21.06.2024 Author: Ivan Kopytsev

Libya today: a configuration of political institutions

political institutions in Libya

Since 2011 Libya has somewhat been a ‘terra incognita’ on the political map of the world. The processes happening within the country, as well as the sporadic conflicts, are a product of too many factors to be fathomable for most people. Furthermore, an assessment of the current situation, including considering the plurality of political institutions and the prospects for ending the year-long crisis of Libyan statehood, is very intriguing from the point of view of the regional security architecture and interstate cooperation.

After the overthrow of the Jamahiriya in Libya in 2011 and the death of its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, who led the state for over 40 years, the country plunged into a protracted political crisis of such magnitude that Libya – previously the pillar of stability in Africa – turned into a classic failed state; different regions and districts were controlled by warring tribal, criminal, paramilitary and extremist groups. Until 2014 the confrontation was extremely chaotic, including clashes between supporters of the overthrown and new governments, as well as clashes between various interest groups. However, after the election of the House of Representatives and the appearance of Khalifa Haftar in the political sphere of Libya, two centres of power gradually emerged in the country as the most influential, i.e. the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the House of Representatives (HoR) with Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) supporting it in Tobruk. By autumn, 2020, a direct military conflict between the West and the East led to a stalemate in the country. The LNA failed to capture Tripoli after a hefty siege and, as a result of Turkey’s intervention on the side of the GNA, lost part of the previously occupied territories in Tripolitania. However, the threat of Egypt’s entry into the conflict, pressure from external players and general exhaustion forced the parties to sign a ceasefire agreement in Geneva on October 23, 2020.

Further political transformations and compromises were discussed at the negotiations held on February 1–5, 2021, under the auspices of the United Nations in Switzerland. As a result, representatives of the Libyan political forces managed to agree on the formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli, headed by businessman Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, as well as on the reform of the Presidential Council (PC), which included one representative each from three Libyan regions, i.e. Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan. At the same time, other institutions of state power remained in Libya, including the HoR and the government accountable to it in the East, as well as the High State Council (HSC), the legitimacy and powers of which are the subject of controversy and speculation. Thus, within the framework of this article, we will turn to the configuration of the institutions of political power in modern Libya, touching on the most pressing topic for Libyan society, namely the prospects for holding national elections.

The political institutions today

By the summer of 2024, the Libyan political reality can be schematically described in the following way:

1) All institutions of state power are transitional; their purpose is to organise national presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as to ensure the transfer of power to a new unified government;

2) The political system is suffering from a lack of internal structural unity, including ‘multilevel’ and ‘conflicting’ legitimacy;

3) Despite the generally recognised need for elections, the process of finding compromises on principles and procedures is not regulated and is thus regularly suspended due to difficulties in reaching compromises;

4) The influence of external players on domestic political processes remains significant.

So, at the moment there are four key public authorities in Libya: PC, HSC, GNU and HoR.

Presidential Council

The PC was first established in 2015 in accordance with the Libyan Political Agreement (LPS), however, in its current form it differs significantly from the original model. After the negotiations in Geneva, the PC was de facto separated from the GNA; none of its three members had a ministerial portfolio. At the same time, the functions of this supreme political authority are in many ways similar to the design of 2015: the chairman of the PC, Muhammad Al-Menfi, former ambassador to Greece, was tasked with representing Libya in the international arena, contributing to the development of intra-Libyan political dialogue, as well as ensuring the process of the ‘reunification’ of key state institutions, including the Central Bank and the army.

High State Council

The HSC was established in 2015 by an agreement signed with the participation of the United Nations in the Moroccan Skhirat. This body is endowed with advisory powers, which, on the one hand, can become an important factor in the process of organising communication and effective dialogue between the GNU and the HoR, but, on the other hand, limits the actual ability of the HSC to influence political decision-making and the overall political dynamics.

Government of National Unity

As noted earlier, the GNU was created as a result of negotiations in Geneva, which means that it has legitimacy from the point of view of the international community, even if just for the period leading up to the elections. Located in Tripoli, the GNU is largely perceived as the successor to the GNA, the spawn of the Skhirat Agreement. The GNU ‘inherited’ the support of Ankara and Doha as well as numerous contradictions with the HoR, from its predecessor. At the same time, the new prime minister seeks to expand the network of international support for the GNU, actively contacting all actors involved in the affairs of the region, including the US, Russia, China, Italy, Algeria, Morocco, Malta, Turkey, Qatar and the UAE. Political opponents of the GNU, represented by the PC and the command of the LNA, believe that the mandate of the Dbeibeh government has expired and that Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibeh cannot himself participate as a candidate.

House of Representatives

Unlike other political institutions in Libya, the HoR did not appear as a result of an agreement between the conflicting parties, but was rather directly elected by the population, which allows its supporters to appeal to ‘popular’ legitimacy. From the very beginning, the HoR was meant to be a temporary body until the final adoption of a new constitution, however, its existence has stretched on for 10 years. As the political centre of Eastern Libya, the HoR controls activities of the government, the power of which extends to the territories occupied by the LNA, which is the most important power base of the HoR and is formally subordinated to parliamentarians. The duumvirate of HoR Chairman Aguila Saleh and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar should not be considered as a monolithic alliance. Moreover, even within the HoR and the government controlled by it, there are various factions, correcting (to a certain extent) the position of the leaders of the East Libyan centre of power; neither Haftar nor Saleh are the sole representatives of political interests of the East.

Prospects for developing a common vision of the electoral process

Considering that several political institutions – which appeared at different stages and in different coordinate systems, and, one way or another, claiming power –have coexisted in Libya simultaneously for more than 10 years, achieving a broad and comprehensive compromise on the timing, regulatory framework and procedure for organising and holding national elections remains an extremely difficult task. The parties have tried to reach a consensus via the creation of several joint commissions: according to the formula “5+5” to coordinate the armed forces of the West and the East and according to the formula “6+ 6” to develop electoral legislation. Individual initiatives related to the unification of financial departments are equally important, but have not yet been fully implemented. In conclusion, it should be recognised that any forecasts about prospects for holding elections in Libya collide with the harsh reality: the deadlines repeatedly announced within the framework of various negotiating platforms, as well as the leaders of Libyan political forces, including the HSC and HoR, eventually passed without noticeable changes in the actual state of affairs, although the partial de-escalation of the conflict should not be overlooked.


Ivan KOPYTSEV – political scientist, junior researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Institute for International Studies, MGIMO, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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