Tuesday,20 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1333, (23 February - 1 March 2017)
Tuesday,20 November, 2018
Issue 1333, (23 February - 1 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Peace faces problems

The sketch of a political solution to Libya’s protracted impasse exists, but how to reach it is complicated by the players involved

Last year Haftar agreed to meet Al-Sarraj. This year, in Cairo, he refused to do so
Last year Haftar agreed to meet Al-Sarraj. This year, in Cairo, he refused to do so

Since 8 October 2015, the composition of negotiating teams has remained one of the major dilemmas in the stalled political process in Libya. The House of Representatives in Tobruk and the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli dismissed their negotiating teams just days before the Libyan Political Accord (LPA) was due to be signed in Skhirat, Morocco. However, the negotiators insisted on completing their mission and signing the agreement, which occurred 17 December 2015 in a formal ceremony in the Moroccan resort town attended by numerous international and regional figures.

Today, over a year since then, the problem of choosing new negotiating teams has reared its head again. The dilemma is particularly acute for the House of Representatives that is riddled with divisions and mounting animosities. The House of Representatives’ term officially came to an end 20 October 2015 in accordance with the 2011 Constitutional Declaration and the February 2014 roadmap, and it now derives its legitimacy from the LPA. In spite of the opposition of the GNC speaker to the LPA, the GNC, which has since been transformed into the High Council of State, one of the bodies that emerged from the LPA, seems to have overcome this dilemma. Nevertheless, there have been calls to review the composition of this council which, under the LPA, is the highest consultative body in the country.

The problem of the legitimacy of the negotiating teams persisted throughout 2016 during the consultative talks facilitated by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and was aggravated by the protracted impasse between the two sides, divisions within the two sides over LPA, the persistence of the status quo and the inability of new government bodies to take root while those prior to the LPA continued to exist and strove to secure their continued survival. However, now that the parties have agreed to reopen the LPA for amendment, the problem has assumed a greater urgency.

Cairo, one of the main mediating parties, has become more open to all sides of the Libyan crisis. In January this year, it initiated contact with the parties in Tripoli for the first time since 2014 and it invited a delegation from the High Council of State to Egypt in order to explore ways to resolve the political impasse.

Last week, Cairo also hosted the Chairman of the Presidency Council, Fayez Al-Sarraj, the Commander General of the Libyan Army in the east Khalifa Haftar, the speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh and a delegation from the High Council of State headed by its second Deputy Chairman Mohamed Imazzeb in the hope of bridging the differences between the parties. Unfortunately, Cairo’s efforts to bring Al-Sarraj and Haftar together to the same dialogue table did not succeed. Haftar refused to meet Al-Sarraj, in spite of Cairo’s repeated urging, which led Al-Sarraj to accuse the general of self-aggrandisement, according to a statement posted on the Presidency Council Facebook page regarding the visit to Cairo on 14-15 February.

The Egyptian committee concerned with the crisis in Libya issued a statement on Wednesday declaring that the parties had agreed on four major points in the course of separate meetings. One called for the creation of a joint committee drawn from the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the High Council of State in Tripoli, with a maximum of 15 representatives from each side, to remedy their outstanding differences and work out draft amendments to the agreed upon articles of the LPA. The statement was another concrete sign that Cairo has grown more open to Tripoli than before.

However, the Cairo statement did not stipulate that the LPA should be incorporated into the Constitutional Declaration before the resumption of the political dialogue and the anticipated amendment process.

The effect of this could be to perpetuate the problems surrounding the negotiating teams, especially given that the House of Representatives is unable to meet with a full quorum while the Council of State is facing demands to reconstitute itself now that members who had boycotted the council since mid-2014 see the dialogue process as an avenue to return to it. This has raised concerns that the discord that currently affects the House of Representatives will spread to the Council of State and thus perpetuate the political impasse even further.

The parties that reject the LPA argue that the negotiators who signed it in Skhirat had not been authorised to do so because they had been dismissed prior to that by the speakers of both the House of Representatives and the GNC. However, the rejectionists in the House of Representatives are still unable to choose new negotiators due to their differences over the LPA, how to remedy the security situation and the question of the control of the general commander of the army over affairs in eastern Libya. Such differences have considerably weakened the house, which denied its approval, on 25 January 2016, of the LPA apart from Article 8 concerning sovereign government posts.

In light of General Haftar’s military progress on the ground and his success in security control over the main oil exporting terminals in the east, which has strengthened his position for the time being at least, and in light of the success of the forces taking part in the Bunyan Marsus Operation to recapture Sirte from IS (the Islamic State group) after a six-month long campaign, it is clear that representatives of these two forces, which are the largest and strongest in the west and east respectively, should be included in the dialogue processes when they resume. However, Haftar still appears unwilling to practise politics instead of warfare. He has yet to identify negotiators to represent him in any talks and continues to rely on the military route which he has pursued since May 2014. This was reflected in his attitude during the talks in Egypt last week. His refusal to meet with Al-Sarraj was a sign of his determination to persist with his military campaign until he secures full control over the country, an ambition that is unrealisable and that will jeopardise the political and military gains he has achieved since the signing of the LPA.

Haftar’s rivals in western Libya have displayed a willingness to negotiate and to include him in any political and security arrangements for the future. If he persists in his intransigence this could trigger further military escalation and a broadening of the scope of the civil war especially in the west with its intricate socio-political fabric. But even in the east, there are increasing signs that Haftar’s control is not as secure as is portrayed by the media.

The longer that the question of the composition of the negotiating teams remains unresolved, the more the ammunition this gives to the opponents of the LPA to attack this agreement, to undermine whatever progress it has made on the ground, and to fuel distrust between the key Libyan players. All sides should therefore declare their positions on the dialogue process openly and unequivocally and appoint their negotiators so as to avert the previous mistakes that led to the current situation.

Meanwhile, Tunisia this week hosted a tripartite foreign ministers meeting between Sameh Shoukri from Egypt, Khamis Alaghinawa from Tunisia and Abdel-Kader Messahel of Algeria. The meeting, originally scheduled for March, was brought forward to this week due to the delay in the anticipated meeting between Haftar and Al-Sarraj.

The three ministers reviewed the efforts their countries have made to promote a consensual solution to the Libyan crisis and reaffirmed their support for a comprehensive political solution based on the principle of sustained efforts to realise a comprehensive and inclusive reconciliation in the framework of the Libyan dialogue, assisted by the three states and sponsored by the UN. They also reaffirmed their commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya and to the principle of a political solution as the only way out of the Libyan crisis on the basis of the LPA signed on 17 December 2015 in its capacity as a frame-of-reference. They further agreed to support the compromise proposals offered by the Libyan parties with the purpose of reaching supplementary formulas and amendments to the LPA in order to enable its implementation.

The foreign ministers reiterated their opposition to a military solution to the Libyan crisis and to any foreign intervention in Libya’s domestic affairs. Any agreement must be concluded by the Libyans, themselves, which is why the dialogue should include all Libyan parties regardless of their political outlooks and affiliations. In addition, they pledged to guarantee the unity of the Libyan institutions of a civilian government as stipulated in the LPA (the Presidency Council, the House of Representatives and the High Council of State), as well as the unity of the Libyan Armed Forces, in accordance with the articles of the LPA, so that it can perform its national role in the preservation of security and the fight against terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal immigration.

Finally, the ministers pledged to sustain their efforts at the ministerial level and to coordinate with each other and with the Libyan parties in order to overcome current obstacles. The results of the tripartite meeting, they said, would be submitted to Tunisian President Baji Caid Essebsi, Algerian President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi preparatory to a tripartite summit between the three leaders in Algiers. In conclusion, they stated that the foreign ministers’ declaration in Tunis would serve as groundwork for promoting and enhancing dialogue between the Libyan parties within the framework of a set timetable agreed upon, subsequently through consultations with the concerned Libyan parties and the UN in its capacity as the official sponsor of the LPA and any new understandings pertaining to refinements or amendments of this accord.

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