Libyan Lawmakers Approve New Government, Fueling Tensions

Libyan lawmakers confirmed a new transitional government Tuesday, a move that is likely to lead to parallel administrations and fuel mounting tensions in a country that has been mired in conflict for the past decade.

Prime Minister-designate Fathi Bashagha submitted his Cabinet to the east-based House of Representatives, where 92 of 101 lawmakers in attendance approved it in a vote broadcast live from the city of Tobruk.  

The new government includes three deputy prime ministers, 29 ministers and six ministers of state. There are only two women in the Cabinet, overseeing the Ministry of Culture and Arts and holding the position of State Minister for Women Affairs.

Bashagha appointed Ahmeid Houma, the second deputy speaker of the parliament, to lead the Ministry of Defense, and Brig. Essam Abu Zreiba, from the western city of Zawiya, as interior minister. Former ambassador to the European Union, Hafez Qadour, was named foreign minister.

The appointment of Bashagha last month, a powerful former interior minister from the western city of Misrata, is part of a roadmap that also involves constitutional amendments and sets the date for elections within 14 months.

The move deepened divisions among Libyan factions and raised fears that fighting could return after more than a year and a half of relative calm.

Bashagha has formed an alliance with powerful east-based commander Khalifa Hifter, who welcomed Bashagha’s appointment as prime minister earlier this month. That alliance has caused concerns among anti-Hifter factions in western Libya and their main foreign backer, Turkey.

“Now the question is whether this contrived alliance will be enough for Bashagha and his ministers to impose themselves in Tripoli and rule,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher specializing in Libya. “It is not clear at all that Turkey and, importantly, Misrata’s main forces will let that happen right away.”

Embattled Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who like Bashagha hails from Misrata, remained defiant Tuesday against replacing his government. In a statement, Dbeibah’s government called Tuesday’s confirmation a “new farce” and accused the parliament’s leadership of “messing with the security and stability of Libyans.”  

Dbeibah has repeatedly said his government will hand over power only to an elected government. He has proposed a four-point plan to hold a simultaneous parliamentary vote and referendum on constitutional amendments late in June. That would be followed by a presidential election after the new parliament crafts a permanent constitution. He did not offer a time frame for the presidential election.

Dbeibah was appointed through a U.N.-led process in February 2021 on the condition that he shepherd the country until elections. The effort to replace him stems from Libya’s failure to hold its first presidential election during his watch.

The presidential vote was planned for December 24, but it was postponed over disputes between rival factions on laws governing the elections and controversial presidential hopefuls. Lawmakers have argued that the mandate of Dbeibah’s government ended on December 24.

The vote’s delay was a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in the oil-rich Mediterranean nation.

Libya has been unable to hold elections since its disputed legislative vote in 2014, which caused the country to split for years between rival administrations, each backed by armed militias and foreign governments.

The oil-rich North African nation has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled then killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

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