Nearly a decade into Libya’s grinding civil war, it seems next to impossible to imagine stability, let alone a political settlement. The country is as torn as ever between the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli, which is backed militarily by Turkey, and the rival forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s breakaway Libyan National Army, backed by a motley crew of Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France. Libya, which before the war was among the world’s top oil-exporting countries, with billions in hydrocarbon reserves, is today oil-rich, revenue-poor and teetering on the brink of irretrievable collapse. The clock is now counting down on a shaky cease-fire deal that traded oil for a truce, and is set to expire Oct. 18. Only time will tell if that bargain will hold long enough for the U.N. to hold a scheduled summit between the warring sides in Tunisia in November.
Signed last month, the deal brokered by Haftar and the GNA’s deputy prime minister, Ahmed Maiteeq, called for a temporary end to a blockade of oil ports by Haftar’s forces in Libya’s embattled east, which is under the nominal control of the rival parliament in Tobruk that supports Haftar and his Libyan National Army. Some observers say the deal was done because Maiteeq was under physical duress and Haftar was desperate not to lose the backing of his two biggest external patrons, Russia and the UAE.
But whatever the case, the agreement has held despite the odds against it. Command over Libya’s oil fields and the revenues they generate has been a central sticking point in the conflict since the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In addition to sparking interventions from the UAE, Russia, Egypt and France, the bloody brawl for Libya’s oil wealth has splintered the country between myriad armed factions that are as tribal and personal in nature as they are ideological.