Chaotic Libya has just begun a new, more uncertain chapter. Since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddaffi in 2011, the country has become a failed state, divided under the control of rival armed militias, with an expanding branch of ISIS to boot. On Wednesday, however, the leaders of a U.N.-backed unity government — P.M. Fayez Serraj and six other members of the presidency council — arrived by boat from Tunisia to a naval base in central Tripoli, the capital of Libya.
He likely won’t be welcomed by the two other groups in the country claiming to be the national government. The most immediate threat will be from the unrecognized but de facto ruling group in Tripoli headed by “prime minister” Khalifa al-Ghwail, who called on his supporters to stand against the “infiltrators,” and said “We won’t leave the capital until the revolution is protected.” (They unsuccessfully tried to block Serraj’s arrival by imposing an air blockade over the weekend.) Down the road, Serraj will also have to deal with the other rival government, based in the eastern city of Tobruk.
He began trying to assert his authority with a hastily convened news conference promising to unite the country and confront ISIS. But hours later, heavy gunfire erupted in central Tripoli, raising the specter of another wave of violence engulfing the capital.
So Serraj’s work is just getting started, and much is at stake besides rebuilding his country and tackling ISIS — a new report found that some 800,000 migrants are on the Libyan coast, waiting for the right moment to cross to Europe.
For more on the region’s turmoil, see last year’s BCLS panel Outlook: Middle East.