Libya’s three neighbours join their efforts in mediation
Tunis - Top North African diplomats are under increasing pressure to resolve Libya’s crisis before powers from outside the region become more involved.
Foreign ministers from Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia met on February 19th and 20th — nine days ahead of previous plans — in Tunis to develop a road map for dealing with Libya’s problems. The document, known as the Tunis declaration, represents the three countries’ attempt to end the violence in Libya and rebuild a central government that includes leaders from various political and military factions.
“The Tunis declaration will be the platform to intensify and strengthen dialogue between the Libyan parties within the framework of a timetable to be agreed upon after consultation with the involved Libyan parties and the United Nations,” the ministers said in a statement following the meeting.
The statement affirmed their “commitment to Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and argued against intervention from other countries.
Sharing borders with Libya presents critical security challenges for its North African neighbours, which have struggled to ward off violence and extremism spilling over from the conflict-ridden state. In Libya, rival factions, including extremist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS), have tried to fill the power vacuum left when dictator Muammar Qaddafi was ousted in 2011.
The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement supported by Turkey and Qatar, has also become a force in Libya. The Muslim Brotherhood has been designated a terrorist organisation by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
US President Donald Trump’s election heightened the North African countries’ concerns about outside intervention in Libya. While they have supported international efforts to unite rival groups in Libya, they said they fear foreign military intervention would exacerbate the conflict, resulting in an increase in migration problems and spill-over violence.
Foreign involvement in Libya has been limited in scope and duration and efforts by the European Union and the United States have focused on fighting ISIS in Sirte and containing the flow of migrants, who continue to surge into Europe via the Mediterranean.
In December, the United States assisted militias aligned with the UN-backed government in Tripoli with an air campaign to uproot ISIS fighters from their Sirte stronghold. Britain gave logistical and intelligence support in the mission and Italy provided medical assistance. More than 1,000 ISIS fighters were reportedly killed and many more scattered across Libya.
Diplomats in the Maghreb said mediators are concerned that Trump might go along with Russia providing military support to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a fiery anti- Islamist commander, who leads the Libyan Army in eastern Libya.
North African officials said they are concerned that Trump could lift arms sanctions on Libya, resulting in more weapons for Haftar’s fighters. Trump has taken a different tone than his predecessor, Barack Obama, saying radical Islam is one of the greatest threats to US national security.
With these foreign policy concerns as the backdrop, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt hope to move towards a concrete resolution for Libya and their Foreign ministers plan to act as mediators between the many competing factions in Libya and abroad.
“There is a general fatigue among the factions and players of the Libyan conflict. Any well-balanced mediation from Arab neighbours can make a difference and succeed,” said Darem al-Bassam, a UN adviser on Libya.
Any success by the three countries would likely come out once they announce the agenda for an upcoming summit, whose dates have not been announced, in Algiers that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi are expected to attend.
Whatever happens at the summit, getting rival forces to come together in Libya will remain a challenge. The UN-recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli is vying for control with a rival government in Tobruk and the Libyan Army, led by Haftar. Haftar, who has gained a reputation as an anti-jihadist fighter, has the support of Russia and hopes to win favour with Trump.