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Libyan Rivals Agree to Ceasefire and Elections – Future Security Developments

1 Aug 2017

Libya’s two primary power rivals have reached an agreement to institute a ceasefire and hold elections in the spring of 2018. The agreement between UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and military strongman Khalifa Haftar (who controls much of the country’s east), was stewarded by the new French President Emmanuel Macron just outside of Paris on 25 July 2017.

Key Points

  • Libya’s two main rival leaders have agreed to a ceasefire after talks close to the French capital of Paris.
  • The UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and military strongman Khalifa Haftar have also agreed to elections in 2018.
  • Despite hopes for this agreement, ceasefires have been made and broken in the past.

Situational Summary

Political: Libya’s two primary power rivals have reached an agreement to institute a ceasefire and hold elections in the spring of 2018. The agreement between UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and military strongman Khalifa Haftar (who controls much of the country’s east), was stewarded by the new French President Emmanuel Macron just outside of Paris on 25 July 2017.

Expectations of these talks were low but the agreement has succeeded them. This is a preliminary step on the road to an elusive peace deal for a country which has been in a state of civil war since 2014, and has been incredibly unstable since 2011 when former dictator Colonel Gaddafi fell from power.

Solace Global Comment

Libya has been in a state of lawlessness, with differing groups competing for power ever since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. General Haftar and his allies control large swathes of the east of Libya, the effective Misrata militia (who support the UN-backed government) have control over many central areas, the Zintan Brigades have some control in the west (but in general support Haftar’s leadership), and Touareg and Tebu groups have control of certain areas of the south. Islamic State (IS) also have a significant, if potentially dwindling, role in the country, largely thanks to the work of the Misrata militia who drove them from their base in Sirte.

A New Peace?

While this agreement is important and indeed encouraging, it is important to note that ceasefires have been broken in the past and the two men do not have a good relationship, as shown by the failure of talks in the UAE in May 2017. Moreover, it will obviously be seen as a disappointment that no fixed dates for elections in 2018 has been set. This agreement does not include attacks on any terror groups. As has been seen in ceasefire agreements in Syria, there are different interpretations of what constitutes a terror group. Indeed, this vagueness will allow either side to conduct anti-terror operations against whoever they view to be ‘legitimate’ targets. It is also important to note that this agreement does not include those militia who are not loyal to either Haftar or the UN-backed government in Tripoli, nor the Muslim Brotherhood and other powerbrokers.

This agreement will depend upon both leaders being able to control the various militias who they rely upon for their power bases. Prime Minister al-Sarraj for example, struggles to maintain control over militia in Tripoli, some of whom are opposed to his rule. He does have the recognition of the UN and the global community, something which Haftar lacks even with specific international alliances with Egypt and the UAE. However, and importantly for Haftar, this agreement has lent him some legitimacy, despite the accusations of human rights’ abuses in the territories he controls. Haftar has a successful fighting force under his control and large territorial control in the east, which the UN backed government recognises is vital to regain control of in order to restore stability, control oil revenues, and push Libya forward.

It is hoped that this agreement will also aid in the fight against Islamic State. As the caliphate loses ground and influence in both Iraq and Syria, some commentators have suggested that fighters will be drawn to Libya as the security environment may be ripe for a new caliphate. There are fears that IS will seek to regroup in the south of the country and in sparsely populated areas, in order to launch a counter attack; Sirte and Misrata will be key targets for this. If both Haftar’s forces and those loyal to the UN-backed government focus on fighting the Islamic State rather than each other, they can help ensure that this does not become a reality.

Long-term stability in Libya is reliant on not only a political agreement between the different wielders of power but also the economy. Libya has extensive oil resources, with some estimates suggesting that they have more oil than anywhere else on the continent. For Libya to become even moderately stable, it needs to provide wealth, employment, and security to locals vulnerable to recruitment strategies employed by terror groups such as Islamic State.

President Macron

There is very little understating what a political coup this agreement is for the French President, even if it ultimately proves to be unsuccessful. At a time when it appears that the US and UK are seemingly stepping back from their global and regional leadership positions, Macron has showed that France is prepared to fill this void. As Trump pulls back and isolates the US, Macron has showed his desire to engage with the world, sending a powerful message to Washington, showing himself to be the anti-Trump (in many ways). With France (and the United Kingdom) being instrumental in the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011, it makes sense that Macron would want his country to be seen as taking positive steps to resolving the conflict. Many, including some NATO allies, accused France of abandoning Libya after Gaddafi was removed.

There will undoubtedly be some rumblings in Italy about this move by Macron, however. They see Libya as being within their sphere of influence and have been keen to take advantage of the opportunities in the oil sector which have opened up since the fall of Gaddafi. Macron’s advances in Libya, may cause some friction between himself and his Italian counterpart, with Rome feeling some encroachment on its influence over its former colony.

Good for Europe?

 If the pro-EU Macron can help push Libya towards a greater level of stability, this can only be a good thing for Europe. In the years since the Arab Spring of 2011, Europe has been faced with a migrant crisis. Since an agreement in early 2016 helped stem the flow of migrants through Turkey, Libya has become a key migrant route. Indeed, more than 90,000 attempted to cross into Europe from Libya in the first half of 2017 and more than 2,100 refugees and migrants have been killed during the same period. Estimates suggest 89 per cent of those attempting to cross the Mediterranean do so via Libya. With EU-Turkish relations difficult at best presently, Europe will want to ensure a large influx of migrants from two locations does not occur at the same time. It is possible that EU leaders see the situation in Libya as more amenable to helping to prevent this influx than President Erdogan in Turkey.

A number of commentators have suggested that the rise of the populist, anti-EU right on the political spectrum can be attributed to the migrant crisis in Europe. There are fears that the rise of far-right parties in France and Germany and of populist governments in Eastern Europe could help contribute to a fracturing



This agreement is unlikely to become the elusive peace deal that so many desire, for the reasons noted above. However, it may mark a building block upon which some form of stability can be attained. Until this low level of stability can be reached, travel to Libya is fraught with particular dangers. Firearms use is widespread, militias are untrustworthy and routinely switch allegiances, and terror groups continue to actively target the political institutions as well as the civilian population. The country remains, and will remain in at least the medium-term, an active warzone.

Solace Global would strongly advise clients to only travel to Libya with pre-arranged security in place. The minimum level of security in the country involves an armoured vehicle, close protection team, and a secondary convoy vehicle in case of an attack or vehicle breakdown. It is also advisable that travellers use a safe house or a well vetted hotel. Travellers are also advised to use travel-tracking technology with an intelligence feed as well as regularly scheduled check-ins with a 24-hour operations centre. This should enable a traveller to be aware of any security updates within their vicinity, and to update others of their movements in case of an emergency.