24.12.2015 Author: Pogos Anastasov

Is it the End of the Civil War in Libya?

34534543543A U.N.-sponsored deal aiming to end the Libyan conflict was signed on December 17, 2015 in Skhirat, Morocco. The agreement stipulates the formation of a transitional Libyan government. Foreign ministers of Qatar, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey as well as 129 deputies of the General National Congress, representatives of all strata of the Libyan society, including the Muslim Brotherhood party and the liberal block, took part in the solemn signing ceremony. In accordance with the approved plan, Libya is supposed to form a Government of National Accord headed by a prime minister and two deputies that will run the country for the one-year transition period, while the House of Representatives will carry out the duties of legislature.

Martin Kobler, Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), who was recently appointed as a special representative of the UN Secretary General and replaced Spanish Bernardino Leon in this position, stated that “signing of the agreement in Skhirat will initiate the process of a peaceful political transition, although not all parties are satisfied with it.”

This is a very insightful observation since international mediators tried launching the deal on numerous occasions in the past. The road to it was rather long and rocky.

The parties agreed upon a rough draft of the consensus document, reflecting the results of the previous round of the inter-Libyan dialog, on July 11, 2015. However, at that point delegates of the General National Congress, loaded by Islamists and functioning as a temporary parliament of Libya (not recognized by the international community), with headquarters in Tripoli ignored the ceremony in Morocco. Back then, only representatives of the interim Tobruk government recognized by UN, of a number of regional municipalities, leading political parties, and non-governmental organizations signed the deal.

The final version of the deal facilitated by the UNSMIL, containing proposals introduced by the General National Congress, had been prepared only by September 18. Then, by October 9 (a year after the launching of the painful negotiating process), the Government of National Accord of Libya had been formed. It became possible thanks to the direct intermediation of Bernardino Leon (a day earlier, on October 8, the parties were still reluctant to sign the agreement). Fayez Sarraj (a low-profile member of the Tripoli-based parliament) was named the country’s prime minister, while Ahmed Matig, Fathi Mejbari and Mussa Al-Kouni were appointed his deputies (deputy prime ministers). Fayez Sarraj personally supervised the preparation of the list of nominees for the government. The next step was the signing of the so-called “Declaration of Principles” by the parliament and the government. A committee comprised of ten members was created in accordance with the provisions of the Declaration. It was tasked with the resolving any remaining issues.

The international community (and specifically Italy that de facto supervises the Libyan reconciliation on behalf of western countries), which was losing its patience over perpetual delays and interim arrangements, held an international conference in Rome on December 13, during which the two opposing Libyan centers of power (Tripoli and Tobruk) agreed to sign a peace treaty on December 16 and to form a Government of National Accord within 40 days from its signing. Because of this lengthy ordeal, the agreement was executed only on December 17.

At the moment, expectations are still high that this long-awaited deal will put an end to the civil war that has been tearing the country apart for a year and half now. All parties exercise caution in assessing the prospects of the process. Italian Foreign Ministry noted in Skhirat that the deal was just the initial, though decisive step to peace.

There are many reasons not to be overjoyed over the signing of the agreement yet. Just consider some formal aspects: the authorities of the parliament elected in June 2014 and recognized by the international community expired on October 20. Currently the country is in a constitutional vacuum. The parliament, which is partly composed of deputies who fled from Tripoli to Tobruk in a wake of a civil war that broke out in the summer of 2014, exercises its power only in some parts of the country, mainly in Cyrenaica and in some areas of Tripolitania. The speckled parliament is composed of nationalists from the country’s east (some of them are Senussi), whose ranks were replenished with the military personnel—former supporters of Muammar Gaddafi. What is good about this parliament (which appointed its own government) is that it is backed by the impressive military force headed by General Khalifa Haftar tacitly supported by Egypt and UAE (who are watching with hostility, how the Muslim Brotherhood is gaining momentum in Tripoli and Misrata).

At the same time, another parliament, not recognized by the international community (the abovementioned General National Congress) and composed mostly of Islamist—members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have allied with representatives of the market town Misrata, holds it sessions in Tripoli. The General National Congress has been governing Libya since 2012, but since June 2013, after Nouri Abusahmain became its president, it has been under control of the Islamists. In February 2014, the term of office of the General National Congress expired, then, the Congress attempted to extend its authorities, which was protested by the citizens of the country. General Haftar ordered the General National Congress to be dissolved, but his order was ignored…

Proponents of the General National Congress, who established the Libyan Dawn coalition, as well as military groups supporting it, are engaged in the unceasing military confrontation with the Tobruk advocates of the secular development of the country. Clashes are constantly occurring in Benghazi; members of Awlad-Suleiman (supported by Tuaregs) and Toubou tribes, some of whom look up to Tobruk, and some—to Tripoli, are involved in intertribal armed conflicts in Fezzan, in the south of the country. Turkey and Qatar, whose ultimate goal is to put Muslim Brotherhood in charge of the Middle East, tacitly back Libyan Dawn.

All these factors make the implementation of the deal signed in Skhirat a rather illusory task. The fact that the Islamists from Al Qaeda have been taking advantage of the power vacuum in the country gravely complicates the overall situation. The most alarming, though, is that the so-called “Islamic State,” which, since May 2015, has been consistently expanding the area it keeps under control in the vicinity of Sirte, has managed to secure its control over 200 km of the coastline. Its strategy is quite clear: they are looking to seize oil terminals and gain control over the influx of migrants moving from the south of the country to Europe.

It seems that today General Haftar is the only person with real power in Libya who is capable of rebuilding the state destroyed by 2011 NATO aggression. Moscow should take a closer look at this person firmly advocating for the country to choose the secular path of development and who is supported by Egypt and UAE, and, most probably, by Saudi Arabia as well. He openly praises Moscow military operations in Syria against ISIS and will be happy to receive Russian support in his struggle against the proponents of Caliphate in his country. It seems more than appropriate to respond to his appeals (at least by granting him political support) now, after the signing of the deal in Skhirat, which bans ISIS from participation in the political process, and which was welcomed by Russia.

Pogos Anastasov, political analyst, Orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.