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Wednesday, 02 December 2020

Libya: Inching towards rapprochement

Cairo is seeking to build on the ceasefire agreement between Libyan parties to help end the east-west split in government institutions

Ahmed Eleiba , Tuesday 15 Sep 2020
Inching towards rapprochement
The Egyptian National Committee on Libya met LNA commander Haftar on Monday
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In a move that epitomises a new openness towards Cairo on the part of western Libyan political leaders a delegation of members of the Tripoli-based Higher Council of State (HCS) and House of Representatives arrived to Egypt on a three-day visit last week. They met with members of the Egyptian Committee on Libya and participated in a workshop organised by the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies.

In a statement issued at the end of the visit the Libyan delegation stressed the need to establish mechanisms to uphold the ceasefire under UN supervision and in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions. The statement also urged that the comprehensive political settlement process in Geneva be accelerated, called for elections to be held no later than October 2021 and for a constitutional framework for this purpose to be finalised.

The delegation, in its statement, supported the restructuring of the Presidency Council to include three members, a president and two vice presidents, and the formation of a new interim cabinet. The delegation also affirmed the underlying principles of the Libyan dialogue, especially those pertaining to the equitable distribution of power and wealth. Finally, they expressed their appreciation of Cairo’s efforts to promote a political solution to the Libyan crisis.

According to an HoR member of the Libyan delegation, Egypt officially notified them that it would lower the minimum age for visa-free entry to Egypt for Libyans from 45 to 40 and that Egypt would open its airports to flights from both east and west Libya.

HCS delegation member Saad bin Sharada noted “the ties between the Egyptian and Libyan peoples date back thousands of years” and accused the international Muslim Brotherhood of distorting Egypt’s role in Libya. He stressed that the delegation’s members wanted Egypt to intensify its contacts with Libyans in the west as part of its efforts to promote a political solution to the Libyan conflict. Underscoring Egypt’s economic, political and social interests in Libya, he said: “We would like Egypt to play a bigger role in securing the ceasefire and the resumption of oil exports.”

It is noteworthy that the HoR members of the delegation were among a group of western-based MPs who initiated a boycott of HoR sessions in Tobruk not long after the legislative elections of 2014. Their participation in this delegation is an important sign of a growing desire among western-based politicians to reunify the Libyan legislature.

According to one source, Egypt may host a Cairo-3 dialogue to reunify the Libyan parliament in response to a request from the western-based HoR members of the delegation. After all, he said, it makes little practical sense, now, for the parliamentary fissure to continue.

Cairo is currently focused on the long-awaited Libyan National Dialogue conference which will hopefully inaugurate a new interim phase, and is coordinating with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) over individuals who could best represent recognised political entities, such as the HoR, in that conference. Cairo believes that any reservations and positions regarding the principles and formulas for the interim phase are best worked out in the framework of the dialogue. The substance of the recent visit by the delegation from western Libya is an indication of an emerging consensus on central issues related to this track as well as the other tracks of the Geneva process.

In the same context, a source who is a member of Libya’s delegation to Geneva said that real progress is being made in Geneva in the UN sponsored talks between the delegations of the Tobruk-based HoR and the Presidency Council. He said the consultative meeting hosted by UNSMIL (the third of its kind) succeeded in overcoming differences, bringing an agreement on the framework for the Libyan National Dialogue conference within reach. He added that other committees with specialised technical, political, security and economic functions may emerge from the consultative meeting in advance of the anticipated national dialogue. The committees will serve as a means to sustain work on these issues on the basis of what was accomplished during the conference in Geneva.

Sources stressed that the fact Cairo hosted this meeting with the delegation from western Libya underscores the Egyptian government’s impartiality and openness to all Libyan parties. “Cairo has no objection to hosting any Libyan delegation regardless of its orientation. It welcomes all sides and all points of view,” a source said, noting that Cairo’s basic rule on Libya is to restore stability in the framework of a political solution, and that this commitment is enshrined in the Cairo Declaration, based on the outputs of the Berlin Conference in January 2020.

In a related context, the Egyptian National Committee on Libya held separate meetings with Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), and Speaker of the HoR Aguila Saleh in Benghazi on Monday. According to press reports, the two sets of discussions addressed issues of mutual concern to Egypt and Libya, and recent local and international developments. The meetings took place the day after the consultative meeting in Geneva in which participants agreed to resume the comprehensive political dialogue, and in light of developments related to the resumption of Libyan oil exports. The LNA General Command announced that it would resume pumping oil within the framework of guarantees that address concerns over the marginalisation of eastern Libya in the management of oil revenues and the lack of oversight on how oil revenues are spent.

 Eastern Libyans claim that authorities affiliated with the Government of National Accord (GNA) are using oil revenues to promote their factional interests. In particular, they accuse them of diverting the revenues to finance the GNA’s military agreements with Ankara, funnelling millions of dollars to Turkey in return for heavy weaponry from Turkish arms manufacturers and the foreign mercenaries Turkey has introduced into Libya.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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