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The future of Libyan political dialogue

Does the dialogue process continue to be Libya’s best option for a political solution to the current crisis?

Ziad A Akl , Wednesday 11 Nov 2015
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Once more, the Libyan political dialogue reaches a halt, and the two parties representing the main political entities in Libya reject the resolutions proposed by Bernardino Leon, Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya. After some regional and international enthusiasm following the proposed formation of the coalition government, the world found itself once more back to square one in the Libyan case. Although this did not come as a surprise to anyone closely following the dialogue process between warring factions in Libya, it obliges us nonetheless to question the viability of the whole process and speculate about its future.

Perhaps the most appropriate question to be asked right now is whether the dialogue process is the most effective solution for the Libyan dilemma. The answer is definitely yes. All other conceivable options, whether military intervention, pushing for a two-state solution, or simply ignoring the whole matter, are bad choices on all political, strategic and humanitarian levels.

Meanwhile, the decision to proceed with the dialogue with the same outlook that has governed the process since it began is nothing but a waste of time. Despite Leon’s recurrent failure in reaching a consensus between Tobroq and Tripoli through the dialogue process, he has managed to create a framework for an agreement. This framework does not necessarily have to be disposed of all together; it could be tuned and altered into something more efficient.

But in order for the dialogue to proceed, its major flaws have to be rectified. Until now, representatives of the military entities, whether the Libyan National Army or the Dawn of Libya militias are not included within the dialogue. The logic behind this rests on the dialogue being a political process that depends on political representatives on one hand, and on the assumption that these political representatives are supposed to represent the military entities as well. While there is some resonance to this logic, the practical reality inside Libya does not suggest that this line of thinking is necessarily efficient.

The gap between the military entities and the political entities they represent keeps expanding one day after another and a lack of proper coordination is becoming more and more obvious. While the Dawn of Libya militia announced its support for the proposed coalition government, the General National Council in Tripoli rejected it, and while the House of Representatives’ dialogue committee was engaged in negotiations in Morocco, the Libyan National Army proceeded with its attacks against the Dawn of Libya militias. This is but one example, but the military/political dynamic inside Libya suggests that both military entities are not subordinate to the political ones they presumably represent, which puts the actual sovereignty of those political entities on shaky ground.

In light of this unfortunate reality, it seems illogical to rule out representatives of military entities from the dialogue process.

Another important flaw in the manner in which the dialogue process is structured is the exclusion of regional actors, Egypt and Algeria in specific. Any one who has been closely following the developments of the dialogue since it began back in 2014 would know that both Egypt and Algeria are crucial parts within the Libyan equation. It is no secret that representatives who attended dialogue rounds in Morocco and Geneva flew back to Cairo or Algeria after the sessions were concluded. Moreover, both countries constitute major allies for the two main factions in Libya.

Egypt has an interest in the stability of the Libyan East and an overall anti-Muslim Brotherhood leaning. On the other hand, Algeria believes that the Libyan West would constitute a grave danger to Algerian national security if the Tripoli government and the Dawn of Libya militias were rendered ineffective and taken out of the equation.

In addition, the regional weight of both countries as the most powerful military forces in the region cannot be undermined. Therefore, remote and indirect coordination between dialogue participants and both Egypt and Algeria is not the most efficient of options.

Regional actors must be an active part in the dialogue process, and the tools they possess to apply pressure on the different factions inside Libya must be put to their full use. Inclusion of regional actors should not be limited to Egypt and Algeria, but also Tunisia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE must take part in the future dialogue framework.

The Libyan political dialogue since its onset in 2014 has been repeatedly hindered by a legitimacy dispute. While it is natural and understandable for warring factions not to recognise or acknowledge any legitimacy in one another, it is not exactly logical for that rationale to proceed in a partial and non-partisan organisation. The House of Representatives in Tobroq believes it’s the only elected entity in Libya; the General National Assembly in Tripoli uses a High Court ruling to refute the HOR’s claims of sole legitimacy. Meanwhile, the international community recognises the Tobroq government, but at the same time, holds talks, conducts business transactions, and politically interacts with the supposedly unrecognised Tripoli government.

In light of this contradictory framework, it is no surprise that the main points of contention within the Libyan political agreement have to do with whose legitimacy and derivative authority should supersede the other party's. But with the ongoing plight in Libya, the security threat is starting to pose to its neighbors and other countries, the inability of either faction to practice real sovereignty on the ground and the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the East and the West equally, can any party claim legitimacy?

Finally, international actors, mainly the US and the EU, should assume a more active role within the dialogue process. It is true that the West is still questioning how efficient its intervention in Libya was back in 2011, but this questioning process should not suspend the West’s potential political role in the Libyan dialogue. Reaching an applicable political agreement in Libya requires Western military, political, economic and strategic assistance, and offering this assistance should be pre-conditioned to signing an agreement.

Despite the recurrent failure, political dialogue remains to be Libya’s best option. The Libyan case does not need military intervention as much as it needs coordinated political pressure. The inability to reach a political solution will only lead to further divisions inside the barely coherent factions in Libya, and the Libyan people, Libya’s neighbors and the international community, will equally pay the price of further fragmentation. Hence, the dialogue process between Libyan factions should not be disposed of and should not be allowed to proceed along the same lines of this past year that proved to be ineffective. The future of the Libyan political dialogue depends now on the inclusion of more effective actors and the amount of political pressure they apply on the warring factions inside Libya.

The writer is senior researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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