Move follows almost a decade of division, with no stable government since fall of Gaddafi in 201.
Libya’s parliament has brushed aside allegations of corruption to endorse a new, unified government in which a woman was appointed as foreign minister for the first time.
Libya has been unable to form a stable unified government since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with divisions between the east and west of the country leading to fighting and institutionalised division.
Countries that have backed different sides in the civil war welcomed the new government, and the two previous rival governments agreed to dissolve.
Abdelhamid Dbeibah, a 61-year-old businessman from Misrata who is the surprise new interim prime minister, hailed his success, saying “the time has come to turn the page on wars and division and to turn towards reconciliation and construction. It is time to settle the country’s differences in parliament and not on the battlefield.”
He appointed a lawyer and human rights activist, Najla El Mangoush, as foreign minister, having backtracked on promises that 30% of ministerial posts would go to women and then faced a backlash. Five women were appointed among 31 government posts, including the minister for justice.
One of the chief challenges facing Mangoush, a lawyer from Benghazi who is a specialist in restorative justice, will be to try to navigate around the array of external actors including Turkey, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, many of which are in search of lucrative oil and reconstruction contracts. She left the country in 2013, two years after the Libyan revolution, to study in the US.
The endorsement of Dbeibah’s government came after Libya’s parliament, the House of Representatives, meeting for three days in the coastal town of Sirte, gave an overwhelming vote of confidence in his new administration.
On Tuesday he was subjected to a three-hour question-and-answer session in parliament in which he said he had been the victim of a social media smear campaign. He admitted that the large size of his government was in part an attempt to ensure posts were shared geographically. He said he had not met many of the ministers he had appointed.
Allegations had been swirling about a UN report suggesting the prime minister had been selected with corruptly bought votes, but the UN official report is not due to be published until 15 March, and it is unclear how conclusive the evidence will be. The UN, desperate to see its high-risk drive to political reunification succeed, largely ignored the allegations.
In theory the new interim government, selected by a 75-strong Libyan Dialogue political forum handpicked by the UN mission, is due to stay in power only until 24 December, the date set for national presidential and legislative elections. Many are sceptical that this will happen and some predict the current parliament’s speaker, Aqila Saleh, will try to prevent elections to remain in power.
Dbeibah has been more circumspect about the removal of the 20,000 foreign mercenaries hired by Turkey, Russia and the UAE. He said the troops were a dagger in the country’s back but that he needed to act prudently.
Many diplomats said the new government could tap into goodwill only so long as it started to deliver public services and did not become ensnared by factional fighting or rivalries between external actors.
He still needs the support and votes of parliament to pass the full 2021 budget, the constitution referendum law and the local government law. His powers in relation to the army are unclear.
In a sign of his future problems, more than 35 MPs, mainly from the capital, Tripoli, boycotted the Sirte meeting. There has also not been a military unification to match the political unification, and further work is needed to reunify the central bank and other bodies.
The decision means the government of national accord led by Fayez al-Serraj will be dissolved. Serraj agreed to stand aside and there has been speculation that he could become the ambassador to the UK, which he visits frequently to see family.