The president of Libya’s newly elected interim government arrived Thursday in the eastern city of Benghazi, the stronghold of the divided country’s eastern factions, as part of a campaign to foster unity ahead of national elections in December.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, chairman of Libya’s Presidential Council, arrived from Athens, where he had been living for the past three years, and immediately met with dozens of tribal elders, academics and activists inside the VIP lounge at Benina airport, which serves Benghazi.
The election of the presidential council was a major – if uncertain – step toward unifying the North African country and ending one of the intractable conflicts left behind by the Arab Spring.
Since 2015, Libya has been divided between two governments, one in the east and another in the west, each backed by a vast array of militias.
In April 2019, Khalifa Hafter, a military commander allied with the eastern government, launched an offensive to seize the capital, Tripoli.
His campaign failed after 14 months of fighting and last October, the UN convinced both parties to sign a cease-fire agreement and embark on a political dialogue.
Menfi, a diplomat from the country’s east, was picked to head the Presidential Council, which includes two other officials.
The forum also chose Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, a powerful businessman from the western city of Misrata, as interim prime minister.
The three Presidential Council members each represent a region of old Libya: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest.
The appointment of an interim government capped months of UN-brokered talks that resulted in an agreement to hold elections 24 December.
Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Al-Qaddafi. The two rival governments have each been backed by an array of militias and foreign governments.
Menfi had served for almost a year as Libya’s ambassador in Greece before Athens ordered his expulsion in December 2019, following a controversial maritime agreement between Tripoli and Ankara.
He remained in Greece with his family but without diplomatic status.