Libyan political factions manoeuvre for edge

Kamel Abdallah , Friday 27 Apr 2018

Libya’s political players are negotiating for greater influence and possibly a new national accord

Tobruk-based House of Representatives Aqilah Saleh and the head of the Tripoli-based High Council of
Tobruk-based House of Representatives Aqilah Saleh (L)and the head of the Tripoli-based High Council of State Khaled Al-Mishri (Photo: Reuters)

Speaker of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives Aqilah Saleh and the head of the Tripoli-based High Council of State Khaled Al-Mishri arrived in Rabat Sunday, at the invitation of the Moroccan parliament.

Their meetings there are part of an initiative to revive the Libyan political process, amend the Libyan Political Agreement that was signed in Skhirat, Morocco, in December 2015, and end the four year-long political and governmental rift in Libya.

Four central issues were on their discussion agenda in this regard: a mechanism for selecting the members of the new Presidency Council that is expected to be reduced from nine to three members, the mechanisms for selecting officials to occupy the seven sovereign offices, the law governing the plebiscite on the new constitution, and the law governing the next parliamentary elections.

One goal of Saleh in the talks in Rabat with counterpart Al-Mishri was to outmanoeuvre attempts on the part of Commander of the Libyan Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and UN Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salamé to circumvent him following the breakdown in previous rounds of negotiations, set into motion in September last year, over amendments to the Skhirat accord.

Field Marshal Haftar’s illness presented Saleh with a unique opportunity to secure his survival as a key political player in eastern Libya.

Haftar had previously attempted to circumvent Saleh by entering into direct negotiations with the Chairman of the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord Fayez Al-Sarraj in talks sponsored by Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Paris in 2016 and 2017.

This series of talks leveraged Haftar and Al-Sarraj into becoming the strongest players in the Libyan political equations in which regional and international powers are rivalling one another for influence.

Before heading to Morocco Sunday evening, Al-Mishri released a statement on the High Council of State Facebook page announcing his intent to travel to Rabat “to meet with our brothers in the House of Representatives in order to begin a genuine dialogue, without conditions or restrictions, that places the interests of the nation above all other interests”.

He stressed that he was “ready to offer all concessions necessary to reach a solution that ends the division, as a step towards ending the crisis that has harmed the country and caused severe strains for the people during the past years”.

He added that he hoped that “the members of the House of Representatives, who are our partners in the nation and in the political process, will respond positively to this initiative so that the nation can reach the shores of safety”.

On the eve of the meeting in Rabat, observers anticipated that Al-Mishri would make enticing offers to Saleh, thereby strengthening both their positions to the detriment of those of Haftar and other rivals to Saleh in the east, and Al-Sarraj and other rivals to Al-Mishri in the west.

According to the Libyan Ambassador to Morocco Abdel-Meguid Seif Al-Nasr, Saleh and Al-Mishri arrived in the Rabat-Salé Airport Sunday evening at the invitation of the heads of the two houses of the Moroccan parliament, President of the House of Representatives Habib Al-Malki and President of the House of Councillors Hakim Benchamach.

Saleh was received at the airport by the deputy speaker of the Moroccan House of Representatives, Roshdi Al-Abdi, while Al-Mishri was received by the deputy head of the House of Councillors, Khaled Al-Jaloud.

Saleh met with the president of the Moroccan House of Representatives to discuss Libyan-Moroccan relations, the Skhirat agreement and the possibility of facilitating visas to Morocco for Libyans.

Al-Mishri simultaneously met with the head of the House of Councillors to discuss Libyan-Moroccan relations and amendments to the Libyan Political Agreement.

The Libyan ambassador added that Saleh and Al-Mishri would meet, separately at first, with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita to discuss the situation in Libya as well as a number of issues of mutual concern to both countries.

The two Libyan officials would then meet with the foreign minister jointly.

After his meeting with the president of the House of Representatives Habib Al-Malki, Saleh reported: “We discussed the situation in Libya and we agreed that there should be support for a solution to the Libyan crisis.

”He related that the Libyan House of Representatives outlined its demands, which were for support for the Libyan Political Agreement incorporating the amendment proposed by Salamé, which was approved by the House of Representatives in the expectation that the High Council of State would do the same.

He added that Al-Malki promised to convey these demands, which he described as “reasonable” and “acceptable”, to King Mohamed VI and the Moroccan government.

Al-Mishri held a similar press conference after his meeting with Benchamach, stating that he had come to Morocco to find solutions to “some pending issues” concerning the Skhirat agreement.

It is noteworthy that this development received significant socio-political backing. In particular, leaders of Al-Obeidat, one of the largest tribes in eastern Libya, welcomed the meeting between Saleh and Al-Mishri in Rabat at a time when mystery still shrouds the condition of Haftar.

Officials keep reiterating reassurances that he is keeping track of military operations and preparations to resolve the battle of Derna, the only part of eastern Libya that remains outside of his control.

Meanwhile, speculations are rife as to a possible successor to Haftar. It has been reported that four possible mechanisms are being considered for the purpose: appointing a vice commander-general for the army; choosing a new commander-general; creating a military council to command the army; and, lastly, abolishing the post of commander general and sufficing solely with the post of chief of staffs.

The process of choosing between the four alternatives is expected to encounter major hurdles at the legislative and practical levels.

Fears of renewed armed clashes in Benghazi between militia forces loyal to different tribal or military figures are always on the rise. Last Saturday, violence flared on Venezia Street during a Criminal Investigations Police hunt of a man affiliated with the national army’s Zawiya Martyrs regiment.

Two people were killed, including one Egyptian, and four others were wounded during the exchange of fire. No comments have been forthcoming from security and military officials in Benghazi despite the civilian casualties.

In Tripoli, the security situation remains fraught in light of the precarious balances of power and understandings between the various brigades and militias responsible for security in the Libyan capital. These groups are a constant source of anxiety to foreign powers involved in Libya and to the Presidency Council headed by Al-Sarraj.

Any security arrangements that exclude those militia groups would put Al-Sarraj’s position in Tripoli at risk and, indeed, jeopardise the whole Libyan political process as defined by the Skhirat agreement.

Al-Sarraj’s survival as head of the Presidency Council, one of the outputs of the Libyan Political Agreement, is contingent on his alliances with the financial and business elites in Misrata, on the one hand, and with the groups that constitute the security forces in Tripoli, on the other.

The complex web of understandings that shored up this network of alliances is at risk due to the shift in the local political alignments that began several weeks ago between the major political/militia forces in the west.

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly 

Short link: