Morocco talks make progress overcoming Libya’s east-west divide

A delegation of the Presidency Council visits Cairo.
Wednesday 09/09/2020
Nasser Bourita (C), Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, chairs a meeting of representatives of Libya’s rival administrations in the coastal town of Bouznika, south of Rabat, on September 6. (AFP)
Nasser Bourita (C), Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, chairs a meeting of representatives of Libya’s rival administrations in the coastal town of Bouznika, south of Rabat, on September 6. (AFP)

TRIPOLI – US pressure on the parties to the Libyan conflict and on influential regional countries succeeded in achieving an important breakthrough in the stalemate that followed the large-scale military confrontations on the Sirte-Jufra line, after the withdrawal of the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces from the vicinity of Tripoli.

After Morocco provided a platform for dialogue hosted in the city of Bouznika between the two parties to the conflict, the LNA and parliament, on one side, and the Government of National Accord (GNA) on the other side, came US efforts which led the GNA to send a high-level delegation to Cairo, thus paving the way for a settlement based on pre-existing geographical balances.

Two delegations from the eastern-based parliament and Sarraj’s western-based government met in the city of Bouznika in Morocco under Moroccan auspices, and with American and international sponsorship.

Although the talks did not result in an announcement clarifying the nature of the proposed understandings, a positive atmosphere prevailed in the talks, which prompted the announcement of their extension.

On Tuesday, the United States praised the Libyan political dialogue in Morocco. The US embassy in Tripoli said, through its Twitter account, that it shares “the UN’s confidence that Libyan talks in Morocco will have a positive impact on UN-facilitated and Libyan-led political dialogue.”

On Tuesday evening, local media in Tripoli reported that a delegation representing the Presidency Council went to Cairo on an unannounced visit, noting that the delegation includes a number of members of the House of Representatives (dissidents from the parliament in Tobruk), advisers and other independent personalities.

Observers expect that the delegation’s goal will be to provide assurances to Egypt to accept the American plan that aims to have the LNA withdraw from Sirte and the oil terminals, that is to say, almost all the way tothe city limits of Ajdabiya, and to deploy elements of the Misrata militias and Syrian mercenaries. These past few days, it was reported that a number of these militias and mercenaries had received quick training in policing with the aim of presenting them as members of the regular GNA forces qualified to police the disputed area.

Egypt was the only country that announced its intention to confront any Turkish attempt to breach the Sirte-Jufra line. Following the Libyan National Army’s withdrawal from the vicinity of Tripoli, some militia units had attempted to cross this line but were driven back by airstrikes believed to have been carried out by the Egyptian air force.

Since the Egyptian warning against having the Syrian mercenaries in Libya approach its borders, the Islamists’ positions have been characterised by flexibility and even a show of understanding. The GNA Minister of Interior, Fathi Bashagha, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, expressed his understanding of the Egyptian position, saying, “the political leadership in the sister country Egypt has forgotten that the Libyan people share history, faith and destiny with Egypt. The Libyans refuse to compromise Egypt’s security and do not tolerate threats either, for that is not to anyone’s benefit. The red lines are paved with the blood of Libyans thirsty for peace with those who want peace and ready for war in defence, not aggression.”

Before that episode, it was reported that Turkey, the GNA’s military ally, had exerted tireless efforts to persuade Egypt to accept the agreement it signed with the Libyan Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, regarding the demarcation of the maritime borders between Turkey and Libya. Egypt was the most prominent opponent of that agreement right from the beginning.

Egypt’s signing of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Greece constituted a blow to Turkey and its ambitions in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. Pro-Turkish media went haywire highlighting Egypt’s heavy losses by signing this agreement with Greece and rejecting the Turkish proposal that would have given Cairo access to greater gains. They described Cairo’s stance as “vengeful,” while many considered Cairo’s decision rather pragmatic, because they believed that international law was on Greece’s side rather than Turkey’s in the issue of territorial waters in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Recently, frequent reports spoke of an Egyptian-Turkish coordination aiming to reach an agreement on Libya in exchange for a number of Turkish concessions, including deporting to Egypt some of the Egyptian leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood based in Turkey and wanted by Egyptian courts.

Observers attributed these accelerated developments in Libya to US efforts to reach a stable agreement between the rival sides before the end of the mission of the Acting UN envoy to Libya and US diplomat Stephanie Williams, who is likely to be replaced with a new envoy early next year.