Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1332, (16 - 22 February 2017)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1332, (16 - 22 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Libyan brinksmanship

Cairo is pushing for a breakthrough initiative bringing together the Libyan rivals

Khalifa Haftar
Khalifa Haftar

A much-anticipated meeting between Libyan Presidency Council Chairman and Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez Al-Sarraj and the Commander of the Libyan Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar has not happened.

Against a background of sparse reports about precisely when the Libyan parties would sit down together to forge political arrangements for the still-volatile state, Haftar had been refusing to meet face-to-face with Al-Sarraj. However, the announcement of an initiative to end the political stalemate in Libya was made on Tuesday evening.

The announcement was made by Tamer Al-Rifai, an Egyptian army spokesman, who confirmed that separate talks with each side had concluded with an agreement to form a committee to renegotiate a UN peace deal on Libya.

The Libyan parties had agreed on four points.

The first was to create a joint committee selected from members of the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk and the High Council of State in Tripoli. Made up of a maximum of 15 members from each side, the committee will discuss amendments to the previously agreed Libyan Political Accord (LPA) in order to reach a consensual formula and submit the results to the HoR in Tobruk for approval.

The second was for the HoR to then make the necessary constitutional amendments for the LPA to be incorporated into the country’s Constitutional Declaration in order to remedy outstanding issues in the framework of the consensus agreed by the joint committee and approved by the HoR.

The third was that preparations would then begin for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in Libya by no later than February 2018 and in a manner consistent with the provisions of the LPA. 

The fourth point was that all incumbents of key offices, to be agreed in accordance with the aforementioned procedures, would remain in their posts until the end of the interim period and until the new president and parliament had assumed their duties in 2018.

The process set out in the points remains contingent on a sustained dialogue between the major Libyan factions, however. Neither the date nor the place where they will hold their meetings has been announced, although the meetings are expected to start soon.

The Egyptian statement is consistent with international and regional views on how to resolve the political impasse in Libya, but it is unclear how it will affect the summit meeting on Libya sponsored by Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria to be held in March.

Cairo has been hosting Al-Sarraj and Haftar, as well as members of the Presidency Council and the HoR, since Sunday for talks, and a delegation from Libya’s High Council of State, led by its First Deputy Chairman Muhamed Imazzeb, is expected to arrive soon. The delegation will meet with Egyptian officials to discuss the latest developments in the Libyan crisis. It will be the Council’s second visit to Egypt.

Cairo has intensified its efforts to bring rival Libyan factions to the negotiating table to discuss their differences over the LPA signed in Skhirat, Morocco, in December 2015. The agreement is expected to undergo a number of amendments, with the restructuring of the Presidency Council and the status and competencies of the Supreme Military Command, the High Council of State and the HoR in Tobruk dominating the agenda.

Recent press reports have spoken not only of an Egyptian-brokered meeting between Al-Sarraj and Haftar but also of meetings between the two brokered by the UAE, Tunisia and Algeria. Haftar initially denied the reports before declaring that he was willing to meet with Al-Sarraj. According to one report which appeared in a French newspaper last week Hafter set the condition that any meeting must be one-on-one and that Al-Sarraj’s colleagues in the Presidency Council would not be speaking with the military commander from Benghazi.

Recent developments, both local and international, have notched up the pressures on Haftar to meet with Al-Sarraj, not least the way Western capitals have been reiterating their support for Al-Sarraj and the Presidency Council and their continued commitment to the Skhirat Accord.

Al-Ahram Weekly has learned that Al-Sarraj, Haftar and HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh have been working behind the scenes to ensure they remain in their current positions within the framework of arrangements that may come to light in the next few days.

Libyan sources close to the three report that each has met separately in Cairo with the Egyptian Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Mahmoud Hegazi. Hegazi heads the Egyptian committee in charge of Libyan affairs. Recent developments in Libya, ways to move the political process forward, obstacles impeding the implementation of the LPA and progress in the fight against terrorism in Libya were discussed at the meetings.

Information given to the Weekly by Libyan sources close to Al-Sarraj, Haftar and Saleh has been contradictory. One report said a face-to-face meeting between Haftar and Al-Sarraj would be held this week, another predicted it would be deferred for some days, while a third suggested the meeting would also include Saleh.

Over the past few weeks the parties to the Libyan National Dialogue have expressed their readiness to amend the LPA with an eye to restructuring the Presidency Council. Consensus over reducing its members to three – a president and two vice-presidents drawn from the three main Libyan regions of Cyrenaica, Tripoli and Fezzan– appears to be growing, as does support for the separation of the Presidency Council from the Government of National Accord (GNA).

The government would have five key officials on the LPA: the chairman of the Presidency Council, the prime minister of the GNA, the speaker of the parliament, the chairman of the High Council of State and the chief of staff of a unified national army. Few doubt that the latter will be Haftar.

  It remains unclear, however, if Haftar will accept the creation of a unified military council subordinate to the civil authorities. It was an idea he rejected when it was aired for the first time in 2016.

Perhaps confusion is the best way to sum up the positions of the main stakeholders, local, regional and international, in the Libyan crisis. The atmosphere of confusion is being fed by speculation and rumours about imminent initiatives, none of which appears to be taking concrete shape.

Libya’s neighbours, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, have been listening to the views of various Libyan parties, and their foreign ministers are due to meet in early March to lay the groundwork for a tripartite summit between Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Tunisian President Beji Said Essebsi and Algerian President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika. The summit, which the Tunisian president called for last week, will be held in Algiers.

The confusion has reached the halls of the UN in New York where Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tried to appoint former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to replace Martin Kobler as his special envoy to Libya, only for Washington to object.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said the appointment had revealed the international organisation’s “bias” in favour of the Palestinians. The appointment elicited angry reactions elsewhere. The HoR in Tobruk insisted that the Libyan legislature should have been consulted first over the appointment of a new UN envoy while the Palestinians protested that Washington was biased towards Israel.

The Weekly has learned that Guterres is now expected to announce who will replace Kobler as the new envoy to Libya next week. The current speculation is that the successful candidate will be either Moroccan or Tunisian.

Before Libyan officials flew to Cairo for talks earlier this week Tripoli witnessed another important development. On Thursday, a number of military commanders and militia leaders announced the creation of a National Guard charged with protecting government institutions and facilities. The move by parties that reject the LPA has been interpreted by some as an attempt to pressure Haftar to meet with Al-Sarraj in order to avert any renewal of military hostilities in western Libya.

The rejectionist camp in Tripoli is headed by Khalifa Al-Ghuweil, leader of the self-proclaimed National Salvation Government. It is uncertain whether such brinksmanship will work to compel the rival parties to sit down and hammer out a solution, however.

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