Thursday,16 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)
Thursday,16 August, 2018
Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Approaching the endgame?

The UN dialogue process on Libya continues to inch forward, but signals suggest major challenges ahead as the details of the next interim phase is worked out, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

UN special envoy and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Bernardino Leon has held regional consultations before Libyan factions return to talks in Morocco to settle the final draft of a political solution to the crisis.

Leon discussed developments from the fourth round of talks in Skhirat, details of the final draft of a solution that he plans to submit to participants in the fifth round of talks, and potential candidates for a national consensus government that is being negotiated by the Libyan factions.

He urged his regional interlocutors to assert pressure on their allies in Libya to take part in the other tracks of the dialogue process, namely talks between representatives of the major Libyan tribes, that Leon hopes to convene in Marsa Matrouh, and talks between commanders of the various militia groups.

The UN envoy began his regional tour in Tunisia where he met with President Beji Caid Essebsi. He urged Essebsi to contribute to efforts to prevail upon Libyan factions to reach a settlement to conflicts that have been plaguing the country since May last year.

Leon called next on the Egyptian capital, arriving Friday. While in Cairo he met with members of the Libyan House of Representatives to discuss the substance of a final draft settlement agreement that he hopes to submit to participants in Skhirat in the coming days.

Another purpose of his Cairo visit was to finalise arrangements for the first round of talks between representatives of the Libyan tribes in Marsa Matrouh. A number of tribes previously announced that they refuse to meet for talks outside Libya.

A final draft agreement still has to overcome difficult hurdles. The UN envoy announced, following the fourth round of talks, that participants had agreed to 80 per cent of the substance and would hopefully agree to the remaining 20 per cent in the fifth round.

During the round of talks dedicated to women’s issues, Leon said that the final document would not be submitted to representatives of the major political factions (the House of Representatives and the General National Congress) until after it had been put to the participants in all the other tracks of the dialogue.

The document is almost certain to encounter severe difficulties in these tracks if, indeed, the UN envoy succeeds in bringing participants to the negotiating table.

 The relentless spread of warfare throughout Libya has caused interests and positions to interweave in ways that will undoubtedly conflict with the proposed document for a solution to the crisis. While the conflict raging in Benghazi may appear relatively clear cut, those in the west and south of the country are much more complex.

 In the west, an army of tribes associated with the Gaddafi regime are engaged in combat, hoping to strengthen their negotiating positions. These forces had taken advantage of the opening provided by the fallout between former revolutionary partners. They have responded to attempts on the part of the House of Representatives and Operation Dignity commanded by Khalifa Haftar to lure them into their ranks in the battle against the forces of Libya Dawn.

 The tribal army that is fighting in the Warshafana region to the south and west of the Libyan capital has rejected all arrangements that occurred after the 17 February 2011 revolution, which by extension implies its continued loyalty to the Gaddafi regime.

Although the House of Representatives and the chief of staffs it appointed refers to these forces as “auxiliary troops” for the Libyan army, the forces refer to themselves as the “army of the tribes”, reflecting their refusal to take orders from the House of Representatives in Tobruk. On this point, the tribal army intersects with the Libya Dawn forces, in spite of the animosity between the two sides.

As for the Operation Dignity camp and Haftar’s forces, they believe that the “auxiliary” tribal troops can be incorporated into the national army. Accordingly, they aim to benefit from the support offered to them locally in the east and regionally through the supply of arms.

Meanwhile the major factions in the north are scrambling to take advantage of tribal conflicts in the south, most notably that between the Tabu and the Tuareg tribes in the south and southeast. The House of Representatives has been supporting the Tabu, while the GNC has been supporting the Tuareg.

Still, the militia groups that have been doing battle for the rival parties remain one of the foremost obstacles to any settlement. This all the more the case given the drives to recruit youth. The longer a solution to the crisis remains out of reach, the more complex the militia question will grow and the more that youthful energies will be sucked away from productive activities.

In addition, leaks regarding the candidates for key posts in the national unity government, National Security Council and other bodies envisioned for the fourth interim period suggest that other shocks are coming at both the local and regional levels.

Libya, internally, is more divided than ever. Questions of regional, traditional, tribal, social and cultural allegiances predominate in the talks taking place in the wings between the various parties. The east dominates the House of Representatives, the army and office of chief of staffs and even the government. The west is marginalised by ongoing social disputes and conflicts, and the prevalence of tribal considerations over the higher interests of the nation.

Against this backdrop, whoever assumes leadership positions in the next phase will need to secure bases of support. This suggests that Libya is about to engage in an intense process to the create new tribal alliances to accommodate the major changes expected in the next interim phase.

Arrangements for the next interim phase will undoubtedly trigger competition among regional stakeholders in the Libyan crisis, to secure appointments of individuals close to them in key positions in government structures in Libya.

This process will have regional repercussions that could cast a shadow over relations between the regional parties. In addition, the conflicting positions of the Libyan factions toward regional parties could contribute to more confusion in the UN-sponsored process.

Observers say that regional parties will have the final say with regard to the persons selected for key positions in the national unity government. They believe that while some candidates are associated with the Gaddafi regime and others with the 17 February revolution, there is a third category of individuals who are not known locally and who are the subject of the UN envoy’s discussions with regional stakeholders.

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