Delegates from Libya’s warring factions signed a U.N.-brokered agreement to form a national government on Thursday, a deal that Western powers hope will bring stability and help fight a growing Islamic State presence.
Four years after Muammar Gadhafi’s fall, Libya is deeply fractured with two rival governments – a self-declared one in Tripoli and an internationally recognized one in the east – each backed by coalitions of former rebels and militias.
The U.N. deal calls for a presidential council to lead a unified government, but hardliners in both factions reject it and questions remain about how it will be implemented in a country where rival armed factions are key to power.
Chants of “Libya, Libya” erupted as representatives from both parliaments signed the accord along with local councils and political parties in the Moroccan coastal town of Skhirat, after more than a year of hard-scrabble negotiations.
“The doors remain wide open to those who are not here today,” U.N. envoy Martin Kobler said at the ceremony attended by regional foreign ministers. “The signing of the political agreement is only the first step.”
Western officials believe war fatigue, promises of foreign aid, the strain on Libya’s oil economy and the common threat of Islamic State will help build momentum for the national government and bring opponents onboard.
Under the deal, a nine-member presidential council will form a government with the current, eastern-based House of Representatives as the main legislature and a State Council as a second consultative chamber. The presidential council will name a new government in a month and a U.N. Security Council resolution will endorse it.
But the agreement faces questions about how representative the proposed government will be, how it will set up in Tripoli and how various armed factions on the ground will react to a government critics say was imposed on Libya.
The chiefs of each rival parliament already rejected the U.N. deal and called for more time to negotiate a Libyan initiative, though diplomats say both men may face international sanctions for blocking a vote on the agreement.
Since revolution ousted Gadhafi, Libya has struggled with almost constant instability as heavily armed brigades of former rebels and their political allies squabbled for control.
Battered by protests and attacks, oil production that accounts for most government revenue is now less than half of the 1.6 million barrels per day level prior to 2011.
But last year, fighting intensified when one armed faction took over Tripoli, set up its own government and reinstated the old parliament, the General National Congress. Since then, the recognized government and elected House of Representatives operate out of the eastern part of the country.
In the chaos, Islamic State terrorists have steadily expanded their presence, taking over the city of Sirte, attacking a hotel and a prison in Tripoli, ransacking oilfields to the south of Sirte and executing a group of Egyptian Christians.