GENEVA/TRIPOLI – U.N. sponsored talks produced a new interim government for Libya on Friday aimed at resolving a decade of chaos, division and violence by holding national elections later this year.
Mohammed al-Menfi, a former diplomat from Benghazi, will head a three-man presidency council, while Abdulhamid Dbeibeh, from the western city of Misrata, will head the government as prime minister.
Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed intervention ended Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade rule in 2011 and has been split since 2014 between warring administrations in the west and east, backed by foreign powers.
However, with many factions in the country afraid to surrender influence they already hold, and with foreign powers invested in local allies, the new government may rapidly come under pressure.
The appointment of a new government may also do little to change the balance of military power on the ground, where armed groups rule the streets and factions remain split between east and west along a fortified front line.
“This is the last chance for the Libyan people and political leaders to end the conflict and division in the country. We hope to reach the stage of elections, just as they have promised, to achieve the people’s demands,” said Gamal al-Fallah, a political activist in Benghazi.
Analysts describe the new government team as surprise winners of a leadership contest against three other groups of candidates presented to the 75 Libyan participants picked by the United Nations to take part in political talks.
A slate that included the eastern-based parliament head Aguila Saleh and western-based interior minister Fathi Bashagha was widely seen as the most likely to succeed but lost in a run-off by 39 votes to 34.
“This is certainly a shake-up, and as a result it will get support from groups that were preparing to fight Aguila or Fathi,” said Tarek Megerisi of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The winning leadership group also includes Musa al-Koni, from the south, and Abdullah al-Lafi, from the west, in the presidency council. Bashagha tweeted his support for the process and for the new government after the vote.
All candidates for the new government promised to honour the plans to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24 and not to run for office in them. The U.N. publicly displayed their signed pledges.
The latest U.N. process emerged from a Berlin conference last year and gathered pace in the autumn after commander Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based forces were repelled from a 14-month assault on Tripoli.
It has also involved a military ceasefire but not all its terms of that ceasefire have been met – a sign of continued mistrust on both sides and internal fractures within both camps.
The new government may make it harder to bridge the east-west divide, said analyst Jalel Harchaoui of the Clingendael Institute.
Though born in the east, Menfi is seen as close politically to the current Tripoli government leadership and without strong ties to Haftar or other eastern leaders, he added.
Some Libyans have been critical of a process which they view as being managed from abroad and which they fear will allow existing powermongers to cling to their influence.
“It’s just a painkiller to portray Libya as stable for a while. But war and tension will certainly come back sooner or later so long as militias have power,” said Abdulatif al-Zorgani, a 45-year old state employee in Tripoli.