with Tripoli militias since forces of eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar launched in 2019 an offensive to wrest control of the capital.

Answering to the Libyan Foreign Minister, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that his country's soldiers in Libya were protecting the rights and interests of Libyans, reiterating the sovereignty of Libya and its stability and independence. 

Stressing that Turkey has so far given medical treatment to over 10.000 Libyans and dismantled over 4.400 explosives, Akar did maintain that Ankara supports the Libyan Prime Minister Abdul-Hamid Dabaiba and his government and will do all required for maintaining calm till December elections.

Turkey has been closely involved in Libya, backing the UN-recognised Government of National Accord based in Tripoli that controlled the west of the country, against the offensive by Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army.

Turkey sent military supplies and fighters to Libya, helping to tilt the balance of power in favour of the Tripoli government. Turkey also signed an agreement with the Tripoli-based government delineating the maritime boundaries between the two countries in the Mediterranean, triggering protests from Greece and Cyprus.

Libya and Italy

Libya and Italy have agreed to reactivate the Libyan-Italian Joint Economic Committee and review Libyan investments in Italy and stimulate trade exchange.

Cooperation and partnership in various areas were discussed, including renewable energy, and attracting investment from Italian companies, besides pending files such as completing stalled projects and activating the joint friendship agreement. Illegal immigration was also touched together with Italy's support for Libya with experience and capabilities to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. 

The importance of working with Italy and the European Union to improve the security situation in Libya was also stressed, calling on the EU and affluent countries to launch programs and invest in African countries to diminish migration flows.

Libya and Russia

On 15 April Prime Minister Dabaiba traveled to Moscow and met with Prime Minister Mishustin and Defence Minister Shoigu. Russia provided extensive material support for Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA).

Russia embraces Libya's GNU and supports Libya's plans to hold national elections in December 2021 but it also maintains residual links with Khalifa Haftar and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, in case the GNU's authority weakens. This balancing strategy can allow Russia's influence in Libya to remain impervious to political changes on the ground and yield lucrative reconstruction contracts for Russian companies.

Due to Muammar al-Gaddafi's overthrow in 2011, Russia lost 4 billion in extant arms contracts and hundreds of millions of dollars in gas explorations revenues, and abandoned a 3 billion national railway contract operated by Russian Railways.  Russia could also receive fighter jet and missile contracts.

Egypt Trans-African railroad project linking Benghazi to Congo could stymie the return of Russian Railways to Libya. Russia faces stiff competition from Turkey, France and Italy which have substantial stakes in Libya's oil industry via Total and Eni.

Russia could establish a military base in Libya - an air base in Tobruk or a naval base in Benghazi - and empower pro-Kremlin candidates in the Libyan elections.

Libya and China

On 1 April Libyan Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush  met with Chinese Charge d'Affaires to Libya Wang Qimin in Tripoli and discussed the execution of major projects in the fields of infrastructure, transportation and communications.

Wang expressed China's welcome to the formation of the Government of National Unity and reiterated China’s Foreign Ministry promise that Beijing would support international efforts “to bridge the divisions within Libya and minimize foreign interference in Libyan affairs.”

China supports the GNU and is involved in reconstruction contracts with it. But on the other hand, it is aware of Haftar’s influence in the east and control over the oil fields there. China is cordial terms with the GNU, but also speaks to the eastern government.

Given the lack of public investment and infrastructure in Libya in recent years, if the government launches new projects, such as a large free-trade zone in Sirte, Chinese companies are very likely to participate. China sees Libya as an important vector in its Belt and Road Initiative (the new Silk Roads).

Compared to other conflict-affected countries in the region like Syria and Yemen. Libya has the resources to pay for new projects. Although its share of oil production has been low recently, it has capacity to ramp it up substantially. Finally, Libya also has other sources of revenue it can dip into, from minerals to a sovereign wealth fund that could be worth up to $65 billion.


Historically, eastern and western Libya had been bitterly divided by mismanagement and unequal allocation of oil revenues. Though the majority of the country’s natural resources lay in the east, revenues were weighted towards the west, leaving many entities domiciled in the east with less access to finance.

The current unified budget marks a positive change in this regard and could signal increasingly stable economic conditions to come: in particular, in terms of moving towards more equitable management of Libya’s oil resources throughout the country. The private sector should expand in light of recent developments. With respect to banking, a further shift away from state-owned banks to private banks should also take place.

The advent of the GNU has been met with significant optimism, especially from the international community. Though its planned duration is short, with elections expected in December, there are hopes that the new government will start addressing Libya’s myriad of issues.

The new government faces two significant challenges around changes that are needed. The prime minister had created a particularly large cabinet, with 30 ministers and secretaries of state, to pacify as many factions as possible. This all has to do with money: each group gets a ministry in order to have access to state funds which they can then distribute to their own clientele.

Moreover the lawmakers in office since 2014 might also exert pressure to ensure that they keep their mandates beyond December in order to ensure access to state funds. There is a fine line between consensus and corruption: Libya could develop into a kind of kleptocracy, in which corruption is effectively part of the system. This might be the price to pay for stability and peace.


The government’s international support may enable it to tackle some of Libya’s systemic challenges in ways that its predecessors were not. Yet, having appeased numerous factions to get endorsed, Dabaiba will be constrained in his ability to achieve these goals.

Politicians and armed groups who expect that they will benefit from his tenure risk paralyzing Dabaiba’s government and delegitimizing it with the Libyan public. The same applies to foreign actors’ expectations and the temptation by the new government to appease them.

To counter Turkey, Russia and the UAE’s focus on maintaining a status quo, with complete disregard for the implications, the US and the EU should redouble efforts to assist Dabaiba in meeting his government’s mandate to hold elections and prepare the ground for a functional Libyan government to follow.

President Biden made clear that his priorities lie elsewhere. As such, it is unlikely that the United States will devote significant energies and resources to take a lead role on the Libya dossier. Similarly the European Union only played a marginal role given its inability, or unwillingness, to intervene in a context in which military means mattered more than diplomatic negotiations.

It is high time for the EU to demonstrate it can do more than simply cherishing the creation of the new government and engaging in the display of optimism, good intentions and generous pledges. In conclusion, European credibility and leverage in foreign policy would suffer a tremendous blow, were words not followed by meaningful action.

It will take a lot of goodwill from the Libyan population and from the new elite of the country to allow space for compromise and acceptance of differences to ensure that the path is one of political dialogue and peaceful confrontation rather than one of armed conflict.

International actors, particularly regional ones, must understand this is the only way to stabilize the country and guarantee some security for Libya’s borders. Thus, these actors must exercise all efforts to guarantee the successful completion of the roadmap designed by the LPDF.