A transitional government in Libya has taken power in the capital, Tripoli, officially beginning a process designed to end 10 years of chaos and lead elections late this year.
Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the outgoing United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), transferred power on Tuesday to Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah, and Mohammad Younes Menfi, who chairs a three-member presidential council.
The ceremony in Tripoli came a day after Dbeibah and his cabinet were sworn in before legislators and Libya’s top judges in the eastern town of Tobruk. legislators had already endorsed the interim government last week amid international pressure to implement a UN-brokered political road map.
That road map set December 24 for general elections, an ambitious timeline studded with big challenges.
Dbeibah’s government includes two deputy prime ministers, 26 ministers and six ministers of state, with five posts including the key foreign affairs and justice portfolios handed to women, a first in Libya.
Dbeibah, 61, a wealthy businessman from the western port city of Misrata, once held posts under longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi but has shown no clear ideological position. He is also known to be supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood and is close to Turkey.
The unexpectedly smooth transfer of power is seen as an important step to end the chaos in the oil-rich North African country. The lack of a proper handover among legislators in 2014 was a main factor in the split of Libya’s institutions.
Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled Gaddafi, who was later killed.
For years, the country was split and controlled by rival administrations – the Tripoli-based GNA, and a parallel cabinet with its headquarters in the east, under the de facto control of forces loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey has backed the GNA, while Haftar has drawn on support from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, France and Russia.
“Today is yet another historic day for Libya,” Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at the International Crisis Group, said of Tuesday’s handover. The interim government, however, would face huge challenges, mainly avoiding political impasse or a relapse of war, she said.
The presence of thousands of foreign forces and mercenaries is another big challenge. The UN Security Council last week called for countries with troops and mercenaries in Libya to withdraw them “without delay”.
The UN has estimated there are 20,000 foreign fighters in Libya, including Syrians, Turkish, Sudanese and Russians brought to the country by the rival sides.
Anas El Gomati, founder and director of the Sadeq Institute, said among the main challenges are the “sheer politics of Libya’s conflict”.
Other than delivering basic services including “electricity, water … liquidity in the banks”, the new government will also need to provide vaccinations amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic, he said.
“Moving from an era of conflict to cooperation … I think that’s much more challenging than arranging a new cabinet,” El Gomati added.
“There’s no guarantee that just because they reached a compromise … that these groups will cooperate,” he added, referencing rival armed groups.
“There is no sign of progress in the military track … [which is] an inherently political track.”