Reproducing the Libyan crisis
Ahmed Eleiba, , Friday 19 Jan 2018

The Libyan reconciliation process continues to spin in place, despite the determined efforts of the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Ghassan Salamé, who is trying to kickstart the stalled political process with a plan focused on amending some articles of the Libyan Political Accord (LPS), originally signed on 17 December 2015 in Skhirat, Morocco.

In addition to the amendments to the LPA, the UN envoy’s plan calls for a comprehensive and inclusive reconciliation conference, the referendum on the constitution, followed by general and presidential elections.

At each stage the process must inevitably run up against formidable challenges as it is intrinsically contingent on the complex realities on the ground.

Due to the political composition of the Libyan factions and the positions of the militia groups, the implementation of the agreement is contingent on the ability of each faction to reach a consensus on their stance toward the PLA and Salamé’s proposed amendments.

But consensus is what lacks among most of the parties in the Libyan crisis. Each side actually consists of a kind of ideological-regional-military coalition whose sole cementing force is enmity towards the other side. They do not share a common vision on how to manage the state.

Moreover, some of the ideologies, especially the Islamist one, oppose the very concept of the nation state -- and its adherents refuse to share power with others.

To complicate the situation further, most of the factions are linked with regional powers that use them against each other in a competition over their regional interests.

Accordingly, most of the factions see the prospect of amending the LPA as a means to eliminate their adversary or, at least, to marginalise it, especially now that the main factions have overcome the legitimacy crisis and have imposed their de facto authority over the areas that they control.

It is important here to note that, although Salamé has has called for general and presidential elections, he simultaneously made it quite possible for them not to be held.

He set two conditions. First, the various effective parties had to formally announce that they were prepared to accept the results and, secondly, that they would not use the elections to create a new problem.

This begs the question as to how serious the international community is in its desire to resolve the Libyan crisis. If it lacks a means to pressure or a power to force the factions to accept the results and surrender power to the winning team, how will it compel them to commit to the implementation of the LPA?

This problem has augmented the fear that many Libyans will refuse to turn out for elections -- the results of which might not be recognised by the losing side, especially since most factions have already begun to question the integrity of the electoral process and suggest that the polls will not be fair.

The General Commander of the Libyan Armed Forces, Field Marshal Khalifa Hiftar, indicated that he entertains such suspicions when he demanded that the headquarters of the Supreme Electoral Commission be moved out of Tripoli and that its and administrative composition changed.

Indeed, he was explicit: “The people have the right to decide and to realise what they want. The blood of martyrs and their sacrifices will not be allowed to go in vain in elections manipulated by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist trend in general.”

To hold elections, the Libyans will first need to reach a political agreement on the electoral process. The factions will have to come together to work out the principles, conditions and regulations and incorporate these -- and a body of electoral law that explains them clearly.

There must also be international guarantees that pressure will be asserted on all parties to compel them to accept and abide by the results of the elections and not to use militia force or other organised violence in the elections.

In spite of all the aforementioned, I believe that the solution to the Libyan crisis begins with the need to immunise the capital Tripoli against the influence of any type of militia force, regardless of its affiliation.

If any attempt to establish the state and rebuild its institutions is to succeed, efforts most focus on safeguarding the capital. Towards this end, steps need to be taken toward reactivating and strengthening the military establishment and police and, simultaneously, toward weakening and reducing the militias and forcing them back to the areas they came from.

The capital needs to be purged of all militia presences. This is an utmost priority. How can the government or sponsors of national initiatives persuade the militias in any part of Libya to the east, west or south to lay down their arms when the government and its institutions and vital facilities in the capital are hostage to militias and warlords?

This is the dilemma that plagues the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez al-Sarraj. It has failed to make any concrete positive change in this situation whether at the level of security arrangements and reactivating the army and police or at the level of handling the services and the crises of individual citizens, even within the scope of the capital.

In other words, the crux of the Libyan crisis resides in the ongoing failure to fully activate government institutions in the capital. The absence of a model for effective government institutions in the capital is the real crisis that plagues Libya.

People in the cities, towns and villages throughout Libya would be naturally and more immediately inspired to catch up with the capital and demand government institutions modelled on those in Tripoli rather than the reverse.

Making this possible might require some limited military strikes against the strongholds of some militias in and around Tripoli so as to shift the balance, diminish the influence of such groups and to lend impetus to the political process.

But this depends on how serious the international community is in supporting the implementation of the Libyan Political Accord, which requires some limited military action in order to implement LPA’s security arrangements.