Libyan PM-designate's Cabinet delay casts doubts on peace process

Abdul Hamid Dbeibah was appointed in early February and given three weeks to name a cabinet

Libya's prime minister-designate Abdul Hamid Dheibah speaks during a press conference in the capital Tripoli, on February 25, 2021. Dheibah is set to name a transitional government tasked with unifying the war-torn nation and leading it to elections in December. / AFP / Mahmud TURKIA

Libya’s newly designated prime minister missed a deadline to name a Cabinet last week in an early sign of the difficulties facing his task.

Abdul Hamid Dbeibah was appointed head of the Government of National Unity in early February and given three weeks to name a Cabinet to be approved by parliament.

Instead, Mr Dbeibah said the night before the February 26 deadline that he had not chosen a Cabinet but would share "guidelines" with parliament about which ministers to appoint.

The delay risks damaging the credibility of the fledgling administration elected by the Libya Political Dialogue Forum, a UN-chaired group.

The international body chose the 75 members of the forum, giving them the power to create a new government by persuading Libya’s myriad political and military factions to co-operate.

The failure by Mr Dbeibah, a wealthy businessman with no previous political profile, to meet the deadline casts doubts over whether the new government will ever see the light.

In Tripoli on Thursday night, Mr Dbeibah asked for more time.

“These are critical times,” he said. “We are taking into consideration that the Cabinet must genuinely achieve national unity and seek consensus and reconciliation.”

But the delay gives Mr Dbeibah’s opponents in Parliament the excuse to reject the entire process.

For now, Parliament has offered Mr Dbeibah an olive branch. Its speaker, Aguila Saleh, said on Friday that parliament will hold discussions on the Cabinet issue on March 8, assuming he can name his ministers by then.

Parliament is itself divided, with members failing to agree on where to convene to consider the new Cabinet.

Libya's civil war, dominated by many armed groups, has entrenched divisions, leaving the country with no "neutral" city where MPs of all persuasions feel safe to meet.

This is the reason the forum meets in Tunis and Geneva.

Libya needs a degree of unity if elections are to be held in December as planned.

Although most key political leaders have agreed on the need for the elections, there is no agreement on what form a new, permanent government should take.

There is no consensus on whether voters in December should be offered only a parliament or also an elected president, nor what powers both would have.

The UN has been down this route before.

In 2015 it created the Libya Dialogue, a group similar to the current forum.

Libya Dialogue also created a new government, the Government of National Accord in Tripoli.

But eastern Libya has never signed on to the GNA, running a parallel government based in Benghazi and Tobruk.

The risk is that, in creating the GNU, the UN has added a further layer to Libya’s already chaotic governance.