Libya: The uncertainty principle

Kamel Abdallah , Wednesday 6 Mar 2019

A meeting between Khalifa Haftar and Fayez Al-Sarraj in the UAE has sparked suspicion in Libya, with secrecy as yet surrounding its outcome

Fayez al-Sarraj, Khalifa Haftar
File Photo: Head of the Libyan GNA Fayez al-Sarraj (L) and commander of the LNA Khalifa Haftar (AFP)

Little insight was offered by the brief United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) announcement of an agreement between Libyan National Army Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Chairman of the Libyan Presidency Council Fayez Al-Sarraj.

On its Twitter account the following day, UNSMIL reported: “SRSG @GhassanSalame hosted a meeting yesterday between Head of PC Fayez Serraj & LNA Commander Khalifa Haftar in the UAE on Wednesday, 27 February where both agreed on the necessity of ending the state of transition in #Libya through general elections & on ways to safeguard stability & unify institutions.”

The news was welcomed internationally. “The secretary-general commends both parties on the progress made, in particular the agreement on the need to end the transitional stages in Libya through the holding of general elections, and also the commitment to maintain stability in the country and unify its institutions.

The secretary-general hopes further progress can be achieved on the basis of what has already been agreed upon, with the support of the international community,” said UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric in a statement released Friday.

The governments of France, Italy, the UK and the US followed with a joint statement reiterating their “strong support for the ongoing efforts of UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) Ghassan Salamé and UNSMIL to de-escalate tensions in Libya and help the Libyan people chart a path towards credible and secure elections.”

The four governments welcomed UN leadership in convening the meeting between Sarraj and Haftar, commended the UAE for facilitating it and called “on all Libyans to work constructively with SRSG Salamé and seize this vital opportunity to realise a stable and unified government that can deliver security and prosperity for all Libyans”.

The statement added: “We also welcome the announcement by the Government of National Accord that parties had agreed to resume oil production at the Al-Sharara field.

All sides should promptly implement this agreement in order to allow the National Oil Corporation (NOC) to resume its vital work for the benefit of all Libyans.

These Libyan resources must remain under the exclusive control of the NOC and sole oversight of the Government of National Accord, as outlined in UN Security Council Resolutions 2259 (2015), 2278 (2016) and 2362 (2017).”

Also present at the meeting in the UAE were NOC Chairman of the Board of Directors Mustafa Sanalla, Charge d’Affaires to the US Embassy Peter Bodde and representatives of the governments of France, Italy, the UK and the UAE. Participants discussed the situation in southwestern Libya and especially the circumstances of Al-Sharara and Al-Fil oilfields. The NOC and its Western partners are eager to clear out militia forces from these crucial oil fields and make them safe and secure for their employees, so that production can be resumed normally.

The meeting also addressed the next steps of the Libyan National Army (LNA). Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar is keen to turn northward in order to take control of the capital, but so far it appears he has not yet received a green light from the West.

The US, in particular, has reiterated its opposition to military action on the part of any local parties in the Libyan capital. Participants also discussed arrangements for a new political process which some believe will depart significantly from that outlined in the agreement signed between Libyan political factions in Skhirat, Morocco, in December 2015.

According to sources close to the Tripoli-based Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA), the US had pushed for the recent meeting in the UAE in which, they said, Haftar and Al-Sarraj agreed to create a new executive authority and a new military council.

They told Al-Ahram Weekly that Haftar would have a say in the selection of the members of the military council, but they also stressed that “the agreement is not yet final” and predicted that, once it is, it will be difficult to package for implementation.

On Friday, 1 March, Ghassan Salamé addressed a message directly to the Libyan people on his official Twitter account: “My Libyan brothers and sisters! The hour of truth has arrived and the choice is yours. Either you let yourself be guided by intellect or by instinct.

Either you remain captive to the hatreds of the past or you work together to build a prosperous future for your children. Either you give rein to pettinesses or you save your nation from its fall. Either you allow factionalism to divide you or you let the single expansive nation embrace you all.”

The tweet is another sign of an imminent “historic settlement” to which Salame hinted in an interview on Libyan television a few days before heading off to the UAE.

But political parties and entities are uneasy and, in separate statements, asked UNSMIL, Al-Sarraj and Haftar to divulge the details of the mysterious agreement.

The exception was the Justice and Construction Party, the political arm of the Libyan chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Deputy Chairman Nizar Kiwan, in a statement, commended the recent talks between Haftar and Al-Sarraj in the UAE.

As for the predominantly liberal National Forces Alliance, it held that “UNSMIL has a duty to notify all Libyans with regard to the news being circulated about an immanent agreement that will bring an end to the interim phases and reunite the divided institutions of government.

It should inform them about the details of this agreement, its frames-of-reference and its relationship to the plan of the UN special representative and to the National Conference which we hope will convene as soon as possible.”

The party, in its statement, stressed that the Libyan people had a legitimate, national and political right to access the details of the agreement and that there was “a national need and duty for the agreement to be based on the clear and publicised positions of all political parties for the sake of the realisation of communal peace and the development of the civil democratic state.”

From the other side of the political spectrum, the conservative Islamist Watan (Homeland) Party denounced the UAE meeting.

“The way to end the fabricated crisis is to complete the interim phase with the referendum on the constitution, not to reproduce another interim phase,” it said in a statement released on Sunday, 3 March.

The party called for “the development of the institutions of a strong government dedicated to serving the people” and described the Abu Dhabi meeting as “another phase of procrastination, protracting the crisis and the attempt to militarise government.”

The military and municipal councils of Misrata also declared their opposition to the agreement reached in the UAE and demanded UNSMIL respect the aspirations of the Libyan people and prevent interventions in their domestic affairs.

They vowed to thwart any attempt to jeopardise the gains of the Libyan Revolution.

In view of the fluidity of the situation on the ground, it is difficult to imagine that UNSMIL’s reticence about revealing the details of the Sarraj-Haftar agreement will help advance its implementation through a National Conference, the date of which has not yet been set, or through another type of process launched by local actors other than those who negotiated the Skhirat Accord three years ago.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The uncertainty principle

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