Libya recently missed the ceasefire deadline negotiated for them by the United Nations (UN), which has sparked serious concerns about the prospect of peace as continued fighting and a collapsing economy makes Libya a sanctuary for smugglers and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Further, missing the deadline occurred amidst the heaviest fighting in many months, which indicates that conditions are only worsening. The UN has reported that since last summer over 435,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. The two main sides in Libya’s civil war is the Libyan National Army, which represents the recently elected Tobruk government, and the ‘Libyan Dawn’ that represents the Tripoli-based fragments of the General National Congress (GNC). The issues between the two parties revolve, primarily, around the GNC wanting to share power and the elected government wanting sole governing power over the country.
Over the past four years, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has attempted to mediate between the two parties, however little has been achieved. As a result, questions over whether diplomacy is the way to go about bringing peace has been raised. At present, the UN has set another ceasefire deadline on the 20th of October in 2015. However, the international community refuses to recognise the GNC as legitimate, instead they have only acknowledged the elected government. Therefore, the GNC perceives the Tobruk-based government as having an advantage in the international community, and as such, they have less of an incentive to cooperate. Further, the mediation between the two parties has only included politicians, which has caused the military leaders, who are actually responsible for carrying out the ceasefire, to be left out.
The emergence of Misrata, a coastal city in Libya, as an independent actor is also important to think about when considering Libya’s peace prospects. While it has been both a financial and military supporter of the GNC, and has strong Islamist military ties, Misrata’s political and economic interests are contrary to the growing emergence of ISIS and the instability it will bring to the country. Misrata agreed to attend the Geneva peace talks, despite the efforts of Islamist factions who were trying to deter them. However, Misrata has continued to work with various Islamist factions to fight their common enemy: the Tobruk-based government. As a result, it appears that Misrata has prioritized its own interests above the conflicts in Libya, which has sparked the idea that targeting other councils throughout the country, who have similar concerns, could increase the prospects of peace. In addition, Misrata is viewed as a key player who, in the wake of political and financial turmoil, may leave its ties to the ‘Libyan Dawn’ in favour of the peace the UNSMIL is trying to establish.
The UN recently announced a ‘unity government’ that gives both sides of Libya’s conflict the ability to veto decisions by way of the unity government, which is comprised of ministers who represent each of the factions. The UN, in fear that talks would collapse, pushed such a proposal forward, despite the fact that the rival sides had not actually agreed to the political agreement yet. Supporters argue that the plan will provide both sides with power. However, critics of the plan point to a possible gridlock that may arise. Both sides of Libya’s conflict have spoken out against the ‘unity government.’ For example, the GNC has stated that they were not even consulted and HOR MP claimed that it will lead to further division. Though, at present, the plan appears premature as MP’s from rival camps are finding common ground over their dismissal of the proposal.
It is difficult to imagine peace in Libya, or even the negotiation of peace without recognizing the GNC and Islamist factions as being legitimate. Such parties do not attend negotiations because they have nothing to gain from it. Indeed, the rejection of such talks likely bolsters their popularity among supporters as they are viewed to be heedless in their bid to defeat the Tobruk-based government. Therefore, without modifying the UN’s approach to peace talks and proposed plans, the prospect of peace in Libya remains extremely bleak.