Libyan MPs back national unity government in historic moment

After two days of intense debate, parliament approves Cabinet proposed by interim prime minister

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2021 file photo, Libyan Prime Minister-designate Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah speaks during a news conference  in Tripoli, Libya. Lawmakers in Libya have begun consultations aimed at confirming a newly appointed government that would lead the war-wrecked country through elections late this year. More than 130 members of the fractured House of Representatives were meeting Monday, March 8, 2021 in the coastal city of Sirte. Dbeibah presented his proposed Cabinet to Speaker Aguila Saleh last week.(AP Photo/Hazem Ahmed, File)

Libya’s Parliament on Wednesday approved a new unity government, sparking hope of an end to more than six years of civil war.

MPs at the House of Representatives voted 132 to two to endorse the Cabinet of the new Government of National Unity, formed after months of often tortuous negotiations.

Prime Minister-designate Abdul Hamid Dbeibah hopes his new Cabinet can unite the country after a decade of war and chaos.

“Through this vote, it became clear that the Libyans are one unit," he said.

To win unity amid a politically fractured country, Mr Dbeibah, a 61-year-old businessman from the western town of Misrata, eschewed many of the country’s political heavyweights, opting for figures who have previously had a low political profile.

The GNU includes Libya’s first female foreign minister, Najlaa Al Mankoush, a prominent human rights activist and lawyer who campaigned in the past for national reconciliation.

She is one of five women in the Cabinet, including the justice and culture ministers.

The GNU is due to replace two rival governments, one in the west, another in the east. It has two key missions: maintain the ceasefire and shepherd the country through to elections in December when voters will choose a permanent government.

The UN Support Mission in Libya, which engineered the creation of the GNU, congratulated parliament, saying “Libya has now a genuine opportunity to move forward”.

“This is a historic day for the House of Representatives," said Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, who led the debate on endorsing the GNU.

The process of creating the GNU has been long and controversial.

The UN mission took the lead and last October chose 75 Libyan leaders to form the Libya Political Dialogue Forum.

Four months of often tense debate followed, in Geneva and Tunis, ending with the forum choosing Mr Dbeibah and a three-member presidency council to lead the GNU.

The forum’s negotiations were tainted with reports of corruption, after the leak of a report by the UN’s Panel of Experts that said bribes were offered to three members.

Among the challenges Mr Dbeibah faces are the limits on his power.

Parliament has not yet passed a constitutional amendment clarifying the GNU’s powers, and neither side’s armed forces have yet indicated whether they will follow GNU orders.

Aware of the difficulty in trying to control rival armies, now drawn up along a ceasefire line in the centre of the country, Mr Dbeibah said he delayed naming a defence minister.

Several states welcomed the GNU.

“Congratulations on the formation of an interim unity government to set the stage for elections in December," said the US ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland.

The UAE congratulated the new Libyan government for its "historic achievement" and wished the Cabinet "success in performing their duties and responsibilities to achieve the aspirations of the brotherly Libyan people".

The December elections are intended to usher in a permanent government for Libya, and one of the hurdles Mr Dbeibah's government must cross is overseeing the creation of a permanent constitution before the vote.

Analysts said the GNU must work to keep consensus among Libya’s myriad groups and resist the temptation to spend big to win political support.

“Big milestone: Dbeibah’s GNU has been endorsed by the House of Representatives,” Tim Eaton, senior research fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, wrote on Twitter.

"The product of much negotiation and bargaining, the GNU will have to tread lightly to keep its unwieldy alliance together.

"Can it now unite divided institutions and deliver elections? Or will it simply function as an ATM?"

The creation of the GNU is the latest step by UN mission to calm tension in the country.

Last year it negotiated a ceasefire that has held fast since it was signed in October.

Its mediation also saw the Central Bank of Libya reunite, after having separate operations in eastern and western Libya.

The civil war broke out in 2014 and it caused thousands of deaths and brought the economy to its knees.

Tripoli, the capital, is controlled by several powerful militias and its residents endure frequent power and water cuts and currency shortages.

One sign of easing tensions came on Tuesday when the first civilian flight in six years took off between Benghazi and Misrata.