Deep-seated divisions block Libyan road map

Sunday 23/07/2017
No room to manoeuvre. Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj during a meeting, last March. (AFP)

Tunis - Libya’s UN-backed leader has proposed a road map for a peaceful transition of power in the war-rav­aged country but a legacy of strife between vying militias and military factions may prove impossible to surmount.
“We are all in this together,” said Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al- Sarraj in a televised address July 15. “The time has come for unity to save our motherland.”
The speech, five months before Sarraj’s 2-year mandate was to end, outlined several proposals relating to the country’s prospective March 2018 elections.
A visibly exhausted Sarraj stressed the importance of stop­ping all military activities in areas unaffected by terrorism and reac­tivating state bodies charged with overseeing the electoral process. His nine-point plan was delivered under the slogan “Libya, together towards Reconciliation and Con­struction.”
The proposals raised hopes among some Libyans that the country could overcome fierce ide­ological divisions to secure a func­tional state but were dismissed by others as little more than a pipe dream.
One promising sign has been Libya’s increased oil output. Pro­duction has gone from 150,000 barrels per day (bpd) early this year to 1 million bpd in late June, an in­dication that rival militias agreed to safeguard critical oil reserves during the conflict.
As per Sarraj’s road map, the Government of National Accord (GNA) would remain in power until the next head of state names a suc­cessor. The successor would have power for a maximum of three years until a referendum on a con­stitution.
Some Libyan politicians viewed the plan as a scheme by Muslim Brotherhood officials and radical Islamists to buy time for Sarraj, who has support from various Is­lamist camps in western Libya.
The Islamists’ main Arab backer, Qatar, has faced renewed scru­tiny from the United States and is locked in a struggle for survival with its Gulf Cooperation Council neighbours.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain sev­ered diplomatic ties and cut air, land and sea ties with Doha in early June over Doha’s alleged sup­port for extremism in the region, including in Libya — a charge Qatar dismissed.
Neither side has shown signs of backing down, raising concerns that the spat could spill into out­side confrontations, perhaps even in Libya.
Sarraj’s announcement came after Libya’s eastern strongman, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who commands the Libyan National Army (LNA), on July 5 declared Benghazi liberated from Islamists. Haftar later flew to the United Arab Emirates to express support for the Arab quartet’s efforts to roll back Qatari influence in the region.
Haftar maintains backing from the UAE and Egypt and his recent statements against Qatari-backed Islamists further aligned him with the Saudi-led Arab coalition in its efforts to counter Qatar’s 20-year campaign to expand the influence of radical Islamism.
Haftar’s spokesman Ahmed Mis­mari on July 8 told politicians in Tripoli that, if they fail to end Lib­ya’s trials by December, LNA forces would sideline them in the capital, over which they have nominal con­trol.
“Our battle against terrorism is not yet over until it is uprooted from the entire Libyan territory,” Haftar told the Russian news agen­cy, Sputnik, after Sarraj made his plan public.
Haftar’s backers immediately re­jected Sarraj’s proposals.
Ali al-Gotrani, a boycotting member of Sarraj’s Presidential Council, criticised the road map as a “Muslim Brotherhood gimmick” to prolong its control of Tripoli.
Even supporters of Sarraj’s plan acknowledged its implementation would be difficult. Among their concerns was how the country could ensure the security of voters during an election.
Chairman of the High National Elections Commission Emad al- Sayeh said the body should start preparing in August but that it would not be possible “because there are many laws missing in the electoral process including the elections law that regulates the whole operation.”
Professor and civil society activ­ist Naji Jomaa Barakat said “elec­tions in March could be a good and important achievement” but ques­tioned the plan’s practicality.
“Who can disarm the militias and ensure that the new leaders will be allowed to be candidates for the elections?” he asked.