A transitional government in conflict-stricken Libya took power in the capital Tripoli on Tuesday, officially entering a term intended to end in democratic elections later this year.
Fayez Sarraj, head of the outgoing United Nations-backed administration in western Libya, transferred power to Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and Mohammad Younes Menfi, who chairs a three-member Presidential Council.
The ceremony in Tripoli came a day after Dbeibah and his cabinet were sworn in before Libyan lawmakers and top judges in the eastern city of Tobruk. Lawmakers had already approved the interim government last week amid international pressure to implement a political roadmap negotiated by the UN.
The roadmap, approved by a Libyan political forum chosen by the UN last year, set December 24 for general elections in the oil-rich country.
The surprisingly smooth transfer of power is seen as an important step in ending the chaos in this North African country. The lack of a real handover between legislators in 2014 was a major factor in the split of Libyan institutions.
“Today is another historic day for Libya,” Claudia Gazzini, Libya expert at the International Crisis Group, said of Tuesday’s handover. The interim government, however, would face enormous challenges, mainly in avoiding a political stalemate or relapse into war, she said.
Another major challenge is the presence of thousands of foreign forces and mercenaries. Last week, the UN Security Council called on countries with troops and mercenaries in Libya to withdraw them “without delay”.
The UN has estimated that there are 20,000 foreign fighters in Libya, including Syrians, Sudanese Turks and Russians brought to the country by the rival parties.
Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. In recent years, the country has been divided between rival administrations based in the east and the west, each supported by armed groups and foreign governments.