Eleven years after the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gaddafi, Libya’s transition process continues as Libyans find themselves with two prime ministers, a situation that threatens to unleash a new power struggle in the war-torn nation.
Just weeks after national elections scheduled for December 24 were postponed indefinitely, the East-based parliament voted to appoint the influential former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha to replace the Provisional Unity Government.
Incumbent Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, appointed as part of a UN-led peace process, has insisted he will only hand over power to an elected government.
The resulting settlement has raised fears of another conflict – not between East and West, but within Tripoli itself.
As the anniversary approached, the streets of the capital were lined with the red, black and green flags adopted after the fall of Gaddafi.
Concerts and fireworks are planned for Friday – a day late due to bad weather – on Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli, where Gaddafi once gave a famous, desperate speech before the “February 17 revolution” swept him from power.
Oil and poverty
The political vacuum that followed the NATO-backed uprising sparked a bitter power struggle, fueled by regional and tribal rivalries, as well as the involvement of outside groups.
And despite the country’s enormous oil wealth – the largest proven reserves in Africa – many Libyans live in poverty.
“The situation even got worse,” Ihad Doghman, 26, told Agence-France Presse (AFP).
As a clerk by day and a grocer by night, he has two jobs, like many of his countrymen, because “it’s the only way to make ends meet.”
Since the fall of Gaddafi, Libya has had no fewer than nine governments and two full-scale civil wars – but has not yet organized a presidential election.
Following the recent move by parliament, pro-Bashagha armed groups in Misrata – both his and Dbeibah’s hometown – gathered for a rally in Tripoli.
The rise in tensions could threaten what has been a long period of relative peace, since a landmark ceasefire in October 2020 with the support of Turkey formally ended the devastating year-long attempt by Eastern Putist General Khalifa Haftar to take the capital.
It paved the way for UN-led peace efforts that led Dbeibah a year ago this month to be spearheaded by a new unity government with a mandate to lead the country to the December 24 election.
But bitter quarrels over the legal basis for the polls and the presence of divisive candidates – including Dbeibah as well as Bashagha – led to them being postponed indefinitely.
Despite the failures, Libyan expert Jalel Harchaoui said the country had seen progress on many fronts.
“Libya has not seen a major exchange of fire since June 2020,” he said.
“Among the elite, many mortal enemies spoke to each other two years ago and in some cases alliances are included. It represents the beginning of a reconciliation.”
In December, just days before the election, Bashagha had traveled to Benghazi to meet with Haftar – another controversial presidential candidate – in what he said was a gesture of national reconciliation.
Haftar’s forces have since supported Bashagha’s appointment as prime minister.
And now that he has the support of the Tripoli-based Supreme Council of State, a body that has often opposed the Eastern-based parliament, Bashagha has until February 24 to form a government.
Given the country’s tumultuous recent history, the next question will be whether Dbeibah will go peacefully.
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