Cairo has witnessed a flurry of activity aimed at resolving the conflict in Libya, from the Cairo Declaration of 13 December 2016 to this week’s foreign ministerial meeting of Libya’s neighbouring countries, attended by representatives from the African Union and the Arab League and the UN special envoy to Libya. Between the two, meetings have progressed on two tracks, one diplomatic, supervised by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, and the second military, sponsored by the Egyptian army and steered by Army Chief of Staff Mahmoud Hegazi, chairman of the Egyptian Committee for Libyan affairs.
The first track has seen Cairo host Libyan delegations and a number of political figures, most notably Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) Aguila Saleh and Chairman of the Presidency Council Fayez Al-Sarraj. General Chief of Staff of the Libyan Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar has also been closely involved.
The Cairo Declaration forms the foundation for both the diplomatic and military tracks. Announced during a press conference attended by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and Chief-of-Staff General Hegazi, the declaration outlined seven basic principles: Libyan territorial integrity and sanctity of life and the unity and indivisibility of the Libyan state; the unity of the Libyan army and national police and their exclusive responsibility for safeguarding security and national sovereignty; the preservation of the integrity and unity of government institutions; respect for the rule of law and guarantees for the separation of powers; the need to establish and promote the principles of consensus and mutual acceptance and to oppose all forms of marginalisation and exclusion; rejection of foreign intervention and the prioritisation and promotion of comprehensive national reconciliation and the preservation of the civic character of the state, the democratic process and the peaceful rotation of authority.
To realise these principles the declaration listed five steps: recompose the Libyan National Dialogue committee in a manner that reflects the balance of society; amend Paragraph 2(a) of Article 8 of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) regarding the functions of the Supreme Commander of the Libyan Army; revise Article 8 of the Additional Provisions in a manner that ensures the continuity and independence of the military establishment and keeps it aloof from political disputes; revise the composition of the Council of State so as to include members of the General National Congress (GNC) elected on 7 July 2012 and restructure the Presidency Council and its decision-making mechanisms so as to avert the difficulties and obstructions that arose from its expansion.
The success of the Cairo diplomatic drive was instrumental in paving the way to the 10th Ministerial Meeting of Countries Neighbouring Libya in Cairo, chaired by Shoukri. Participants at the meeting reviewed the latest developments in Libya and stressed that there is no alternative to the Libyan Political Accord (LPA) signed on 17 December 2017 in Skhirat, Morocco, as the sole framework for overcoming the current crisis in Libya.
Bridging differences between the Libyan factions and steering them towards dialogue has long been one of Cairo’s goals, said a senior military source in Cairo. Indeed, the three main Libyan parties — Sarraj, Saleh and Haftar — have expressed their readiness to engage in dialogue and put an end to the political stalemate that has prevailed since the LPA was signed in Skhirat on 17 December 2015.
Security sources say a meeting will take place between Haftar and Sarraj in Cairo soon which may help solve the crisis. “The meetings that have taken place in Cairo between the two parties show prospects for the success of mediating efforts between them now that they have found common ground,” said one Cairo security source.
The crucial areas of difference discussed in the course of the 10th Ministerial Meeting included the status of General Haftar and the security role of the Presidential Guard.
As it is currently formulated Article 8 of the LPA effectively excludes Haftar. In a press conference held after the Cairo meetings Siala said the problem had to do with the institution not the individual. “The core issue is for the military establishment to operate under the political establishment. Resolving how this will happen is the crux of the matter. We are not speaking about individuals but about the status of the military which should be a national institution that functions according to the political vision of Libya’s leaders.”
Siala noted that one of the solutions proposed during the Cairo meetings was to create a military council headed by Haftar who would also serve as defence minister. The task of the council would be to oversee the reconstruction of the army, the restoration of security and the fight against terrorism.
On problems related to frames-of-reference and authorities, Ramzi Ramih, a supporter of the government based in Tobruk and a former military advisor, told Al-Ahram Weekly: “We will accept the Presidency Council grudgingly until the next elections because we are concerned about saving Libya. We do not want a mandate government imposed on us by the West.”
The Libyan Presidential National Guard may be an even more contentious issue. According to Libyan experts, it is made up of militias that need to be eliminated in any agreement.
Libyan political analyst Ahmed Al-Aboud observed: “It is important to say that the Libyan army under Haftar succeeded in building a military establishment and in securing political institutions and petroleum facilities after asserting control over the petroleum crescent and handing that control to the civilian establishment before confining itself to the task of protecting them. On the other hand, the Presidency Council has a problem in general regarding the imposition of security in Tripoli.”
Siala appears less concerned: The Presidency Council “is not an alternative to the army. But it is among the security arrangements,” he says.
Another issue was raised by the principle reaffirmed in the Cairo and other meetings regarding the rejection of foreign intervention.
“The Libyan Presidency Council rejects foreign interventions,” said Siala in response to questions on the subject. But he added, referring to US aerial strikes against targets in Libya, that “military strikes that are targeting Islamic State locations are taking place with the approval of the Presidency Council.”
Some parties in Libya, especially in the army, believe that the agreements are side-lining them, beliefs that call into question the fate of any agreement. In an attempt to outmanoeuvre what he believes to be such designs Haftar held a number of high level meetings with Russian military officials, a step that the Presidency Council criticised because it was taken without the approval of the political leadership.
On the whole, there appears to be progress towards settling the differences between the eastern and western camps in Libya. Efforts towards this end have brought Libya’s neighbours closer together, says Libyan political affairs expert Al-Hussein Al-Musirri. He told the Weekly: “There has been tangible Egyptian-Algerian rapprochement. Also, Egypt has drawn closer to Libyan parties in the West.”
Other observers believe that the first quarter of this year will bring positive results. Nevertheless, there still remain a number of pending questions. Washington’s position remains unknown, apart from its stance on the fight against the Islamic State. As for Europe, it has so far adhered to its stated positions but these could change in light of several factors, not least forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in some major European powers.