Libya’s GNA faces legitimacy challenges

26 April 2016, Week 16, Issue 636

Pressure is mounting on the various actors in Libya to accept a United Nations-backed government, while violence continues in the country. 

The UN’s special representative in Libya, Martin Kobler, has taken a particularly active role in recent days, calling for Western forces to provide military support in the fight against Islamic State (IS) forces. Kobler said training for its forces and logistical support of the Government of National Accord (GNA) would not qualify as “intervention” by foreign forces in Libya. 

IS appears to have been forced out of the city of Derna last week. If confirmed, this suggests the group only retains full control of Sirte. Conflict continues in Benghazi, where IS continues to hold some areas. 

Kobler issued a statement last week expressing disappointment at the House of Representatives (HoR) failure to vote on the GNA and amend the constitution. The Tobruk-based HoR’s failed to achieve a quorum of members. The UN official said the failure to vote was “regrettable”, with members of the legislature “denied the opportunity to exercise their intrinsic democratic right as elected representatives of the Libyan people”.

The GNA was formed under an agreement signed in Morocco in mid-December. It has a prime minister designate, Fayez al-Sarraj, but lacks legitimacy. Sarraj arrived in Tripoli at the end of March. The General National Congress (GNC) legislative assembly is based in Tripoli. The GNA was reported to be claiming Tripoli ministries last week, when various foreign officials visited, including representatives of Germany, France and the UK. 

Given a reluctance to bring in foreign troops, the GNA has been largely reliant on support from the Misrata militia in its bid to secure Tripoli. Misrata had previously backed the GNC but divisions emerged in the second half of 2015 and the militia came out in support of the GNA in March. 

The National Oil Corp.’s (NOC) chairman, Mustafa Sanallah, called for Libyans to support a unity government last week. In particular, he asked the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) to end its blockade of oil export facilities, which is costing the country an estimated US$30 million per day. The PFG has “an opportunity now to show they support the integrity of NOC and the integrity of the country by opening the oil ports, as they have promised, and I urge them to take it”.

Speaking at a conference in Paris, Sanallah said a stable Libya would provide Europe with a “trade and security partner … a strategic oil and gas supplier at the centre of a North African energy hub”.  



The US took steps last week to increase pressure on factions within Libya to come together and agree on a unified government, which is seen as essential in the fight against IS. 

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on the GNC’s Khalifa Ghweil on April 19 for obstructing the GNA. The move is in line with the European Union’s sanctioning of Ghweil on April 1. 

“[The US] Treasury is committed to using all tools at our disposal to support Libya's [GNA], as it works to build a safer and more stable country for the Libyan people,” said a US official, Adam Szubin. “The people of Libya have long endured the consequences of violence and instability, and we will oppose attempts to undermine or destabilise the [GNA] at this critical time.”

US President Barack Obama recently described failing to prepare for the aftermath of Libya’s civil war as his greatest mistake. Obama is due to visit Germany this week, where talks will be held on Libya. 

The challenge for the international community will be in finding ways to support the GNA. Sending troops is likely to be off-limits, with little enthusiasm for such a move given sensitivity over the imposition of the GNA, which is struggling to be seen as a Libyan movement, rather than one imposed by the UN.