Libya Rivals Reach Agreement Toward Ending Division

Members of Libya’s rival parliaments make progress toward ending a year-long standoff.

Libyan flags at the airport in Tripoli, November 4, 2011
Libyan flags at the airport in Tripoli, November 4, 2011 (Ben Sutherland)

Lawmakers from Libya’s two rival parliaments signed an agreement late on Saturday toward mending the country’s division and ending a conflict that has shimmered since dictator Muammar Gaddafi fell in 2011.

The power-sharing deal, which has yet to be ratified by the legislatures in Tripoli and Tobruk, calls for a ten-person committee — five from each side — to name an interim prime minister. It also proposes new elections within two years.

The breakthrough came at secret talks held in neighboring Tunisia, separate from United Nations-sponsored negotiations.

UN proposals for a government of national unity have gone nowhere.

Rival parliaments

Libya has had two parliaments since the House of Representatives that was elected in 2014 was driven out of Tripoli that same year.

Misrata-based militias and Islamists who lost the election took control of the capital.

Former Gaddafi soldiers joined the private military campaign of Khalifa Haftar, a former army officer who fell out with Gaddafi in the 1980s and now claims to fight on behalf of the internationally-recognized government in Tobruk.

International dimension

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates support Haftar and the parliament in Tobruk, seeing the Tripoli-based coalition as another manifestation of political Islam that has threatened secular and often Western-backed strongmen throughout the Middle East.

The coalition, which calls itself Libya Dawn, is not so ideologically homogenous, however. It includes former Al Qaeda fighters, Berber militias, Misrata militants and members of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood.

Nor is Haftar’s militia necessarily the pro-Western fighting force he portrays it to. Besides remnants of the national army, it includes militants from the city of Zintan as well as federalists and tribal fighters from the east and south of Libya — areas that seek autonomy or even independence now that Gaddafi is gone.

The two factions share a common enemy: supporters of the self-declared Islamic State who have been slowly expanding in both directions from Derna, a city situated on the Mediterranean coast roughly equidistant between Tobruk and Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Gaddafi.

Arab and Western nations helped topple Gaddafi with airstrikes in 2011.