01.10.2020 Author: Viktor Mikhin

The Libyan Crisis is Now at a Crossroads


The disastrous crisis in Libya, which either seems to die down or explode with combat operations, continues to alarm the world community and be a bane for North Africa. But recently, both the world community and the Libyans themselves have taken a number of measures that, if they are executed precisely, may lead to a more peaceful situation in this turbulent country.

Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), stated that his troop units would allow oil production to resume after an eight-month blockade, and by virtue of that a committee would be formed to ensure that revenues are fairly distributed.  However, Libya’s National Oil Corporation, which controls its energy industry, announced that it would not waive force majeure in respect of exports until oilfield facilities are demilitarized. As is common knowledge, Libya is a country that is extremely rich in oil, and this dispute between warring factions involves controlling that wealth.  It can be recalled how for many years Libya and many of its public institutions were split between the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and Khalifa Haftar’s government (LNA) in the east. In Tripoli, Ahmed Maiteeq, who is the Deputy Prime Minister of the GNA, came out with an announcement immediately after Khalifa Haftar had spoken, confirming that “the decision was made” to resume oil production.

On top of this, Fayez al-Sarraj, who is the Prime Minister of the GNA and is evidently tired of the uninterrupted, hopeless struggle, declared that he intends to retire at the end of October – and that quite naturally will lead to political speculation among other high-ranking officials in Tripoli about who will replace him. This announcement was met with dismay in Ankara, since the Libyan Prime Minister and President T. Erdogan have established a good relationship, with Turkish authorities providing many different kinds of assistance to the GNA.  The Turkish President rushed to meet with the Libyan official in Istanbul, after which his presidential spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, said that Turkey’s agreements and cooperation with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) would continue, despite Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s desire to step down.

In June, it was Turkish military support that enabled Fayez al-Sarraj to repel an attack made on Tripoli by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) based in the east. Ankara is accused, and rightly so, of sending thousands of Syrian mercenaries to Libya to fight alongside its allies after the F. al-Sarraj government signed a controversial maritime agreement that conferred drilling rights on Turkey across vast stretches of the Eastern Mediterranean.  Libyans in the east affirm that the GNA authorities are using the revenues from oil to promote their faction’s interests. Specifically, they accuse them of diverting revenues to finance military agreements made between the GNA and Ankara, and of redirecting millions of dollars to Turkey in exchange for both heavy weapons manufactured by Turkish arms companies and the foreign mercenaries introduced by Turkey into Libya.

Incidentally, last month a ceasefire was declared, and calls were made to lift the months-long blockade of oil production. The leader of a rival parliament in eastern Libya has also called for an end to hostilities, offering hope for a de-escalation of the conflict across Libya following the sad events that occurred in 2011.  However, Khalifa Hatfar first rejected these calls but then proclaimed that he would remove the blockade on oil production for one month, and that he had reached an agreement on the “equitable distribution” of the revenues from the energy resources. No sooner had world media outlets broadcast this report than the price of Brent crude oil fell by $1.21 due to the possible comeback of Libyan production. This further reinforced concerns about global demand.  Harry Tchilinguirian, an analyst at BNP Paribas, believes that the world petroleum market will run into a dilemma when it comes to price formation, and the option it chooses will depend to a large extent upon how much genuine progress is made in Libya.

It is possible that the resignation of F. al-Sarraj will, to a certain extent, help warring groups reach some kind of solution that is acceptable to the entire country against the backdrop of the intra-Libyan peace talks taking place in Morocco and Switzerland. Members of the Tobruk-based parliament and the Supreme Council of State in Tripoli met and held the first round of talks with a number of officials in the Moroccan city of Buznik, and in the Swiss city of Montreux, under the auspices of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). At the end of the talks, a statement was issued that they had reached a “comprehensive agreement on the transparent, objective steps to ensure compliance with and fulfillment of these agreements”, and on the standards andmechanisms for people to occupy key government positions. They also reached an agreement to “continue this dialogue and meet again during the last week of September to continue the necessary sessions”.

This will require introducing amendments to the current document that outlines the political agreement, and restructuring the governing board that it creates, and specifically the Presidential Council (PC) and Government of National Accord (GNA). Participants in the political dialogue will cut the number of PC members down to three representatives from the country’s traditional regions, separating the GNA from the PC and appointing a prime minister. The interim government will work for 18 months to “create suitable conditions for holding parliamentary and presidential elections that are founded on an agreed-upon constitutional framework”.  The participants also agreed that the PC members and the Prime Minister will be selected by the Political Dialogue Committee (PDC), and the Prime Minister will form a government with an aim to protecting Libya’s unity and geographic, political, and social diversity. Only after this will the cabinet of ministers deliver a vote of confidence.

The talks held in Buznik and Montreux were praised by the United States, France, Germany, UNSMIL, the EU, the League of Arab States, and the African Union, since they are seen as “a critical turning point in the long journey towards a comprehensive solution in Libya.” The meetings took place at a time when public discontent is growing in Libya over difficult living conditions and rampant corruption. To facilitate the Libyan peace process next month, the EU plans to roll back the sanctions that were imposed in 2016 on Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh Issa, former Chairman of the General National Congress Nouri Abusahmain, and former head of the National Salvation Government Khalifa al-Ghawil, and to bolster Europe’s role in Libya to counter Turkish influence.

Recently, France has developed a vigorous offensive on the “Libyan front” in terms of ramping up its participation. Africa Intelligence, a website close to the French intelligence community, reported that Paris is preparing to host the Libyan summit, which will be attended by Aguila Saleh Issa, commander of the LNA Khalifa Haftar, and Prime Minister of the GNA and PC chairman Fayez al-Sarraj. According to one source who is a French diplomat, this will be the culmination of the talks held in Buznik under the auspices of UNSMIL. At the same time, France wants the support of Germany and Italy while making this move, since Paris is attempting to undermine Turkey’s growing influence in western Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. The French initiative proposes that negotiations be held between Libyan leaders without having them gather together in one place to define the most prominent players. Three new senior advisers at Champs Elysees are working on this issue, and Army General Thomas Pierre was recently appointed military attaché in West Tripoli after being transferred from the French embassy in Berlin.

But in this case a perfectly natural question arises: was it not Europe, led by France, that turned the once prosperous Libyan Arab Jamahiriya into an impoverished conglomerate of warring factions, and caused the destruction of Libya as a cohesive state? Will the Libyans, who have fallen into the European trap once already, yet again allow European predators, who think only of their own gain, to control their lands? And how will the Élysée Palace be viewed now by the Libyans?

Viktor Mikhin, a corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”. 

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