Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1305, (28 July - 3 August 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1305, (28 July - 3 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Threats to the Libyan accord

Divergences in opinion among international, regional and local forces are having negative impacts on the situation on the ground in Libya, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Participants in the Libyan Political Dialogue and Presidency Council met on 16-17 July to discuss the obstacles hampering the implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) and assess the performance of the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj.

The meeting was followed by a two-day roundtable on 18-19 July to discuss interim security arrangements and the development of a unified security structure that would unify the military leadership and render it subordinate to the Presidency Council. The roundtable was attended by western and regional envoys to Libya and by prominent security, military and political figures.

Last week’s Libyan Political Dialogue meeting occurred seven months after the participants of the UN-sponsored dialogue process signed the LPA in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015. However, divergences in opinion among international, regional, and local forces and discord among the domestic forces have impacted negatively on political and security-related developments on the ground in Libya where military activities have escalated while the political process continues to flounder.

Political Dialogue participants in last week’s meetings reaffirmed their support for the Presidency Council and reiterated their appeal to the House of Representatives to convene in order to hold a vote of confidence in the GNA. The Presidency Council submitted its slate of government ministers to lawmakers in February, but the House has been unable to convene with the necessary quota in order to hold a vote. This has cast a shadow over the House’s role in the interim process in Libya.

In its closing statement distributed to participants at the 16-17 July meeting, the Libyan Political Dialogue called on the House of Representatives “to commit to the Political Agreement and fulfil its obligations set forth in the Political Agreement.”

The statement “also stressed the importance of outreach to the House of Representatives and the establishment of a committee in this regard, in particular on the implementation of Articles 16 and 17 of the Political Agreement and the constitutional amendment. It holds it accountable before the Libyan people in the event that the fulfilment of its obligations continues to be impeded.” 

Libyan sources who took part in the Libyan Political Dialogue meeting held in Tunis last week said the meeting had not discussed reconstructing the Presidency Council, contrary to what had been reported. Nor had it broached the question of reopening the draft text of the LPA for possible modification, a demand voiced by parties in the House of Representatives close to Khalifa Haftar, the military commander in eastern Libya, who are keen to eliminate provisions that would lead to his removal.

The sources stressed that the participants had agreed to support the Presidency Council and its government and to give it an opportunity to remedy the difficulties plaguing the Libyan people, such as the growing problems of power outages and the lack of currency liquidity.

But sources contacted in Tunis and Tripoli denied reports that the participants in the meeting had discussed a proposal to abolish the Presidency Council and to task Al-Sarraj with forming a new government. They added that the idea has been promoted by certain parties in order to reopen the text of the LPA for revision in advance of the anticipated House of Representatives session to hold a vote of no confidence in the Al-Sarraj government.

On the other hand, although the sources believed that the Presidency Council and the GNA would continue as they are in the near future, developments on the ground with regard to the military campaigns in both the east and west of the country could have major implications for political and security arrangements in the long run.

This, they said, would be particularly the case in the event of a victory of the Bunyan Marsus (Solid Structure) operation, which seeks to recapture the town of Sirte from Islamic State (IS) group control. The Bunyan Marsus operation consists primarily of militias based in the coastal city of Misrata.

This prognosis was strengthened by a statement released by the UN Security Council on 22 July in which Security Council members reiterated their support for the LPA and its recognition of the Presidency Council and the GNA as the legitimate government of Libya. They also “renewed their call in Resolution 2259 (2015) on Member States to cease support to and official contact with parallel institutions that claim to be the legitimate authority, but are outside of the Libyan Political Agreement as specified by it.”

The Security Council members also “called on all Libyans to unite in a spirit of reconciliation in implementing the Libyan Political Agreement and to refrain from any action that could undermine this important phase of Libya’s democratic transition.”

If recent political developments abroad indicate that the international community remains behind the political accord as promoted through the Libyan Political Dialogue, developments on the ground in Libya may propel regional and international powers to shift their positions, especially as these pertain to military developments.

One sign of this was found in the announcement by French president François Hollande a week ago to the effect that three special forces soldiers had been killed in a helicopter crash in Libya. Although Hollande and other French officials have stated that the crash was an accident, other sources have reported that the helicopter was shot down by the so-called Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) near Magrun in western Benghazi during clashes with Haftar’s forces while the Brigades were on their way to support the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR).

This was the first time that France had officially acknowledged that it was involved in the conflict in Libya in which numerous political, social and religious dimensions are intertwined.

While the living standards of ordinary Libyans continue to deteriorate, the warring factions remain determined to pursue their military objectives to the bitter end. The factions claim that the UN-sponsored LPA does not represent them, but only the Political Dialogue participants who signed the accord in Skhirat seven months ago.

“We were not represented in the dialogue,” is the refrain reiterated by the hawks in Libya, regardless of their political and ideological affiliation.

Although many political factions were concerned by the news of the French involvement in the fighting, their positions were more informed by their particular relationships with France, which has apparently opted to back Haftar and his forces in the east.

Some observers fear that the French revelation of its presence on the ground and in support of one of the sides in the Libyan crisis may precipitate the collapse of the fragile LPA that the international community has been struggling to nurture in the face of wave after wave of turmoil in Libya.

Last Friday, a throng of demonstrators who had answered a call by opponents to the LPA to rally in protest against the French involvement amassed in front of the Presidency Council headquarters at the Tripoli naval base. The council was forced to issue a statement stating its condemnation of the French presence in the east without the Libyan government’s knowledge and prior coordination with it.

Elsewhere on the ground, the Bunyan Marsus forces, which operate under the command of the Presidency Council, have been tightening their siege of the IS stronghold in Sirte and are on the threshold of regaining the city from the terrorist organisation in spite of massive losses since the operation was launched in May.

Last week, Bunyan Marsus forces succeeded in penetrating the Ouagadougou Conference Centre and the Dollar District where there are major concentrations of IS fighters. The Operation’s command also announced that its forces had secured control over the Sirte Security Directorate, the Medical Complex, the official broadcasting building and the external and internal security agencies. Prior to this they had regained control of the city’s port, ferry station and airport.

A victory in Sirte may strengthen the hand of the political and military forces connected with Bunyan Marsus in the forthcoming political and military arrangements in Libya, especially given that their adversaries have been suffering setbacks as they try to accomplish a similar objective in Benghazi.

In Libya’s main eastern city, the fighting continues in the more than two-year battle between the forces of Haftar and the militias fighting under the umbrella of the SCBR, even if the territory controlled by the latter has shrunk considerably as a consequence of intense bombardments.

If the SCBR has been weakened by tensions between its different Islamist factions, which range ideologically from moderate to extremist, nerves in the Haftar camp are also frayed by ongoing warfare. The coalition under Haftar is made up of different components, and cracks have emerged as a result of the position of the combat groups affiliated with the Awaqir tribe on the LPA and security arrangements.

Many Libyans fear that the perpetuation of the hostilities at their current levels will obstruct the realisation of the accord and the reconciliation that various domestic and international parties are seeking to foster by promoting the agreement signed in Skhirat.

At the same time, they want to see efforts continue to reach a consensus over a more accurate identification of the parties involved in the fighting in order to make it possible to fight terrorism without damaging the social fabric.

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