The recently unveiled Egyptian initiative to resolve the Libyan crisis, known as the Cairo Declaration, once again draws international attention to the need to revive the political track. The political process is not a mere option; it is vital at this time of Turkish military escalation in Libya. Ankara has thrown its military weight behind the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and against the Libyan National Army (LNA) and large swathes of the Libyan people that oppose what they regard as another Turkish occupation of their country. The repercussions of Libyan warfare spill across its borders, affecting Libya’s neighbours first and foremost, as President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi noted in his speech announcing the Cairo Declaration.
This initiative seeks to accomplish a number of strategic aims that are fully consistent with the outputs of the Berlin Conference on Libya that was held in January. Although the international community rallied behind these outputs as the central process for resolving the Libyan crisis, the process ground to a halt in part due to the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic, but in greater part due to the machinations of international and regional powers that rushed to take advantage of these repercussions in order to engineer a shift in the strategic balances and rules of engagement on the ground.
Towards this end, and despite the UN arms embargo and pledges undertaken in Berlin, these repercussions cleared the way for Turkey to broaden its engagement in Libya. Turkey leapt at the chance to pour in more advisors, advanced weaponry and vast numbers of jihadist mercenaries. This has been accompanied by a significant shift in the US position motivated by what Washington perceives as a Russian bid to broaden its influence in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Cairo initiative calls for a ceasefire starting Monday, 8 June, which gives the other side 48 hours to reciprocate, and for a resumption of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, which opens an avenue for the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to resume the UN-sponsored peace process in Geneva. The initiative further calls for the removal of all foreign mercenaries from Libya, the dismantlement of militias and the handover of their weapons in order to enable the LNA to perform its security functions in collaboration with other Libyan security agencies.
Cairo has reached out to all Libyan parties, including the GNA. It has appealed to all local, regional and international stakeholders to assume their responsibility to restore stability to that country that has been torn by war for nearly a decade. Cairo has never been a party to military escalation in Libya. It never encouraged the Tripoli offensive. As always, it is keen to end hostilities with whatever means possible because it proceeds from an essential premise: military solutions aggravate crises. Experiences throughout the region as a whole drive this lesson home again and again.
Unfortunately, the Tripoli based High Council of State, an unelected advisory body that marches to Ankara’s tune, has rejected the Egyptian initiative. In so doing, it is swimming against the international current which fears the reproduction of another regional disaster precipitated by the impetuous policies of such regional powers as Turkey and by the self-serving calculations of other parties who are indifferent to the welfare of the Libyan people who continue to suffer the attrition wrought by conflict.
In its reaffirmation of the need to return to the Libyan political process, Egypt places itself on the side of stability in Libya and in the region as a whole. It is a position that has won the appreciation and support of many countries in the Arab region and elsewhere in the world. The task now is to transform this positive response into concrete action to halt the war in Libya and restart the political process. There is no alternative, because if the violence and instability persist, all will pay the price.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly