Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Egyptian mediation pays off

The recent meeting of Libya’s Al-Sarraj and Haftar in Paris, and moves to cement a new constitution, could not have happened without Egypt’s groundwork, writes Kamel Abdallah


Egyptian mediation pays off
Egyptian mediation pays off

On 29 July, 43 out of 44 members of the Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) voted in favour of a new draft constitution for Libya. The approved draft is to be sent to the House of Representatives in Tobruk for ratification and to the Supreme National Commission for Elections to organise a plebiscite on the constitution. The vote took place four days after a meeting between the head of the Presidency Council and Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez Al-Sarraj and the Commander General of the Libyan National Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in Paris in a bid, sponsored by French President Emmanuel Macron, to end the over two-year impasse in the Libyan political process.

Many Libyans believe that the draft constitution approved by the CDA this week offers a light at the end of the long tunnel of the Libyan political crisis and attendant civil war that have drained the country during the past two years and inflicted untold damage on national infrastructure. Above all, this development signals that Libyans will soon be headed to general elections, a goalpost towards which international stakeholders have been propelling Libyan factions since the outset of this year.

In a joint press conference held with Sarraj and Haftar on 25 July at the Chateau of the La Celle-Saint-Cloud, west of Paris, President Macron announced that the two Libyan leaders had agreed to work together towards a ceasefire, to prepare for general elections to be held next spring, to reintegrate militia groups into the armed forces and security agencies or into civilian life, and to realise comprehensive reconciliation throughout the country which has been torn by bitter conflict and warfare for the past seven years.

The meeting between Haftar and Sarraj in France was their third encounter this year. Paris succeeded in building on the great strides Egypt had made in persuading the major Libyan factions to resume the political dialogue and reach a political settlement to end a more than two-year-long political stalemate. It was in large measure due to Egypt’s previous efforts that Macron was able to gather the two Libyan leaders in front of international media cameras, which had been impossible during the previous meetings.

The Paris meeting was attended by the newly appointed UN Special Envoy to Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Ghassan Salamé. A former Lebanese minister of culture who will replace Martin Kobler as the head of UNSMIL, Salamé held further meetings with Sarraj and Haftar providing another sign of renewed impetus in the political process that ground to a halt soon after the Libyan factions signed a political accord in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015.

The UN Security Council as well as Washington and London welcomed the meeting between Sarraj and Haftar in Paris and lauded their signing of a joint statement in which the two Libyan leaders pledged to work together towards a ceasefire and general elections. However, the extent to which the major Libyan factions will fall in line with these pledges remains the subject of considerable speculation and scepticism, especially against the backdrop of continued intransigence among large portions of these factions which have entrenched themselves in bifurcated government institutions that lack legitimacy because their constitutional terms have lapsed. In addition, the House of Representatives in Tobruk has yet to approve the Skhirat accord which remedies these institutions’ legitimacy crisis.

The Haftar-Sarraj agreement in Paris also faces a number of practical obstacles to its implementation. For example, the ceasefire will not apply to terrorist groups, but Haftar still applies a very loose definition of “terrorist” which renders any ceasefire very fragile and makes it difficult to hold Haftar accountable for a breakdown. Al-Sarraj, for his part, is still under heavy pressure from within his camp in which there remains vehement opposition to Haftar. Also, neither Haftar or Sarraj have real control over their forces while long simmering internal crises on each side could undermine all efforts unless they are remedied before the realisation of a political settlement.

A vivid indication of the potential difficulties ahead is to be found in a number of angry reactions against the draft constitution. The situation reached a point where activists who advocate a federal system stormed the old Libyan parliament building in Beida where the CDA convened for the vote, protesting that the draft constitution failed to accommodate their demands.

In a more encouraging development on the diplomatic front, a large delegation from Misrata arrived in Cairo on Sunday for extensive talks sponsored by the Egyptian National Committee on Libya headed by General Mahmoud Higazi. This is the second visit to Cairo by the Misrata delegation, the first having taken place in early July. The 36-member delegation consists of a number of House of Representatives members from Misrata, representatives of the Misrata municipal board and Shura council and a number of local dignitaries and political activists from the western city. The visits, in and of themselves, manifest a qualitative shift in Misrata’s position that had long opposed the Egyptian approach to handling the Libyan crisis during the past three years.

While in Cairo, the Misrata delegation is scheduled to meet with a number of dignitaries and other representatives from Benghazi and eastern Libya in general. The meeting was due to be held at the end of July, but was postponed due to considerations related to the position of the eastern representatives towards Misrata. A large body of opinion in eastern Libya demands an official apology from the Misrata municipal council, military council, parliamentary representatives and local dignitaries for Misrata’s support for the Shura Council of Revolutionaries of Benghazi that had fought against the forces led by Field Marshal Haftar who is supported by Egypt.

Egypt has made remarkable progress in its mediating efforts in the Libyan crisis in recent months due to its greater openness towards all Libyan factions. This position, which has characterised Egyptian policy towards Libya since November 2016, was key to bridging the points of view of rival factions and bringing prospects for a political settlement within reach.

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