Sunday,21 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)
Sunday,21 April, 2019
Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Libyan priorities rearranged

Political and security cards are being reshuffled across the country as the UN-sponsored Libyan National Conference Process begins, reports Kamel Abdallah

Libyan priorities rearranged
Libyan priorities rearranged

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva announced the launch of the Libyan National Conference Process (NCP) on 4 April, with meetings between the country’s various factions beginning in the eastern city of Benghazi and the western city of Zuwara as the Supreme State Council in the capital Tripoli elected its Presidential Council for a third term.

On Saturday, Khaled Al-Mishri, a leading figure in the Justice and Construction Party of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, won the position of the head of the High Council of State (HCS), replacing Abdul-Rahman Al-Swehli.

Al-Mishri won 64 votes — while 45 went to Al-Swehli, who is the founder of HCS and its head for two consecutive years — in the second round of elections that took place in Tripoli.

Al-Mishri, 51, is considered one of the most prominent opponents of the head of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar and of the Karama Operation, which has been launched against extremist groups in the country, especially in the eastern region.

He was a member of the outgoing General National Congress (parliament), the chairman of its financial committee and a member of the national security committee.

On the other hand, attempts are ongoing in western Libya to engineer an alliance between conservative currents in the cities of Misrata and Zintan, the most powerful forces in the west of the country, amid United Nations affirmations that it wants to maintain the holding of legislative and presidential elections in Libya before the end of this year.

Despite the developments, there is still no clear political direction in Libya, however, since these advances lack a solid foundation to withstand the chaos that has engulfed the country since 2011.

There is no political project that will enable the country to contain the polarisation that has been so dominant on the Libyan scene since the splitting of the country in 2014.

International and UN-backed efforts have failed to unite Libya due to conflicting interests and the local players’ inability to develop effective strategies to manage crises revolving around issues of wealth and power.

Armed struggles have intensified and fallen away as a result and according to regional political fluctuations. 

Recent pressure on the part of foreign parties led UN special envoy to Libya Ghassan Salamé to forego plans to revive the country’s stalled peace process since the signing of the peace deal in 2015. Salamé still insists that elections will be held by the end of 2018, despite the immense challenges, however.

Salamé delegated the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue to organise the NCP, the second segment of his plans, in response to foreign pressures. He promised UN backing to the NCP consultations and UN Security Council support for the outcome if the main Libyan players reach an agreement on major issues.

The NCP began its deliberations in Benghazi and Zuwara on 5 April and concluded on 7 April before being relaunched in the western city of Gharyan and the southern city of Brak.

Open meetings are scheduled to be held in 15 Libyan cities, as well as in Cairo, Istanbul and Tunis, home of significant numbers of Libyan expatriates. The NCP’s sponsors hope for success in piloting the country to a new phase and ending the battles between the various factions that have destroyed much of Libya’s infrastructure along with its political, economic and social unity.

In Benghazi, NCP participants agreed to form working groups to amend their schedule and to add issues regarding civic dialogue and national reconciliation. A compensation scheme will be set up for victims of the conflict over recent years.

The working groups are divided into councils of elders, academics and scientific research centres, women’s groups, rights groups and lawmakers, young people, martyrs’ families and terrorism and war victims, as well as business people, media experts, intellectuals and writers, political entities and public-sector groups.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue said the NCP was “an outstanding opportunity for open dialogue on Libya’s priorities,” explaining that it was concerned mainly with “government priorities,” “security and defence issues,” “the separation of powers,” and “constitution and electoral processes.”

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva has hosted more than five meetings on Libya since 2015 between political, social and cultural representatives, the last two being in January at its headquarters and in February in Tunis.

Attendees at the January meeting in Geneva concluded that many of the keys to the Libyan crisis are not in the hands of Libyans. This is because of the polarisation that has taken over the country and the attempts of local factions to strike alliances with regional and international powers to gain leverage over their homegrown competitors.

Local factions have become wedded to foreign interests over the past five years, and the scene in Libya has become indicative of the balance of international powers rather than attempts to support Libya’s national interests.

On the political front, the rift has been widening between President of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh and Haftar.

In the west of the country, conservative currents in Misrata and Zintan sealed a reconciliation deal three years after the former kicked Zintan forces out of Tripoli Airport following an alliance with Haftar.

This was then broken after the currents broke off their alliance with Haftar after consolidating ties with the Presidential Council and in response to the escalatory tone adopted in the east of the country.

A Misrata delegation headed by the city’s head of the military Ibrahim bin Ragab visited Zintan to meet city leaders. The two parties issued a statement announcing that they had turned over a new leaf and agreeing on the need to end the conflict and support Libyan unity.

 They also agreed on the principles of a civil state and the need for new elections, in addition to the goals of the Libyan February Revolution, largely abandoned because of the destructive polarisation that has hit the country.

The reconciliation between the conservative currents seems to have been driven by a lack of security options for the two parties. Violent confrontations led to the springing up of challenges on various fronts, and there are still sceptics about the parties’ real intentions, particularly given their conflicting interests and security arrangements.

The Misrata current has effectively abandoned the National Salvation Government, for example, headed by Misrata-based Khalifa Al-Ghweil. Zintan has retracted its position on Operation Dignity led by Haftar in the east of the country and no longer supports tribes affiliated to the previous regime southwest of Tripoli.

It prefers to support political agreements that have provided it with a significant role in security arrangements and the Government of National Accord. Fayez Al-Sarraj, chairman of the Presidential Council and prime minister of the Government of National Accord, appointed Zintan’s head of the military Osama Al-Gweili commander of the western military zone after promoting him to the rank of major-general, for example.

The success of the alliance between the Misrata and Zintan currents has yet to be seen, given the political and security developments Libya may see in the coming days. Meanwhile, the other parties are still shuffling and reshuffling their cards in preparation for the next round of the Libyan crisis.

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