Wednesday,20 June, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)
Wednesday,20 June, 2018
Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Precarious agreement in Libya

Western nations are believed to be planning a new military intervention in Libya, five years after the fall of the Gaddafi government, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Speculation is rife as to whether the countdown has begun for another international military intervention in Libya, this time to fight the growing threat of the Islamic State (IS) group in the country.

Washington has made it clear that it is ready to act and has begun to campaign abroad to prepare the international climate for this option, which appears to have the support of the US’s European allies, most notably France and Britain. However, haze still hovers over the question of timing and of potential partners in the operation, especially given divergences of opinion over recent developments in Libya.

Western moves towards another military intervention in Libya, five years after the fall of the regime led by former Libyan leader Muammar Al-Gaddafi, come at a time of mounting complexities internally, as each side, including IS, scrambles to turn conditions in its favour.

Intervention in such a climate would be extremely hazardous and probably only aggravate the situation and the difficulties experienced by the UN special envoy in implementing the recently signed political accord between the Libyan factions.

Nevertheless, mounting alarm over IS escalation, especially in the vicinity of Libya’s major oil-exporting facilities, is leading Western nations to the conviction that there is a need to step in to halt the spread of the terrorist organisation.

But at a recent meeting of foreign ministers of the countries involved in the US-led coalition to fight IS in Rome, the focus was on recent developments in the Levant, as opposed to the situation in Libya, which is marked by polarisation, anarchy and strife, despite the absence of sectarian divisions in wider society.

A second round of international military intervention in Libya would run up against numerous obstacles. The first is the lack of reliable Libyan forces on the ground that the international community could back in the fight against IS. This lack is in large part due to a second obstacle, which is the difficulty of differentiating between moderates and extremists in Libya against the backdrop of the fluidity in the political and security situation since the fall of Gaddafi.

A third obstacle is the rampant corruption in the government, which has eroded the efficacy of the country’s military and security establishments. And then there is the problem of timing in view of the difficulties involved in implementing a political accord the ink on which has barely dried.

A military intervention would implicitly signal the collapse of the accord and the end of hopes for the birth of the national unity government that the UN has sought, and over which the factions are currently negotiating. It could also give rise to a situation where the extremists and their militias are turned into symbols of “the resistance,” increasing their ability to recruit and expand their ranks.

But perhaps even ahead of the foregoing is the problem of divergent views in the West over the nature of any intervention and its timing. Evidence of this can be seen in the marked differences between the statements issued by the security and political officials of the EU and those of its member states. The remarks of certain national defence ministers have been more forceful than those of the EU as a whole in this regard.

Any intervention, bitter as this option would be, could conflict with the interests of regional powers concerned in the Libyan crisis, among them Egypt and Algeria. Both of these insist that they should be part of any solution, but differences between Cairo and Algiers could throw more spanners into the works.

Algeria opposed the international intervention in Libya in 2011, and its attitude since has not changed. Egypt believes that it could act as a partner in the process, even though an intervention could compound its security burdens.

Considerable ambiguity surrounds the national accord government called for in the UN-brokered agreement signed in Skhirat in Morocco on 17 December. The composition of this government has been the subject of intense haggling between the Libyan factions. Last week it was delivered an additional blow when, after a more than three-month absence, the Libyan House of Representatives voted to reject the proposed expanded cabinet presented to it by the government’s Presidential Council.

The House also demanded a freeze to Article 8 of the additional protocols to the Skhirat Accord, which could jeopardise the agreement itself as the UN insists that it is an indivisible package.

The parliamentary session saw the return of some MPs who have been boycotting the House since it decided to convene in Tobruk instead of in Benghazi. The MPs voted to return the proposed list of cabinet members to the Presidential Council, giving it ten days to submit a new proposal, a deadline that seems impossible to meet under current circumstances.

The council will most likely have to request an extension, especially as the task of drawing up a new cabinet is hardly going to be easier than it was the first time.

The government that the House rejected has been described as the product of submission to the blackmail of the most powerful factions and militia forces on the ground. Among the many who opposed it was Khalifa Hiftar, whom the parliament had appointed commander of the army through his representative in the Presidential Council Ali Al-Qatrani and the MP from Zintan.

Both these men urged the parliament to turn down the proposed cabinet, a scenario that is likely to be repeated given developments last week.

Prime Minister-designate Fayez Al-Sarraj’s visit to Hiftar in Al-Marj also triggered a wave of disputes within the Presidential Council. Hiftar is known to oppose the Skhirat Accord and UN plans. After Libyan sources reported that Egypt had sponsored the meeting with Al-Sarraj, alarm spread among parties opposed to Hiftar’s having a role in any future arrangements under the accord.

Presidential Council member Mohamed Al-Imari suspended his membership in protest against Al-Sarraj’s visit to Hiftar. His colleague Ahmed Muetig declared that Al-Sarraj “represents no one but himself,” and Abdel-Rahman Al-Suweilhi, a member of the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli and one of the boycotting MPs in the House of Representatives, demanded that Al-Sarraj submit his resignation on the grounds that he had breached the Skhirat Accord.

Such developments suggest that the UN plan is hanging by a thread. In a bid to gain time the council began talks over a new cabinet, in consultation with the dialogue committee in Skhirat. However, further disputes are likely to hamper the council’s task, which Libyan sources say entails filling 17 ministerial posts in addition to a number of other government positions.

The council is also in a race against time, as it is eager to put a government in place in advance of any possible international intervention. If an international intervention occurs before this happens, the chances are that no national accord government will see the light of day, and the Skhirat Accord will enter even more dangerous waters.

It will show that the Libyan factions are still unable to settle their differences and agree on their priorities, putting off an end to the civil war that has wrought such harm to the country and its people.

Even as things stand, the accord appears to have entered a bottleneck, and the only way out may be to renegotiate. The alternative would be to declare the collapse of a process that was the product of more than a year of negotiations. In either case, it appears that Libya is headed for another season of factional shifts and realignments in the processes of war and politics.

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