At the moment, when the whole world’s attention is drawn to the highly difficult situation in Syria, to the US and Russian efforts to work out a ceasefire agreement and to the joint fight against ISIL, the situation in Libya, another State ruined by the efforts of Western countries, continues to develop in a less than favourable way.
Outwardly, the political process was not interrupted, despite the vote of no confidence imposed on the government of national accord and therefore, de facto, on the Presidential Council on August 22 by the internationally recognized Parliament in Tobruk.
Moreover, on September 5-6, consultations were held by members of the Libyan political dialogue committee in the resort of Gammarth in Tunisia under the auspices of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Libya Martin Kobler. The consultation participants included the head of the Presidential Council and the government of national accord (GNA) Fayez Sarraj, other members of the Presidential Council, on the one hand, and 13 members of the parliament in Tobruk, on the other.
The key topic was: What should be done to overcome the veto of the parliament in Tobruk against the Government Cabinet. The main concession made by F. Sarraj was that he agreed to reform his Cabinet. The Arab media reported, citing a source that participated in the consultations, that the Prime Minister announced that he would take into account the remarks expressed by the Parliament in Tobruk that the cabinet of the new government should be reduced, should be functional and should represent different Libyan regions.
However, it remains unclear how far F. Sarraj is ready to go in satisfying the requirements of the deputies from Tobruk. Parliamentarians have expressed very different and sometimes quite radical opinions, even up to changing all members of the Cabinet and the Presidential Council. Some even suggested dissolving the nine-member Presidential Council, which, according to some deputies, is ineffective (two of nine of its members have resigned). There was also talk of amending the Skhirat Agreement of December 17, 2015 which forms the basis of the executive authorities in Libya. However, as the result, they refused to discuss the matter, as one of the participants of the dialogue Feyruz an-Niyas stated. The majority of participants did not question the powers of F. Sarraj.
One of the members of the Libyan dialogue committee, former member of the General National Congress Tawfiq Al-Shueibi demanded that the presidential council assume full responsibility for the correction of mistakes it had made since coming to power. Simultaneously, he acknowledged that the problem that prevented the formation of the “unity government” was politically motivated and was not connected with legal or constitutional issues.
In addition to the above issues, the consultations also looked at ways to form a united army in Libya, the problems in the service sector, finance, and the recovery of oil and power exports.
As a result of these consultations, Martin Kobler was forced to state at a press conference on September 7 that Libya is facing great challenges, the main being the formation of a functioning Government. The acknowledgement that the dialogue basically came to nought can clearly be seen behind these words.
A minor consolation is that on the sidelines of the meeting on the Libyan political dialogue, the members of the Dialogue Committee between the cities of Misrata and Tawergha (38 km south of Misrata) signed a draft armistice agreement with the assistance of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya. It states that those who fled from Tawergha (more than 40 thousand people) could return to their homes. In addition, they will also receive compensation for the damages suffered.
Those familiar with the Libyan political situation understand that all topics discussed during the dialogue cannot be put into action until the main issue – the question of power – is resolved. And it lies in the recognition by the NTC of not only the authority of the Parliament in Tobruk, but also of the armed forces, led by General Khalifa Haftar, who claims to be the Supreme Commander or the Minister of Defence.
Though, it will take more than just the will of F. Sarraj or M. Kobler for this to happen. It is necessary to re-examine the Skhirat Agreement and revoke Its Article VIII, which postulates the transfer of the powers of the Supreme Command of the armed forces of Libya to the Presidential Council, which Kh. Haftar and the Parliament in Tobruk that support him strictly oppose. However, as mentioned above, until now the participants of the consultations have not agreed to ‘re-examine’ the Skhirat Agreement, because as they said they are afraid to ‘go back and start from scratch’. Of course, statements made by some parliamentarians that reaching an agreement on the candidacy for the Minister of Defence that everyone including Khalifa Haftar himself would adopt is a ‘simple matter’ could not whitewash the reality of the situation.
The second reality, running parallel to the attempts to hold political dialogue, is that the current situation is playing out well for the elderly but resolute General Kh. Haftar and he is biding his time. He does not only enjoy the support of the majority of members of the Parliament (although there are also opponents whom the ever-intriguing M. Kobler constantly tries to unite), but he also controls the main oil regions of the country, located within his sphere of influence in the East, in the historical Cyrenaica.
Moreover, his position is strengthening as the Misrata militia, subordinate to the NTC, did not manage to rid the city of Sirte of ISIL militants over the course of summer by the beginning of the Hajj and Eid Al-Adha as they promised. Their explanation that militants are allegedly disguising themselves as women and children, is not convincing in view of the fact that their activities are actively supported by the US Air Force, which seems to be mercilessly bombing ISIL. The General has ‘tactfully’ decided to refrain from interfering, waiting for the NTC and the Western countries themselves to ask him to free Sirte and thus recognize his indispensability in the fight against the terrorism.
The political weight of the General after he withstood pressure from M. Kobler and the powers supporting him came to be recognized by some Western European countries that are now trying to sweet talk him.
It is clear that the Libyan crisis is still very far from being over; and if political solutions that satisfy all the leading political forces and tribes are not found then the country will face separation, at best, or chaos and new attempts of foreign occupation, at worst.
Maxim Egorov, a political commentator on the Middle East and contributes regularly for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.