Wednesday,24 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Wednesday,24 April, 2019
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Libya’s Al-Sarraj and Haftar meet

Despite media speculation, little in the way of agreement was reached when Fayez Al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar met in Abu Dhabi

Libya’s Al-Sarraj and Haftar meet
Libya’s Al-Sarraj and Haftar meet

On 2 May, Abu Dhabi hosted the long-anticipated meeting between Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), and the commander general of the Libyan Army in eastern Libya, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The meeting, the second between the two leaders, was sponsored by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohamed Bin Zayed Al-Nahayan. Observers see it as a step towards persuading Haftar to work within a civilian government framework, which he has continued to reject since the Libyan Political Accord (LPA) was signed 17 December 2015.

However, observers also remarked on the massive obfuscation campaign in media coverage of the meeting. Many of the reports aired turned out to be contradictory and unfounded, especially as regards the claims that Haftar and Al-Sarraj had reached agreements on outstanding differences over the LPA, in spite of the fact that neither of these figures has a mandate to negotiate over the agreement.

In the end, the meeting yielded only two official statements, one by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, on 2 May, and the second by Al-Sarraj on 3 May. Both were formal diplomatic statements and neither made any mention of the notions that had been circulated by a tendentious media.

The first meeting between Haftar and Al-Sarraj took place in January 2016 in Haftar’s residence in Al-Rajma district in east Benghazi. The meeting, held under Egyptian auspices, produced no genuine understandings between the two men. Cairo made an attempt to bring the two men together again in mid-February, but that intercession fell through at the last moment.

In spite of the fact that both the UAE and Cairo have frequently reiterated their support for the LPA, the actual substance of that agreement has failed to meet the approval of either of these countries that have the greatest influence in Libya and that are the strongest allies of the Benghazi-based Libyan strongman.

The meeting in Abu Dhabi marks the latest effort to re-engineer the situation in Libya which, more than ever during the past three years, is in the process of major changes that will ultimately propel towards a new settlement based on the current LPA, which has been eclipsed by time, eroded by the slow and faltering political process and undermined by military developments on the ground in Libya.

Although the Al-Sarraj-Haftar meeting in Abu Dhabi was widely hailed in Libya, the Arab region and internationally, it is still premature to make any conclusive judgements regarding its success, especially since renewed rounds of dialogue between the Libyan factions are not in the immediate offing and may not be held until sometime in the second half of this year.

Describing the meeting as “an important step towards the achievement of progress in the political process in Libya,” the UAE Foreign Ministry, in its statement, expressed its hope that “the meeting will be the first in a series of steps that seek to realise stability in Libya”. It added that the meeting constituted “tangible progress in efforts to mediate and reconcile adversaries in the Libyan crisis”, stressing that “there can be no military solution to the current crisis” and that the UAE “urges all the major Libyan parties to mediate in order realise a ceasefire in the south and in other conflict zones and to ensure the implementation of the security arrangements mentioned in the [Libyan] Political Accord.”

Particularly striking was that the UAE statement called on the international community to “avoid creating and boosting more divisions in Libya and, instead, to work on encouraging Libyans towards more cooperation”. It also urged progress in the selection of a new UN envoy to Libya to replace Martin Kobler as soon as possible, “so as to ensure the continuation of the UN’s role as a strong supporter of the efforts to remedy the Libyan crisis”. The phrasing clearly alludes to disappointment in the performance of the UN envoy in Libya.

Even reading between the lines of the diplomatic language of the UAE Foreign Ministry statement offers nothing to sustain media reports regarding alleged agreements between Haftar and Al-Sarraj, both of whom rely on regional and international backers to strengthen their positions against their local rivals in Libya. But nor did the statement suggest any mechanism for moving forward, especially if Haftar refuses to alter his negative attitude towards Al-Sarraj.

As for Al-Sarraj, in his 3 May statement, he said that he had met with Haftar as part of his efforts to realise a peaceful settlement to the Libyan crisis and his determination to create the circumstances conducive to a solution to that crisis. He noted that both leaders “called for a broad social dialogue in order to entrench national principles, to give root to the idea of constructing a civil democratic government and to accelerate steps towards the constitutional requirements needed to move beyond the interim phase as soon as possible.”

Al-Sarraj added that the meeting underscored the need to unify efforts and resources in order to fight terrorist organisations and eliminate terrorism ideologically and militarily, and to restore calm in the south and defuse tensions so that Libyans can reunite. According to the statement, the meeting also broached the subject of the measures needed to ensure the peaceful rotation of authority, the application of the principle of transparency and the elimination of corruption in all government organisations and institutions. The statement mentioned no specifics.

Contrary to some press reports, there was no joint statement issued by Haftar and Al-Sarraj. Also, Haftar refrained from issuing a statement of his own as had been agreed during the meeting, Al-Ahram Weekly subsequently learned. Nevertheless, Haftar has continued in his stance opposed to the LPA and its outputs such as the Presidency Council and the GNA as was evidenced on his Facebook page on which he spoke of the meeting with Al-Sarraj without mentioning Al-Sarraj’s official capacity as chairman of the Presidency Council. In like manner, Al-Sarraj did not mention the title accorded to Haftar by House of Representatives Speaker Aguila Saleh and sufficed only with Haftar’s military rank.

It should be mentioned that both Haftar and Al-Sarraj have noted that they are not involved in negotiations over the LPA, which was concluded between representatives of the rival political authorities in eastern and western Libya, namely the House of Representatives based in Tobruk and the Council of State (formerly the General National Congress, or GNC) based in Tripoli. Both are elected assemblies and both have refused to relinquish authority in spite of the fact that their legislative terms have ended in accordance with the Constitutional Declaration.

In spite of the shortcomings in the LPA, its UN and international sponsors have been unwilling to relinquish their commitment to it. Nevertheless, there are increasing signs from regional and international capitals that the foreign stakeholders in the Libyan crisis are ready to forge a new settlement through a new agreement. However, if, as the signs suggest, the approach used is the same that led to the LPA, signed in Skhirat in December 2015, the results will ultimately be the same. Instead of addressing the real parties concerned in the crisis and pressuring them to return to the dialogue table and instead of focusing on the security track of the dialogue to which the UN has not accorded sufficient attention, the UN and the international community are jumping forward to create a new agreement to which powerful figures such as Haftar will not commit.

According to remarks by Kobler, who remains in place due to discord among international powers over his successor, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is in the process of preparing a new roadmap with a binding timetable in order to reach a consensus among the parties in Libya. Kobler issued the remarks during a meeting with Al-Sarraj following the latter’s return from Abu Dhabi.

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