Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Agreement close, but obstacles remain

The UN-sponsored Libyan dialogue is nearing an agreement that could stem the Libyan crisis. But jockeying among influential figures on the ground could still undermine implementation, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The latest round of the Libyan dialogue concluded its activities Friday last week. All the main factions were present, including the General National Congress (GNC) whose representatives had not initialled the draft agreement that was signed by all other participants in the dialogue session held in Skhirat, Morocco, on 12 July. The GNC said that it had agreed to take part in the last Geneva round after having received assurances from the UN envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, that its observations would be included into the draft agreement before the final signing takes place within the forthcoming days.

Two days before the last Geneva session, the GNC met with Leon, who also heads the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), which is brokering the dialogue, in Istanbul. The speaker of the GNC said that the purpose of the meeting, which was attended by 36 GNC members, was so that the GNC delegation to the dialogue could solicit the views of those members who had not attended any dialogue sessions.

Before returning to the dialogue, the GNC made major changes to its negotiating team. Three members were replaced. First Deputy Speaker of the GNC Awad Abdel-Sadeq replaced Second Deputy Speaker Saleh Al-Makhzum who had headed the GNC delegation during all previous rounds. In addition, Omar Hamidan and Mohamed Emazab were replaced by Abdel-Rahman Al-Suweilhi, known to be one of the GNC hawks, and Mohamed Baqi. GNC deputy Mohamed Al-Emari remained on the team.

The House of Representatives had not made any changes to its negotiating team prior to the Geneva round. However, it is likely that one team member might be replaced before the Skhirat round that is to be held Thursday. This is Abu Bakr Baeira, one of the nominees from the eastern region for the post of prime minister in the national unity government. Until time of writing, the House of Representatives has made no announcement concerning his possible replacement.

The last Geneva round boasted broad participation from all major parties in Libya. UNSMIL had sent out invitations to the major political parties and prominent activists. The participants in the municipal councils track of the dialogue were also on hand.

UN envoy Leon stated that the dialogue was now entering its last phases and that the Geneva session achieved significant progress in the negotiating process, which is about to complete its first year. The process began on 29 September 2014 between two factions of parliamentary delegations, one of which consisted of parliamentary deputies who had moved to boycott the sessions of the House of Representatives that had just been elected in June 2014. The “12+12” dialogue (12 MPs and 12 boycotters) was unable to continue due to the narrow scope of participation, for which reason the UN envoy sought to broaden participation to include all parties, a measure made all the more necessary by the ruling of the Libyan Constitutional Court annulling the beginning of the fourth interim phase.

In the press conference that he held at the end of the last Geneva round, Leon stressed that the remaining days of the dialogue process “will not be easy”. The implication is that while that round made significant breakthroughs in bridging the positions of the participants, there remain some problematic issues, such as GNC reservations over the draft agreement and the need to prepare the domestic climate in Libya to accept the political settlement being brokered by UNSMIL.

Last Friday, Leon met with the GNC team for five hours during which they discussed the proposals submitted by the GNC and the possibility of including them in the draft agreement or the annexes.

Afterwards, the GNC negotiating delegation leader Awad Abdel- Sadeq described the meeting with Leon as “constructive and positive”. He said that Leon had offered new ideas and a formula for including the GNC modifications in the draft. “These formulas had not been presented before,” he said, adding: “We reviewed all the GNC modifications, which are nine in number.”

In light of the above, it appears that the GNC emerged from the latest round more satisfied than in previous rounds. The negotiating team members have confirmed that they would take part in the next round in Skhirat.

Al-Ahram Weekly has learned that Leon planned an intensive agenda of talks during the period preceding the Skhirat round, Thursday (today). His schedule included meetings with military and security officials and with the commanders of Libya Dawn and Operation Dignity, in order to help prepare the ground for the acceptance and implementation of the agreement.

However, GNC speaker Nouri Abu Sahmain voiced an objection to Leon’s communicating with Libya Dawn commanders without first referring to the GNC in its capacity as the highest authority in western Libya. Abu Sahmain wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon protesting the behaviour of the UN envoy and demanding his replacement. This incident coincides with Western reports that a German diplomat is a frontrunner among candidates who will replace Leon whose term as head of UNSMIL is due to end shortly and who may have political ambitions in his home country.

Little appears to have changed with respect to the military situation in eastern Libya during the past week in spite of claims by Operation Dignity commanders that their forces are making progress. The lives of inhabitants in Benghazi are growing increasingly difficult amidst the ruins and damaged infrastructure, as warfare there continues into its second year with no resolution in sight.

At a political level, various parties have begun manoeuvring recently to forge new alignments in preparation for the forthcoming phase in October when the constitutional term of the House of Representatives is due to end. This is an indication that that period is unlikely to be an easy one for the stakeholders and that major changes will occur on the map of political alliances in the west and east.

One tangible sign of the change in progress is the reconciliation meeting held between Ibrahim Al-Jadran, commander of the militia that is currently controlling Libya’s main oil-exporting ports, and the commander of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, Idris Bukhamada, who had been appointed by former prime minister Ali Zeidan. In July 2013, Zeidan ordered the dismissal of the commander of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, Colonel Ali Al-Ahrash, and his replacement by Bukhamada. It was that appointment that drove Al-Jadran to seize control of the ports and impose a blockade on the grounds of the need to prevent corruption. The blockade continues to the present.

Al-Jadran charges that Bukhamada is close to the Libya Dawn command and the GNC in Tripoli. However, he insisted on making peace with him in spite of the fact that he risked arrest by soldiers under the command of Operation Dignity commander Khalifa Haftar during his visit to Tobruk last Thursday evening.

It is well known that the supporters of Al-Jadran, a leader of the federalist drive, oppose General Haftar whose supporters have made frequent calls for Al-Jadran’s arrest on the grounds that he seeks to partition the country and stands in the way of building a national army since he refuses to surrender his arms and disband his militias.

Al-Jadran’s reconciliation with Bukhamada is a response to calls from his supporters to seek alliances with parties that are not connected with Haftar who has become a source of trouble to the federalist movement. While Al-Jadran had announced his support early on for Operation Dignity, he never joined the camp of Haftar loyalists.

As the foregoing indicates, the political situation is still fluid and new players and forces may soon surface in the Libyan arena, posing new questions over the viability of any agreement that emerges from the UN-sponsored dialogue process.

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