UN backed Libyan unity government unveiled in Tunis

Wed 20 Jan 2016

UN backed Libyan unity government unveiled in Tunis

On 19 January Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) was announced by the Tunis-based Libyan Presidency Council. The formation of the government is the outcome of an UN-deal aimed at ending years of chaos in the country.. The 32-member cabinet now will have to be endorsed by at least two thirds of the internationally recognized House of Representatives (HoR), which might prove hard in the fragmented country.

Difficult process
The Presidency council, tasked with assembling the government, could not act unanimous. Two of its nine members walked out during the negotiations. One of them, Ali Faraj al-Qatrani, said there had been “a lack of seriousness and clarity” during the negotiations and that his Eastern region was under-represented in the council. The number of ministers that was agreed on was raised from ten to thirty-two during the negotiations and the post of Foreign Minister was split into a separate Arab and African Affairs Minister and an International Relations Minister. The appointment of the ministers was a sensitive topic, since they are to represent the two governments as well as different tribes and factions. Council leader Fayez al-Sarraj was appointed Prime Minister and is considered a moderate. Designated Interior Minister Al-Aref al-Khoga has close ties to Tripoli’s Libya Dawn Islamist and sat in the unofficial General National Congress (GNC). The designated Information Minister Khaled Nejm served in the internationally recognized government in Tobruk, but also advocates the creating of a semi-autonomous region in the East.

“An important leap”
Despite the difficulties, the establishment of the GNA also offers some hope. UN Libya Special Representative Martin Kobler called it a “sterling opportunity for Libyans to come together to build their country”. EU Foreign Policy chief Frederica Mogherini  urged that “only a united Libyan government, supported by all its citizens, will be able to end the political divisions”. Guma El-Gamaty of the UN body Libya Dialogue called it “an important leap on the path to peace and stability” and said the deal was “the best compromise possible”. Still, the GNA will have to be approved by at least two third of the HoR within ten days.


Perhaps the most important appointment was that of the Defense Minister, who will be tasked with fighting ISIS in the country as well as uniting the warring militias. One of the commanders of the Eastern National Army, Al-Mahdi al-Barghati, was assigned to the post. He is a deputy of army chief General Khalifa Haftar, one of the country’s most important strongmen who is fighting the Islamist Shura Council in Benghazi and ISIS in Sirte. His fight against Islamists has also made him an enemy of the Islamist GNC in Tripoli. Al-Barghati is seen by some as an upcoming rival of Hatfar, which might give him leverage with the GNC. However, the GNC recently accused the Presidency Council of breaking its military law when the latter tried to secure a location for the GNA in Tripoli, furthering tensions. Another divisive issue the Council will have to deal with is the appointment of  the new army chief, as Haftar has a strong support base in the East but is an unacceptable choice for the GNC.

In December, only 80 out of 188 MPs from the HoR signed the peace deal, along with 50 out of 136 MPs from the GNC. To ensure the necessary approval in the HoR Kobler has been lobbying for the past month, but some MPs remain opposed. In a statement on the 19th January, Kobler urged the HoR again to “uphold the country's national interest above all other considerations and promptly convene to discuss and endorse the proposed cabinet”.