Aguila Saleh, speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR), paid a two-day visit to Cairo on his way back from Malta this week in order to update Egyptian officials on preparations for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), which is due to convene in Tunisia next week.
A number of recent developments have raised fears that last minute impediments could stall the long-anticipated meeting.
Fayez Al-Sarraj has backtracked on his decision to resign as chair of the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli following a visit to Turkey. Until this point, it was thought he might at most postpone his resignation to avert a power vacuum in Tripoli while dialogue was still in progress. The reversal of his stance raises the prospect that he could remain in power much longer, especially in the event of a breakdown in efforts to form a new government.
Immediately upon his return to Tripoli, he said that elections were the best way to resolve the Libyan crisis, whereas most Libyan political forces expected to attend the LPDF, including Saleh, believe that it is premature to speak of general elections at this phase.
An HoR representative, who will be taking part in the forum, told Al-Ahram Weekly that security conditions were not ready and that there remained logistical questions related to the Libyan National Electoral Commission.
“It looks like the Turkish kitchen is cooking up obstacles to the political process,” said another parliamentary representative who had taken part in the consultative talks in Geneva in September. “The Turkish plan is to hold elections within six months in order to reproduce a situation that will keep Islamist forces at the fore in the political scene.”
Turkey is the source of another potential obstacle, this time on the military track. Stephanie Williams, UN acting special representative to Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), paid a brief visit to Ankara before returning to Ghadames in Libya for the fifth round of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), but apparently she had no luck in dissuading Turkey from violating crucial points of the permanent ceasefire agreement that senior Libyan military officials signed last month in Geneva.
Point two of the terms of the ceasefire agreement states that “until a new unified government assumes its functions, military agreements on training inside Libya shall be suspended and training crews shall depart.” But Turkish trainers are still in Libya and they are still training forces allied with the GNA.
The terms also call for the departure of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libyan territory. This is a point of great concern to Egypt. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an NGO, Turkey has transferred more than 18,000 mercenaries to Libya, the majority linked with extremist organisations. The JMC meeting in Ghadames is expected to discuss arrangements concerning their departure and Williams has said the UN would supervise and monitor the implementation of this point.
Mohamed Al-Misbahi, who heads the Supreme Council of Sheikhs and Notables of Libya, said the forum should be postponed for three months until this step was carried out.
Sources in Cairo, however, believe it is possible to carry out the ceasefire agreement in tandem so that the preparatory stage is not dragged out longer than necessary.
They add that since the UN Security Council has adopted the outputs of the fourth round of the JMC meeting which produced the ceasefire agreement, it should also assume the responsibility for creating the necessary guarantees to ensure that all mercenaries and foreign fighters leave.
In a statement to the Russian news agency TASS, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said that Egypt would not work with Turkey on the political process in Libya. Alluding to Ankara, he said that “there are parties that support extremism and work to transfer foreign militants and terrorists from Syria to Libya.”
Stressing Egypt’s opposition to foreign military intervention in Libya, he said that “there is no justification for the attempts of certain countries outside the region to intervene in Libya.”
The UNSMIL has pointed out that it took Turkey only five days to renege on the pledges it had made in Berlin and to directly involve itself in Libya militarily. Just a day after the ceasefire agreement struck in Geneva last month, Turkish officers in Libya organised military training exercises for GNA forces, even as GNA sources reported that Russia had ordered the withdrawal of Wagner Group fighters from the confrontation lines in Sirte in keeping with the spirit of dialogue.
On 1 November, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia called on all foreign forces and security companies to leave Libya. The step was necessary to help stabilise the country and would help the ceasefire that was reached after a long impasse, he said.
But Turkey did not follow suit despite reports last month that Russia and Turkey had struck an agreement to coordinate steps in Libya.
Egypt has been working closely with European partners to promote an end to the conflict in Libya. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi received a phone call from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the Libyan situation, and he restated Egypt’s commitment to its strategic stance on the Libyan question, especially as concerns the need to support the talks currently in progress on the three tracks of the settlement process in accordance with the outputs of the Berlin Conference and the Cairo Declaration.
Despite such concerns, observers anticipate that the LPDF will convene as planned. Its success will be contingent on the arrangements that are in the process of being finalised, but many believe that they will also be influenced by the results of the US elections, which should be formally announced before the forum convenes.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.