Macron brings Libyan protagonists together but doubts still surround election prospects
PARIS - Ten months after French President Emmanuel Macron achieved a political tour de force by getting the two main contestants in the Libyan divide — Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar and head of the internationally recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj — to agree to elections and a ceasefire, he has done it again.
This time, Macron brought together not just Haftar and Sarraj but also the other two main actors in the Libyan crisis — Ageela Saleh, the head of the House of Representatives (HoR), and Khalid al-Mishri, the head of the State Council and member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Justice and Construction Party — for meetings May 29 in Paris.
Convening the meeting was an achievement. No one had been able to get all four in the same room at the same time, let alone have them agree to specific steps to reunite Libya, including presidential and parliamentary elections on December 10.
Before the meeting Macron proposed a draft agreement covering not just the elections and acceptance of the results but also a commitment to support efforts mediated by Egypt to reunite the Libyan armed forces. Even after the deal was decided, Mishri refused to sign it, leading French officials to suggest that no one sign.
It was agreed that the constitutional framework, which must be in place by mid-September spelling out the responsibilities of the president, government and House of Representatives, will either be through a referendum on the proposed constitution or by an amendment to the 2011 Constitutional Declaration.
The latter option is important as a constitutional framework is necessary. However, the proposed constitution, as it stands, is unacceptable to federalists in the east and to the country’s ethnic minorities — the Amazigh, Tebu and Tuareg. They would boycott or possibly sabotage a referendum.
It was also agreed that the Central Bank of Libya and all other state organisations, such as the Libyan Investment Authority and the National Oil Corporation, be reunited. Additionally, it was agreed the HoR would move to Benghazi from Tobruk as soon as feasibly possible.
The question is whether the deal will be implemented or delayed to the point of rendering it meaningless.
UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame, who has been pushing for elections, said he was optimistic. Under the deal he is to convene another meeting of the four to work out details of the elections and constitutional arrangements.
Also optimistic was Aref Nayd, the former Libyan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates who attended the Paris meetings and who, in March, became the first Libyan political figure to formally announce he would be a candidate for the presidency.
“It was a spectacular success, despite the many doubts raised beforehand and despite the difficult negotiations. For the first time, deadlines have been set,” he said.
Haftar, he added, assured those at the meeting that the Libyan Army would keep the country united, protect the elections and “abide by their results by working under an elected president, like many other countries.”
Several HoR members expressed support for the Paris meeting. Many, however, were not convinced that the deadlines will be kept. Some are sceptical about the meeting itself, seeing it as little more than a political show that the four Libyan leaders felt they had to attend but who will find reasons not to keep their promises once back in Libya.
Before the meeting, militias in Misrata and Tripoli let it be known they were opposed to it, particularly because it was organised by the French, whom they see as too close to Haftar. There are also suggestions, coming from Haftar’s Libyan National Army, that since nothing was signed in Paris, nothing is binding.
There is also the fact that several foreign governments, notably Italy and Egypt, were not happy about the meeting and are expected to do little to help implement the outcome.
Although it supposedly had the backing of nearly two dozen countries attending the meeting, several governments privately questioned that Libya would be able to have elections before the end of the year.
The Italians are known to be deeply unhappy with Macron’s initiative, seeing it as an attempt to gain influence in Libya at their expense. The Americans are reported to be less than enthusiastic, publicly supporting elections in principle but not convinced the timing is right.