Libya’s new interim government has been sworn in to lead the war-torn North African nation until elections later this year.
Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, selected at UN-sponsored talks in February alongside an interim three-member presidency council, was sworn in before the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk.
A United Nations-supervised process is aimed at uniting the country, building on an October ceasefire between the competing administrations in the country’s east and west.
The North African nation descended into chaos after leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011, resulting in rival administrations vying for power.
More than 1,000 kilometres (630 miles) from the capital Tripoli in the west, Tobruk has been the seat of Libya’s elected parliament since 2014.
Dbeibah’s swearing-in comes after Parliament last week approved his cabinet, in a move hailed by key leaders and foreign powers as “historic”.
His government includes two deputy prime ministers, 26 ministers and six ministers of state, with five posts including the key foreign affairs and justice portfolios handed to women, a first in Libya.
“This will be the government of all Libyans,” Dbeibah said after the vote. “Libya is one and united.”
Speaking from Tripoli, Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina described the swearing-in ceremony as a “breakthrough”.
“The entire cabinet of Libya’s new interim government arrived at the ceremony in Tobruk.
“This is a breakthrough especially for the UN support mission which has tried for several years to bring Libya’s warring sides together,” said Traina.
“Libyans also want to see these state institutions unified so that they can better serve citizens.”
Dbeibah’s administration is expected to replace the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, and a parallel cabinet with its headquarters in the east, under the de facto control of forces loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey has backed the GNA, while Haftar’s administration has drawn on support from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, France and Russia.
Outgoing GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj has said he is “fully ready to hand over” power, while Haftar last month offered “the support of the armed forces for the peace process”.
But the new executive faces daunting challenges to unify the country’s institutions, end 10 years of fighting marked by international interference and prepare for elections on December 24.
During Gaddafi’s rule, Misrata underwent an industrial and economic boom, from which the Dbeibah family and many others profited.
Dbeibah, 61, a wealthy businessman from the western port city of Misrata, once held posts under Gaddafi but has shown no clear ideological position.
Dbeibah is also known to be supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood and is close to Turkey.
He holds a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Toronto, and his expertise introduced him to Gaddafi’s inner circle and led him to head a company managing huge construction projects.
Militias and mercenaries
Dbeibah was considered an outsider compared with other candidates vying for the job, and the election process has been marred by allegations of vote-buying.
But Dbeibah jumped into his role even before his inauguration, including pledging to combat the country’s coronavirus crisis and taking anti-corruption measures by freezing state-owned investment funds.
But after 42 years of Gaddafi’s rule and 10 years of violence, the list of challenges is long.
Another key task will be ensuring the departure of an estimated 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters still in the country, whose presence Dbeibah has called “a stab in our back”.
The population of seven million, sitting atop Africa’s largest proven crude oil reserves, is mired in a dire economic crisis, with soaring unemployment, crippling inflation and endemic corruption.
The UN Security Council on Friday called on all foreign forces to leave “without further delay”.
Commenting on the challenges ahead of the interim government, Traina said the road to new elections was “long and difficult”.
“There are concerns that the election will not happen so soon. One of the main reasons is that, according to the support mission, there are more than 20,000 foreign fighters in Libya. This government is going to be tasked with trying to convince those foreign fighters to leave by coordinating with various countries that are involved [in Libya],” said Traina.
Divisions between armed groups and a rising number of COVID-19 cases posed more challenges for the interim government, he added.