Shaky Libya cease-fire could prove to be invaluable
A rare glimmer of hope emerged in Geneva last Friday, when Libya’s two main warring factions signed a historic nationwide cease-fire agreement, thus paving the way for a reconciliation that would end more than nine years of civil war. The talks, under UN auspices, took place between military representatives from the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which controls most of western Libya, and the Libyan National Army (LNA), based in Benghazi.
Aside from pulling troops from all hotspots, the agreement also calls on all foreign forces to leave the country within three months. What is important is that the agreement was welcomed by Russia, Egypt and the UAE, in addition to the UN, the US and European countries. Notably, it was downplayed by Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who described it as lacking credibility. One reason for this is that the agreement also freezes any deals with foreign powers, putting Turkey's maritime treaty with the GNA in danger.
While the cease-fire will be tested and Turkey may play a spoiler role, what is important is that it provides a good chance for political talks aimed at preparing for elections and unifying the state’s sovereign bodies, thus eclipsing the specter of partition.
On Monday, the UN initiated a virtual conference that brought together figures representing Libya’s various regions, amid criticisms over those who are participating and those who are not. While the path toward a political solution remains long and full of obstacles, one should hope that Libyans will agree on the fundamental points that could provide a solid base for further discussions.
The main problem with Libya has to do with foreign interference. It is inconceivable that the representatives of Libya’s tribes would be able to arrive at a formula to unify the country and its sovereign institutions, as well as its armed militias, without pressure from key foreign players like Turkey and Russia, among others.
Former UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame had expressed frustration with UN Security Council members that agreed to something regarding the Libyan crisis, only to later renege on their commitments. What happens in Libya affects the US with regards to Russia, and Egypt in relation to Turkey and various members of the EU, as well as the UAE and Qatar. For the Libyan people to find common ground, they must free themselves of foreign intervention. But that is easier said than done.
Soon after the Geneva agreement was signed, problems began to emerge. GNA Defense Minister Salahuddin Al-Namroush stated on Monday that the deal does not affect the military agreement signed with Turkey and that military and security training between Ankara and Tripoli will continue. That contradicts the core of the Geneva agreement. Sources close to LNA chief Khalifa Haftar pointed out that the Geneva deal does cover the military and maritime agreements Tripoli signed with Turkey earlier this year.
GNA sources also said that the Geneva agreement does not mean that Tripoli recognizes the LNA as a legitimate entity — a major spoiler.
For the Libyan people to find common ground, they must free themselves of foreign intervention.
While it is believed that the cease-fire deal is likely to hold for some time — there is a military impasse and both sides have no stomach to wage war at this time — the challenge lies in sustaining political talks. Behind-the-scenes negotiations between Tobruk-based House of Representatives Speaker Aguila Saleh and Ahmad Maitiq of the GNA, through Moroccan and Algerian mediation, may lead to an interim formula to maintain a long-term truce while preparing the ground for fresh elections under a new constitution. Egypt is backing such talks and keeping Haftar at bay for now. Saleh and Maitiq had already paved the way for the resumption of oil exports after Haftar was forced to back down.
The current US pressure on both sides to talk after reaching a cease-fire will continue regardless of who wins next week’s American presidential election. Washington’s priorities in the region may shift if Joe Biden wins, but on Libya at least there will be a need to stay on the current course.
At some point, the GNA and the High Council of State will have to curtail the influence of Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood if they want to move ahead with genuine talks with their rivals in the east. At the same time, Saleh must find a way to neutralize Haftar, who has grandiose ambitions of emerging as the supreme ruler of Libya.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of references and road maps, beginning with the Skhirat agreement and passing through the Berlin and Cairo declarations. They all underline Libya’s territorial integrity and the need for a representative legislative body. The question that has troubled the Libyan people since 2011 is: Can they find a platform that brings everybody to the table?
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010