The “United Government” will never save Libya


Delegates from Libya's warring factions signed a U.N.-brokered agreement in Morocco  on Thursday, a deal which requires the formation of a national unity government. The international community hopes that it can bring stability and help to combat a growing Islamic State presence.

After the Gaddafi regime fell, Libya was wrought by havoc and experienced a civil war. The country was fractured along the tribal, regional and ethnic lines. Libya has a self-declared government in Tripoli, and an internationally recognized one in the east - each backed by coalitions of tribes and local warlords. Two smaller organizations seek to control small parts of Libya: The Tuareg militias of Ghat, controlling desert areas in the southwest, and local forces in Misrata district, controlling the towns of Bani Walid and Tawergha.  There are also independent groups and tribes switching between power poles and the local ISIS branch. No one party cannot get the upper hand and seize the whole country.

The new deal concerns only the two governments, of Tripoli and Tobruk. It calls for a presidential council to lead a unified government, but hardliners in both factions reject it and there many questions how it might be implemented.

Regional divisions

Modern Libya was created in the borders of a former Italian colony, which united three different regions with different cultures, history, and geopolitical ties.

The first is Cyrenaica, the north-eastern part of the country that is neighboring Egypt. In antiquity, this was the location of Greek colonies. This region was traditionally oriented towards Egypt. When the Arab Spring started and the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt, Cyrenaica with its capital Benghazi became the stronghold of the anti-Gaddafi Islamist opposition. After the military coup in Egypt, Cyrenaica fell under the control of the more secularist and internationally recognized Government of Libya, in Tobruk, with general Khalifa Haftar as the main military leader. However some parts of the Cyrenaica region are occupied by local jihadists. The most important Islamist organization is the Mujahedeen Councils of Derna, Benghazi and Adjabiya, which control some parts of the region.

Another part is Tripolitania, in the North-East of the country. It was named after the three ancient colonies of Phoenicians situated here. In the ancient world it was a part of Carthaginian Empire and traditionally was more included in the geopolitical processes of the Western Mediterranean. Today this part of the country is controlled by the Islamist oriented New General National Congress. The eastern part of the Tripolitanian coast halfway from Tripoli to Benghazi, with the city of Sirte, is controlled by the Islamic State.

The third major part of the Libya is Fezzan, it is in the south-western part of the country, populated by settled Berbers, Arabs, and Tuareg tribes. The region is divided between forces of Tripoli, Tobruk and independent Tuareg and Tebu tribes. Both major forces try to use inter-tribal tensions in their own interests.

Tuareg factor

Tuaregs are a branch of Berber people from the inner Sahara. They live in southern Algeria, southwestern Libya, Mali, Niger and, to a lesser extent, in Burkina Faso and Nigeria.  These nomads of Northern Africa preserved a distinct identity from their Arab and African neighbors. Tuareg territories are divided among other nations, while Berber populations are often suppressed and are not represented in ruling organs. The 2010's saw the rise of the Tuareg factor. It also combines with the Islamic factor.

Military intervention in Libya triggered the renewal of the idea of Tuareg self-determination. In Mali, Tuaregs in 2012 proclaimed an independent Azawad state and established an Islamic state with Sharia law. Later the rebellion was suppressed with French support and a conflict between the secular NMLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad ) and Islamist branches (Ansar Dine) of the Tuareg movement, began. NMLA is believed to be created former Tuareg fighters who fought both for Gaddafi and his enemies and returned to Mali after that war.

Under Gaddafi's rule, Libyan Tuaregs enjoyed related benefits. Gaddafi himself belonged to the Gaddafa Tuareg tribe. They were allowed to speak their language and offered work as mercenaries. Many of their representatives joined the elite Islamic Legion, a Libyan-sponsored pan-Arab paramilitary force. Tuaregs were given the opportunity to gain  military  experience. This also protected them from hunger and unemployment, like other native tribes. The fall of Gaddafi left them without a leader they were loyal to personally, and with whom they had developed their military skills and acquired equipment.

Tribes loyal to the old regime (Gaddafa and Magarha) and are skeptical about the warring Libyan governments. The position of self-determination supporters was strengthened when some Tuareg rebels from Mali escaped after the French intervention.

Today in Libya, armed Tuareg tribes control a large area in western Fezzan, near the Algerian border. Many Islamist groups including  al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have been successful in their attempts to expand their influence on Tuareg tribes throughout the Sahel region.

Tuaregs always controlled the trade routes in the Sahara and Sahel, and now are said to control the traffic of illegal arms and narcotics through the region. Their land, especially Fezzan, has a major geopolitical importance for this case. It is the zone where Islamic radicals sought refuge and support.

Geopolitical players in Libya

Today, the two rivaling Libyan governments are supported by different forces. The government in Tripoli is backed by Qatar and Turkey. It consists mainly of representatives of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood party and their allies.  The government in Tobruk is supported by Egypt, the United Arabian Emirates, traditionally opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, the US (general Khaftar is a US citizen and has strong ties with CIA), Great Britain, and France.

While Egypt and the UAE intend to wipe out the Muslim Brotherhood, the US and another Western countries have more space to maneuver, and they want to exploit Libya's natural resources, primarily oil and natural gas, and are not concerned about who will allow them to do it.

France, the main proponent of Gaddafi's toppling, is also now is concerned with the Tuareg surge that threatens French interests in Western Africa, especially in the Sahel zone. French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian has repeatedly alluded to the possibility of an international intervention in the Fezzan.

Another issue of concern for European countries, primarily for Italy, is the influx of illegal migrants from the rest of Africa that use Libya as the main traffic route to Europe. This is why Italy contributed a lot in the negotiation process, using all its influence.

Morocco, a traditional American and French ally in the region, tries to use its negotiating position to raise its international profile in Maghreb, and to show its importance in the region.


The agreement between the two governments is a necessary but insufficient measure. The competing interests of external actors make this agreement quite shaky. Many other influential groups, problematically, do not participate in the process. There are no sustained efforts to resolve Tuareg issue, which spills beyond Libya's borders, and is linked to more complex regional issues. The toppling of Gaddafi completely destroyed post-colonial Libya, and there is no force that can effectively unite the country.