Egypt leading efforts to reconcile Haftar, Saleh ahead of Geneva talks

Cairo is committed to helping diffuse tensions between Haftar and Saleh so that the eastern Libyan delegation will go to Geneva united and ready to move forward with strength.
Thursday 24/09/2020
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C), Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar (R) and the Libyan Parliament speaker Aguila Saleh arrive for a joint press conference in the capital Cairo, June 26. (AFP)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C), Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar (R) and the Libyan Parliament speaker Aguila Saleh arrive for a joint press conference in the capital Cairo, June 26. (AFP)

CAIRO – Egypt is pushing for reconciliation between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who heads the Libyan National Army (LNA), and Libyan Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, before decisive negotiations are to take place in Geneva.

Egyptian political sources told The Arab Weekly that Cairo has evidence that the Geneva conference on the Libyan crisis, which is expected to take place in mid-October, will provide a new opportunity for a settlement to be reached between Libyan rivals.

— Reconciliation —

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said that Washington is on board with the reconciliation drive, and wants to see positive results before the beginning of US presidential elections in November.

The sources emphasised that Cairo is making strenuous efforts to unify the vision of the LNA and the Libyan parliament ahead of the expected settlement.

If reconciliation is reached, it would bring Haftar out of his isolation, which was evident when he was snubbed during preliminary talks that took place in Geneva and Morocco earlier this month.

Haftar has been sidelined as the international community and major regional players increasingly rely on Saleh to steer Libya’s eastern camp out of the crisis.

In recent months, it has become increasingly clear that the allies of the LNA and the Libyan parliament, particularly Egypt and Russia, are concerned about disputes between the two parties. The division was reflected in Saleh’s silence on the Sochi agreement reached between Haftar and Ahmed Maitiq, deputy head of the presidency council, to re-pump oil.

Saleh’s silence was evidence of a deep gulf between the two sides and also showed that the speaker is biased towards Washington at the expense of Russia, which sponsored the oil agreement.

Disagreements between the two eastern parties began when Saleh announced a political initiative calling for the formation of a presidential council and a political solution to the crisis that includes holding parliamentary and presidential elections.

— Russian factor —

Saleh’s initiative came as the LNA retreated from the south of Tripoli, forcing Haftar to respond by announcing his acceptance of the popular mandate to rule Libya in an attempt to block the way to Saleh, whose initiative was supported by Russia and Egypt.

The LNA’s defeats near Tripoli, which forced it to withdraw to Sirte, amplified tensions between Haftar and his allies, especially Russia, which reportedly withdrew elements of Wagner mercenaries who were fighting within the LNA’s ranks south of Tripoli.

Russia at the time appeared to support Saleh’s rise to power and advocated Haftar taking a back seat.

However, Moscow has since changed course, bringing the field-marshal back to centre stage by announcing the Sochi agreement that took place between a representative of the LNA’s general command and Maitiq.

Like most of Washington’s allies usually do, Saleh kept quiet about the agreement, raising questions about his relationship with Moscow.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi held a meeting with Saleh and Haftar on Wednesday to discuss the mechanisms needed to unite their ranks and positions ahead of the Geneva conference under the auspices of the United Nations.

Sisi praised Saleh’s efforts in support of the political process and to unify Libya’s executive and legislative institutions. He also hailed the LNA’s efforts to combat terrorism and respect the country’s ceasefire agreement.

Observers believe there are signs of growing international pressure to forge a solution to Libya’s crisis, especially with Tripoli-based  Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s announcement he will resign by the end of next month, after the outcome of the Geneva talks are revealed.

The conference that will take place in Switzerland is expected to be attended by regional and international powers, as well as figures representing various constituents of Libya’s social and political spectrum, including for the first time some parties from the former regime.

Among the conference’s priorities will be to move towards the formation of a new government and presidential council and organise general elections. It will build on previous meetings held in Switzerland at the beginning of the month and aim to help Libya avoid mistakes made in the past.

Those who participated in preliminary meetings agreed to hold presidential and parliamentary elections within 18 months, under constitutional guidelines.

They also agreed to form a presidential council, establish a national unity government that represents all Libyans and temporarily transfer jobs and key government offices to the city of Sirte after appropriate arrangements are put in place.

— “Blind eye” —

There are disagreements over the selection criteria and the level of representation each party in the Geneva conference should have. Several parties have objected to other figures participating at all, and demanded a role in selecting the participants.

Haftar and Saleh have agreed to uphold the ceasefire and avoid breaching  the red lines known as “Sirte and Al Jufra.” They have also agreed on the need to get rid of the Turkish presence, end militias’ control over Tripoli and deport mercenaries and terrorists recently sent by Turkey to Libya.

Cairo stresses the importance of stopping Turkey’s intervention, expelling mercenaries and extremists and holding Ankara responsible for the spread of chaos in Libya. Cairo previously refused to respond to Turkish efforts to move towards an understanding, and accused Ankara of attempting to circumvent international pressure.

“It is regrettable that the international community continues to turn a blind eye to the support a handful of countries provide to terrorists either by providing them with money and weapons or safe havens and media and political platforms,” the Egyptian president said in a speech he delivered at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

“They also help facilitate the movement of terrorist fighters to conflict areas, especially to Libya and Syria before.”

Egyptian officials discussed with Haftar and Saleh details of meetings that took place in Morocco and Switzerland to forge a unified vision on Libya’s ceasefire, the resumption of oil flow and broader political cooperation.

Cairo has expressed concern about continuing divergences between Haftar and Saleh in recent weeks, with each party attempting to shore up power and influence at the expense of the other.

Egyptian officials believe persistent differences and the reversal of understandings, which Sisi supervised last June and suggested greater cooperation at the time, give the opposing GNA an opportunity to skirt its commitments.

If Haftar and Saleh’s camps move without coordinating their moves, there could be more confusion, giving Turkey the opportunity to reshape the political and military situation.

Cairo is committed to helping diffuse tensions between Haftar and Saleh so that the eastern Libyan delegation will go to Geneva united and ready to move forward with strength.