Libya: Getting Geneva Right

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Crisis Group

Members of the Libyan army stand on a tank as heavy black smoke rises from the city's port after a fire broke out during clashes against Islamist gunmen in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, 23 December, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ABDULLAH DOMA


Libya: Getting Geneva Right

Tripoli/Brussels: Libya’s deteriorating internal conflict may be nearing a dramatic turning point. Over six months of fighting between two parliaments, their respective governments and allied militias have led to the brink of all-out war. On the current trajectory, the most likely medium-term prospect is not one side’s triumph, but that rival local warlords and radical groups will proliferate, what remains of state institutions will collapse, financial reserves (based on oil and gas revenues and spent on food and refined fuel imports) will be depleted, and hardship for ordinary Libyans will increase exponentially. Radical groups, already on the rise as the beheading of 21 Egyptians and deadly bombings by the Libyan franchise of the Islamic State (IS) attest, will find fertile ground, while regional involvement – evidenced by retaliatory Egyptian airstrikes – will increase. Actors with a stake in Libya’s future should seize on the UN’s January diplomatic breakthrough in Geneva that points to a possible peaceful way out; but to get a deal between Libyan factions – the best base from which to counter jihadis – they must take more decisive and focused supportive action than they yet have.

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Libya is split between two sides claiming increasingly threadbare legitimacy, flirting with jihadi radicals and pursuing politics through militia war backed by foreign powers. But the Tobruk and Tripoli authorities are equally matched, and cannot defeat each other. To save the country they must negotiate a national unity government, before their Faustian bargains consume themselves along with the rest of Libya.
Claudia Gazzini, Libya Senior Analyst

Claudia Gazzini
Issandr El Amrani

The region has no shortage of grim examples of what happens when a state disintegrates, outsiders take sides and warlords rule. Everyone should be working for a political solution, which will be less costly for all involved than widening conflict, new military intervention, Libya’s imminent insolvency and a possibly catastrophic humanitarian emergency.
Issandr El Amrani, North Africa Project Director, @boumilo

Joost Hiltermann

The international community is at best irresolute and at worst sharply divided about Libya, and should resist the temptation to shoehorn a complex, multilayered conflict into a binary Islamists vs. non-Islamists template. Outsiders have a responsibility to ensure the talks’ success, particularly as Libya’s current situation is in part the result of a military intervention that received wide support but whose aftermath was left disastrously unplanned.
Joost Hiltermann, Program Director, Middle East and North Africa, @JoostHiltermann

Jean-Marie Guéhenno

January’s UN achievement in bringing the Libyan sides together for national unity talks in Geneva offers a glimmer of hope. This breakthrough should encourage the UN Security Council to unite, to stiffen the UN arms embargo, to shore up the independence of Libyan institutions managing national wealth and to warn off resolutely those who would use Libya for proxy wars.
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President & CEO, @JGuehenno







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