Libya: Key Coast Road Opened, Connecting Nation’s East and West

On Friday, the 30th of July, Libya’s main coastal road was finally reopened after years of conflict. The resumption of traffic along the road was a key element of a ceasefire agreed upon last year. Observers hope that this move will draw the nation’s east and west closer together. The road itself stretches along Libya’s coastline – the most populated part of the country – connecting the capital of Tripoli with the city of Benghazi in the nation’s east. However, it has been closed since April 2019, when Khalifa Haftar – commander of the Libyan National Army – launched a campaign to capture Tripoli during the Second Libyan Civil War. Even after the conflict’s frontlines stabilized last summer, the road remained unusable between the cities of Misrata and Sirte, cutting off a key transport route for the Libyan people. The road’s reopening is a major step forward in Libya’s peace process.

The reopening of the road is very important for the people of Libya, as residents have been forced to fly or make long, hard overland journeys. In a statement, the U.N. Special Envoy to Libya Jan Kubis hailed the reopening of the road as “another step in strengthening peace, security, and stability in the country, and in the unification of its institutions.” Haftar himself announced his support of the road reopening in a televised speech. Haftar congratulated the Libyan people on “this achievement,” affirmed his full commitment to achieving peace in the oil-rich country, and pledged to work toward that goal “with all sincerity and honesty.” But he clarified that the current national peace was tenuous “unless all foreign forces and mercenaries leave the Libyan territories unconditionally” and urged the international community to double its efforts to achieve this end.

Libya has been engulfed in conflict since the NATO-backed uprising which toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The Second Libyan Civil War, which involved the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) – backed by the Tobruk-based House of Representatives – and the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) broke out in 2014. The conflict has led to 10,000 casualties, thousands more displaced, and foreign fighters working for both sides. It finally came to an end in October last year, when the two groups signed a permanent ceasefire agreement. As part of this agreement, the LNA and GNA have come together to form a Government of National Unity (GNU), which will hold power until formal elections in December.

However, discord still exists between the two groups. Friday’s announcement was actually the second claim that Libya’s main road was reopened. In June, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh claimed the road had been reopened, but this was disputed by a media unit of the LNA. The delay in opening the road has been interpreted by both sides as evidence of dishonest politicking.  Those critical of the parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh (who allied with Haftar during his 2019 – 2020 assault on Tripoli) believe the delays were an attempt by eastern-based forces to sabotage the ongoing peace process. Meanwhile, Saleh and his allies in eastern Libya have accused the Government of National Unity (GNU) of failing to adequately unify national institutions in the months since the ceasefire. Last week, Saleh even warned that a failure to hold elections soon would mean another rival administration could be set up in the east, threatening the ongoing peace process.

The reopened road is a positive step in the path to stability and was a long-held demand of the United Nations to ensure the safe passage of civilians and goods. While it does not resolve Libyan governance issues, it is good progress in restabilising the nation and allowing life to return to normal for its citizens.