Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))

Ahram Weekly

An end in sight

In spite of its shortcomings, the recently signed Skhirat Agreement offers hope of an end to the Libyan crisis, writes Kamel Abdallah    

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 17 December, representatives of the Libyan factions in Skhirat, Morocco, signed an accord that culminates UN efforts to end the institutional and social bifurcation in Libya and enable the international community to deal with a single Libyan government as it aids Libyans in rebuilding their war-torn country.

Although the signing of the agreement offers hope that the country will now be able to move on to the business of reconstruction and benefit from international support in the process, opponents to it also cannot be ignored, especially in the light of the strength of their arguments against the UN-brokered agreement.

Opponents to the agreement, led by the Libyan House of Representatives and the General National Congress (GNC), have moved to hold a dialogue of their own, without international sponsorship, in order to attain the same objectives as those sought by the UN.

The UN may do well to move to sponsor via its special envoy to Libya Martin Kobler the dialogue between speaker of the House of Representatives Aqila Saleh and speaker of the GNC Nouri Abu Sahmein with an eye to shoring up support for the fragile agreement signed at Skhirat.

The opposition to the agreement aired by Saleh and Abu Sahmein comes from the fact that neither was a major party to it and both are trying to safeguard their positions, jeopardised by the prospect of having to leave their posts in the house and the GNC where they have encountered harsh criticism of their policies from the members of the legislative establishments.

If the UN can embrace the Saleh-Abu Sahmein dialogue track, this would clear the way for the inclusion of the chief opponents of the Skhirat Agreement into the consensus.

Since the fall of the former Gaddafi regime, the main problem in Libya has been the state of fragmentation that it has bequeathed. This has made it difficult to identify any particular entity that can be said to truly represent the Libyan people, all the more so since virtually every political activist or politician acts as though he was the Libyan government.

The West has found this one of the most intractable aspects of dealing with the Libyan crisis, accelerating the rush to create a single national-unity government.

The problem carries over to the UN-brokered agreement. The West has sought this in order to attain certain interests of its own, regardless of those of the Libyan people, while each of the Libyan factions also has its own interests that it wants the agreement to reflect regardless of the interests of its adversaries.

In other words, the West, the UN and the various Libyan factions all have interests that are at odds with those of each other, and each is determined to secure its own interests in the new agreement. Such a situation can only produce further crises between the factions and between them and the sponsoring agencies.

One of the main reasons the West is keen to promote an agreement that will create a single government in Libya is that it believes that this will facilitate its drive to halt illegal migration to Europe, to steer the war against terrorism in Libya, and to secure other Western interests in the country.

The danger here is the absence of designated mechanisms for achieving these ends in an effective matter and without impacting negatively on the interests of the Libyan people who need to be actively included as major stakeholders in any deal with an interest in securing such ends.

As for the Libyan factions, just as they entered into the dialogue without common aims, so their motives for signing the new agreement were informed by the desire of each to secure its interests or the fear of sanctions if it obstructed it.

Another factor was the desire to preserve the network of public relations each had forged with regional and international political and diplomatic figures in the course of the dialogue process in the hope that this would help expand influence in the coming period.

The UN-sponsored dialogue process, which began in late September 2014 and lasted until the end of 2015, has not generated the necessary momentum to enable the agreement to withstand the violent tremors inside Libya.

In the course of the process, moving from Geneva to Ghadames and Tripoli to Algeria, Tunisia, Brussels and Skhirat, the Libyan parties never managed to issue a joint statement indicating that they had forged a solid basis of understanding or a growing accumulation of common ground that could be built on even if the dialogue stalled.

The absence of such a solid basis among the signatories to the agreement means that ultimately it is very fragile and is capable of collapsing at any moment.

The dialogue track begun by GNC members from Tripoli and House of Representatives members from southern Libya in late October is different and has been followed by a second phase that has included representatives from the two bodies in the east of the country (Cyrenaica) in late November and a third phase that brought the meeting between Saleh and Abu Sahmein.

This dialogue process has built up cumulative results that could be built upon in subsequent phases.

The UN and the international community should take advantage of such developments, as they may facilitate mending the fractures that might occur in the UN-sponsored agreement, especially as Saleh and Abu Sahmein do not oppose UN aims in forming a national-unity government.

Kobler should hold a meeting with them in order to bring them onto the UN-sponsored track, since this will give added impetus to the recently signed agreement and will also serve to attract others who have thus far refrained from supporting it.

The new national-unity government in Libya headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj should also reach out to all the parties in the country, including those that have objected to the members of his government. The more it can win concessions from the parties, the stronger the government’s position will be when it embarks on future policies.

On 24 December, the head of the Libyan presidential council made a speech marking the 64th anniversary of the country’s independence and identifying the major challenges lying ahead, among them security and the war on terrorism, the economy and economic recovery and national reconciliation.

As important as these issues are, another one that has not received the attention it deserves both at home and abroad is compensation for past injustices. The costs of this will weigh heavily on the new Libyan government, especially as the sharp polarisation of the past two years has led to gross injustices and human rights violations on the part of all the parties.

This also applies to those parties that have claimed to represent legitimacy at one point or another, meaning that the governments or agencies they have established could in future come under scrutiny and be sued for past wrongs.

The task of the new government in Libya will not be easy, especially in view of the many parties that are waiting to pounce on its mistakes or make political capital out of its shortcomings. In spite of the many who are keen for the government to succeed, there will always be those who are bent on the pursuit of their own interests or who will be obstructive if only to settle scores with adversaries past or present.

The government will therefore need to take extra pains to deal with all parties fairly and to remain as impartial and non-partisan as possible.

As for the security challenge, this will necessitate international assistance through the direct support of the police and army, rather than the militias. However, it is important to avoid building new security entities as these were a main reason behind the weakening of the country’s army and police forces.

Such new entities were political in nature, and this and their various funding sources obstructed the development of a national army and police force and contributed to the further destabilisation of the country.

In spite of its many shortcomings, the Skhirat Agreement is the best deal available at present, and Libyans should support it and modify it in future if they deem that necessary safeguards have been won. 

The UN and the international community should follow through on the dialogue process in order to support the agreement and shore up support for the government. And the Libyan people should take serious steps to advance a purely domestic dialogue aimed at mending national wounds and building the state through their own efforts.

But what the agreement most needs in order to weather the potential problems ahead is efforts to broaden the basis of consensus. Such efforts require international support aimed at encouraging reconciliation, and the Libyans need to forge ahead with a dialogue that promotes it and broadens support for the agreement.

They should develop a comprehensive development plan capable of marshalling the nation’s resources in order to reduce unemployment and absorb young people into the work force and lure them away from the militias.

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