BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — The president of Libya's freshly designated interim government arrived Thursday in Benghazi, the stronghold of the divided country's eastern factions, as part of a campaign to foster unity ahead of national elections next winter.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, chairman of Libya’s Presidential Council, arrived from Athens, where he had been living for the past three years, and immediately met with dozens of tribal elders, academics and activists inside the airport VIP lounge.
The move followed a U.N.-sponsored conference last week in which delegates from warring parties picked four leaders to guide Libya ahead of the December vote in a major — if uncertain — step toward unifying the North African country and ending one of the intractable conflicts left behind by the Arab Spring.
Since 2015, Libya has been divided between two governments, one in the east and another in the west, each backed by a vast array of militias. In April 2019, Khalifa Hifter, a military commander allied with the eastern government, launched an offensive to seize the capital, Tripoli. His campaign failed after 14 months of fighting and last October, the U.N. convinced both parties to sign a cease-fire agreement and embark on a political dialogue.
Menfi, a diplomat from the country’s east, was picked to head a Presidential Council that includes two other officials. The forum also chose as a separate prime minister a powerful businessman from the western city of Misrata named Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah.
The three Presidential Council members each represent a region of old Libya: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest. The appointment of an interim government capped months of U.N.-brokered talks that resulted in an agreement to hold elections Dec. 24.
“Our objective is to achieve unity and true reconciliation and to collaborate with all in order to end the suffering,” Menfi tweeted shortly before his arrival. He met with Hifter in his forces' Benghazi headquarters shortly after leaving the airport.
Hifter had already welcomed the appointment of the new government, hailing its leaders as “national figures.” Although Menfi comes originally from the eastern city of Tobruk, some observers argued that he is politically allied to western factions which may undermine the transitional authorities' ability to represent the political interests of the east.
Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The rival governments have each been backed by an array of militias and foreign governments.
Menfi had served for almost a year as Libya's ambassador in Greece before Athens ordered his expulsion in December 2019 following a controversial maritime agreement between Tripoli and Ankara. He remained in Greece with his family but without diplomatic status.