In Libya talks, too many cooks could spoil the broth

Libyans are talking to each other in Morocco, Switzerland and Egypt, while France is hosting a conference of Libya’s neighbours.
Monday 28/09/2020

CAIRO – Local, regional and international forces are trying to strengthen their roles in the Libyan crisis after the outline of a parallel political solution appeared on the horizon.

Since the announcement of coming UN-sponsored talks scheduled for the middle of next month in Geneva, aimed at rearranging the situation in the country and forming a new government and presidential council, there has been a flurry of initiatives towards a settlement of the Libyan crisis.

Libya’s parallel eastern government foreign minister Abdul Hadi al-Hawaij (C) visits al-Sidra oil port in the east of the country on September 24. AFP
Libya’s parallel eastern government foreign minister Abdul Hadi al-Hawaij (C) visits al-Sidra oil port in the east of the country on September 24. AFP

Political sources told The Arab Weekly that having too many cooks involved in fixing the Libyan broth may end up spoiling the chances of a political settlement in Libya by leading to intense competition between the various forces and aborting efforts to end foreign interference in the crisis and put it on the right path.

The Red Sea resort city of Hurghada will be hosting three-day meetings, from Sunday to Tuesday, under the auspices of the United Nations, between a number of officers from the Libyan army in the east, and others from the Government of National Accord in the west.

At the same time, the talks in the Moroccan town of Bouznika between delegations of the Tobruk Parliament and the Supreme Council of State in Tripoli will resume on Tuesday, in an atmosphere less optimistic than from the beginning of those talks whose goal is to reach a final agreement between the Libyan parties on sharing the main positions of sovereignty in a new government.

In parallel, France is making diplomatic efforts to put back Paris at the centre of the talks, following President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement last week of his desire to bring together Libya’s neighbouring countries for the purpose of finding a solution to the Libyan crisis. The French President launched his initiative after meetings in Paris between Army Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the President of the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) stands next to French President Emmanuel Macron at a conference on Libya in Berlin, Germany, last January. (AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) stands next to French President Emmanuel Macron at a conference on Libya in Berlin, Germany, last January. (AFP)

To further add to the confusion, it has been reported that Italy was trying to have the Geneva talks transferred to Malta.

Observers fear that the focus on the many parallel conferences and talks will lead to disrupting the moves seeking a solution to the conflict in Libya and cast negative shadows on the Geneva conference, rendering them just for show without any hope for obtaining guarantees that would allow the implementation of its outcomes.

The head of the Libyan-Egyptian Social Communication Committee, Sheikh Adel Al-Faidi, considered that the fate of a probable Geneva agreement will be the same as that of the Skhirat Agreement, because the Geneva path lacks the unification of frameworks, ranks and political vision, and does not include all the actors in the Libyan scene. Furthermore, the United Nations mission insists on recycling the same figures and personalities that had a major role in aggravating the situation in the first place.

Faidi, one of the tribal elders of Libya, told The Arab Weekly, “The tribes that represent a large and influential bloc in the country have clearly not succeeded in uniting their ranks, and many of the contributions made in the name of the tribes do not express their true values.”

In the coming days, Cairo is set to host a new conference for Libyan national reconciliation, with the participation of figures from different political and social spectrums, with the hope of unifying visions before going to the Geneva conference.

Reaching understandings between rival forces is a very important process, as each party insists on giving priority to its interests, hanging on to the gains it has achieved, and refusing to make concessions to the other.

Libya map

The agenda of the Hurghada talks includes discussing mechanisms for ending the presence of mercenaries in the country, disarming armed brigades, forming national forces to secure oil fields and ensureits continued flow, and changing the method of controlling resources to ensure their fair distribution.

Hurghada, which is about 500 kilometres from Cairo, was chosen to provide a quiet environment for the meetings and ensure their confidentiality. It was reported that leaders and high-ranking security, political and economic figures from both sides were participating in these meetings but their names have not been disclosed. The main goals of the meetings are to reach an understanding about the requirements of forming a joint force whose mission is to secure the new government proposed to be based in the city Sirte in central Libya, and to prepare for the resumption of talks on the unification of the military institution at a later time.

In parallel to these efforts to unify the military institution in Libya, Cairo is making similar efforts to unify the parliamentary institution as well. Lately, it has hosted members of the House of Representatives from western Libya and both parties agreed to continue efforts towards political understanding.

Ayman Saif Al-Nasr, a member of the Tripoli branch of the Libyan Parliament, told The Arab Weekly that “this task is not impossible, if good intentions are available and the interests of the homeland are given priority over other political, ideological and regional interests, for Libya can absorb all national forces and end foreign interference.”

Libyan sources suggested that the forces of the National Army and those affiliated with the Government of National Accord would agree to withdraw from the vicinity of Sirte to facilitate the taking of the necessary measures to reinforce the ceasefire and prevent it from being dependent on the wishes of those who want to thwart it to achieve certain goals.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya wants to form a unified force to secure the cities of Sirte and Al-Jufrahin order to clear the way for a political solution, and to find a suitable outcome for the idea of ​​the buffer zonewhich the Libyan army had previously rejected, and which raised Egyptian fears about it being a manoeuvre to circumvent the red line drawn by its leadership.

Acting United Nations envoy Stephanie Williams called for sanctions to be imposed on those who try to spoil the Geneva talks between the Libyan parties, which are aimed at negotiating the formation of a national unity government that will determine parliamentary and presidential elections for the next period.

Information has begun to filter out confirming that figures belonging to the regime of the late Colonel Muammar Gadhafi are preparing to participate in the Geneva meeting, amid mounting demands for Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi to be granted freedom of movement, which suggests his probable involvement in the political process during the next stage.

The intensity of international objections to Saif al-Islam has subsided, implicitly, but some parties fear that his entry into the current political game would lead to a bias towards Russia, and that it could cause renewed clashes between supporters of the revolution and supporters of the former regime, who remain divided among themselves. Such tensions could distract from the current efforts.