Libya: Smothered By Stubborn Stalemates


April 5, 2023: Libya may not have a functional or internationally recognized government yet, but that is not stopping the two rival governments from negotiating deals with foreign firms, especially for maintaining or expanding oil production in areas they control. Managing local economics is another matter. Public services are disorganized and unreliable. That means reliable electricity, clean water and regular trash collection services are not (all three together) available anywhere in the country, and generally only one.

Until this new government is actually in power, Libyan unity is still a work in progress. The United States and European countries, as well as neighbors like Egypt and Algeria continue to actively support the reconciliation process in Libya. The primary obstacle to unity is the difficulty in establishing voting rules that will ensure elections accepted as fair by the two main factions in Libya. Both major factions, and several minor ones, fear that an elected government could turn into another dictatorship. The four decades-old Kaddafi dictatorship was overthrown in 2011 and creating an acceptable democratic government to replace Kaddafi has been creeping closer to reality ever since. The only agreement achieved so far is to keep the oil and natural gas exports going because that is the main source of income, employment and necessities for most Libyans.

The UN backed a 2020 ceasefire agreement that was supposed to lead to national elections by the end of 2021. That failed because the invading Turks refused to withdraw their forces unless certain illegal conditions were met. These Turkish demands are the reason the Russian Wagner Group still maintains some troops in Libya. Most of the other foreign mercenaries are gone while the Turks remain. That means the primary obstacle to national unity is the continued presence of Turkish military and mercenary forces in Libya which block efforts to hold national elections and bring an end to over a decade of civil war. They do so to enforce an illegal treaty signed by one of the Libyan factions in 2019. This treaty, backed only by the Tripoli based GNA (Government Of National Accord) faction, granted Turkey some of Greece’s offshore oil and natural gas rights in an area between Libya and Turkey that ignores existing, and internationally recognized, claims on that area. Turkey and Greece are both NATO members and NATO backs Greece in this matter. Turkey won’t withdraw its forces from Libya until a new national Libyan government assures the Turks that the illegal agreement is confirmed by a national Libyan government.

This Turkish interference in Libyan internal affairs is making the formation of a Libyan national government even more difficult. The UN agrees that the Turkish demands are illegal but refuses to do much about it. That is actually normal for the UN. The United States and European governments are demanding that the UN act but the UN refuses without admitting that it is simply impossible for the UN to obtain enough international support to pressure the Turks to get out of Libya. UN efforts in Libya to help establish a national government have failed and are now seen as part of the problem. The UN still considers its efforts as a positive force in Libya. While most Libyans are ready to form a national government, the UN and Turkey remain the primary obstacles to achieving that. There are other obstacles, like Egypt, which has long been a major factor in Eastern Libya politics because the Egyptians want to look after the many Egyptians who work in Libya as well as keeping Islamic terrorists in Libya from getting into Egypt or smuggling weapons into Egypt.

March 30, 2023: The Nigerian Emergency Management Agency arranged to fly 281 Nigerian men, women and children from Libya. The Nigerians had sought to reach Europe via people-smugglers operating in Libya. This effort was disrupted by local officials and Nigeria was notified to arrange their return to Nigeria. Other stranded African refugees are less fortunate. In 2022 there were over 600,000 of these refugees from 41 African nations. Some of these countries do not cooperate in taking back their citizens stranded in Libya. Some of these refugees flee the detention centers and find a hostile reception for them in Libya. Some are killed and there are reports that others have been enslaved by local militias. The EU (European Union) provides money and other assistance to house stranded refugees and get them back to their homes. The EU also supplies cash for the Libyan Coast Guard for training, new equipment and cash for operations to block smuggling efforts from Libya to Europe. Some of this aid is used to improve border security to stop the refugees from getting into Libya. The EU support has also reduced the ability of people smuggling gangs to get illegal migrants into Libya and then into Europe by boat. These gangs were part of a coalition including Italian and African gangsters who took in over a billion dollars from this in 2015 and found that kind of income was worth fighting for when European and Libyan authorities began efforts to shut them down. Starting in 2017 the LNA (Libyan National Army), some Libyan militias and Italy worked to shut down the smugglers. The LNA had a plan for shutting down all the smuggling gangs and wanted more support from the EU to do the same with the European gangs which control more of this smuggling than the EU would like to admit. Italy took the lead implementing an EU program to organize (and subsidize) a revived Libyan coast guard and paying southern tribes to go after people smugglers. This effort continues but the smuggling gangs still operate to get migrants into Libya. The smuggling boats are far fewer in Libya and the Libyan Coast Guard regularly intercepts them. Some migrants still get into Europe, usually via Italy, but successful transportation of migrants to Europe has been much reduced because fewer boats are operating and most migrants are detained in Libya and returned to their home countries. The EU also uses its naval and aerial surveillance aircraft to spot and intercept arms smugglers seeking to get weapons into Libya. There is an international arms smuggling ban on delivering weapons to Libya. One NATO member violated this ban starting in 2019 to bring in weapons to support its military effort to assist the Tripoli government. The Turks are still there and neither Libya or other NATO nations have been able to get the Turks to leave.

March 28, 2023: Russia is still trying to move its embassy from Benghazi to Tripoli. Delays are caused by security concerns. Tripoli still has problems with local militias. Reopening its embassy in Tripoli and backing the Abdulhamid Dbeibah faction in Libya rather than the Fathi Bashagha faction and the LNA (Libyan National Army) in the east. In effect, Russia is cooperating with Turkey, which has illegal agreements with the Tripoli government that enables Russia to explore for oil and gas in areas of the Mediterranean that are recognized as Greek.

March 27, 2023: The Libyan National Oil Corporation has, over the last two years, restored normal oil production levels of 1.2 million BPD (barrels per day). The LNA guards the oil production and export facilities and concentrates its efforts on that. The Turkish forces stay in Tripoli and a few other coastal areas and leave the oil production and exporting activities alone. The two rival Libyan governments cooperate when it comes to oil and split the income from exports. There is a military standoff here because while the Tripoli government can threaten the coastal oil export ports they have not got the ability to advance inland and take the oilfields. These are guarded by the LNA.




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