Libya embarked Saturday on a new phase of its post-Kadhafi transition after the selection of a unity government to lead the country until December elections following a decade of chaos.
In a potential turning point accord widely welcomed by the international community, four new leaders from Libya’s west, east and south now face the task of unifying a nation torn apart by two rival administrations and countless militias.
Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, a 61-year-old engineer, was on Friday selected as interim prime minister by a forum of 75 Libyan delegates at UN-led talks in Switzerland, the culmination of a process of dialogue launched last November in Tunis.
It marked the start of a new chapter for the country after the failure of a 2015 UN-brokered deal that established a Government of National Accord headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.
Libya has been mired in violent turmoil with the country riven by divisions between the GNA in Tripoli and a rival administration backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar in the east.
Acting UN envoy Stephanie Williams, who facilitated the week-long talks outside Geneva, said she was “pleased to witness this historic moment”.
“I do believe it is a breakthrough,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States welcomed the interim government, but cautioned it would “have to implement the ceasefire agreement” and offer essential public services to Libyans.
Hailing from the city of Misrata, Dbeibah had led the Libyan Investment and Development Company under dictator Moamer Kadhafi, who was toppled and slain in a 2011 revolution.
The wealthy businessman has 21 days to form a cabinet, with the period renewable for another three weeks to win a vote of confidence in parliament, by March 19 at the latest.
A three-member presidency council has also been chosen to head a unity administration and steer the North African state towards the ballot box on December 24.
The vote is part of a complex UN-led process aiming to build on a fragile ceasefire in force since October that has cleared the way for a resumption of oil exports on which the country is dependent.
Libya has been devastated by civil war since the NATO-backed uprising against Kadhafi, during which the coastal city of Misrata was a flashpoint.
Mohammad Younes Menfi from eastern Libya, a former ambassador expelled by Greece in December 2019 in protest at an agreement between Tripoli and Ankara, is to head the presidential council.
His deputies are Moussa al-Koni, a member of Libya’s long-marginalised Touareg minority from the south of the country, and Abdallah Hussein al-Lafi, from the western city of Zuwara.
Analysts have expressed scepticism about the new accord in their initial forecasts.
“This new executive authority will have very little traction on the ground,” said Wolfram Lacher, a senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
“They will find it very difficult to exert any influence in eastern Libya and even in western Libya, they will face quite a lot of opposition. So this is not a government that can unite Libya.”
Dbeibah was considered an outsider in the face of the camps of influential parliament speaker Aguila Saleh and powerful interior minister Fathi Bashagha.
Lacher said “the four people who were elected (Friday) don’t really have a common interest… other than getting to power and maintaining themselves in power”.
The selection also came as a surprise to Tarek Megerisi, policy fellow with the North Africa and Middle East programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“#Libya’s UN process careened over the line producing a new authority which frankly nobody would have expected,” Megerisi tweeted.
“This vote can be read as a vote against the favourites,” with Libyans long demanding an end to political elitism, corruption, economic mismanagement and poor public services.