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Libya: Possible future scenarios

Flawed or not, the Skhirat agreement must be implemented, else Libya will be inexorably propelled on the path to division and intensifying civil war

Ziad A Akl , Thursday 20 Oct 2016
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Profound changes took place in Libya over the past month. Although the Islamic State group (IS) was forced to evacuate Sirte and the Oil Facilities Guards were obliged to relinquish control of oil ports, which points to an improvement in Libya’s ability to face the militia dilemma, the political significance of those military operations is not as promising.

Recent military achievements in Sirte and Benghazi gave political leverage to the two parties involved. As the operational facts on the ground changed, the interaction between Libya's east and west (or the House of Representatives and the Presidential Council) changed as well.

The outcome of those changes took Libya one step further away from implementing the Skhirat agreement and one step closer to protracted political conflict and possible division.

From the moment the Skhirat agreement was signed it was understood that its implementation faced serious challenges. Despite the effort put into reaching the agreement, it all depended in the end on the presence of political will, which until now appears absent.

This lack of will, reflected mainly in the east’s reluctance to acknowledge and actively participate in a unity government, suggests that Libya could be drifting away from the path outlined in the agreement and announced last December. Hence, it seems logical to ask if the Skhirat agreement still has the potential to be the peaceful political framework that would put an end to the violent conflict.

Despite recent changes that undermined the agreement and its implementation, it is still too soon to announce the death of the Skhirat accord.

The reluctance of the House of Representatives in Tobruk to acknowledge the unity government undoubtedly weakens the possibilities of the accord. However, there are two main sources of strength upon which the Skhirat agreement survives. The first is the swift transformation of political and military entities in the west to state institutions, outlined within the accord.

Although the unity government does not monopolise authority in Libya, its presence in the west is a practical demonstration of the accord’s ability to succeed.

The second is the massive international pressure and support put behind the agreement by the UN mission in Libya on the one hand, and the EU and the US on the other. Regionally, the situation is more complex since all regional actors nominally support the agreement but clearly do not express that support.

The recent meeting held in Paris was supposed to reach a common vision among the different regional actors that are delaying implementation of the agreement. However, the profound clash of interests was more dominant than a regionally coordinated vision, specifically with Egypt. Therefore, it is too soon to announce the death of the Skhirat accord, but it is indeed necessary to realise that the agreement is dying.

Another possible scenario will include an amendment in the agreement while maintaining its main framework. With the ongoing international pressure, it is possible that the agreement might survive provided some of its articles are amended.

The main contentious points in the agreement at the moment are Article 8 of the main text and Section 8 of the additional provisions. Both are concerned with the extent of influence and control the Presidential Council has over the military.

Needless to say, control over the military was the core point of conflict since the beginning of the Libyan political dialogue. One of the factors prolonging the Libyan conflict is the inability of each military to triumph over the other. Hence, a delicate balance of power was produced as a result, with both political and military implications.

The Libyan political agreement is supposed to put an end to this balance of power by uniting the various military entities under the political leadership of the Presidential Council. In other words, the political agreement is trying to dismantle a matrix of interests developed over the past two years as a result of the conflict.

Therefore, it could be necessary to secure more military autonomy in order for the agreement to be implemented. However, if this is the case, then the result will be an ongoing conflict-oriented relation between the “military” and the “political” inside the council.

Another possible scenario is for the east to announce its dissatisfaction with the agreement. The House of Representatives has pointed out more than once that the agreement never received a majority vote.

In light of recent military developments, the House of Representatives might declare that it no longer acknowledges the Skhirat agreement as a legitimate political framework for solving the Libyan conflict. If this happens, the House of Representatives will have to deal with an angry international community that vested a lot of trust and effort in the agreement.

At the same time, the House of Representative may call for a new round of dialogue with the West, or may decide to declare the Presidential Council and the unity government as illegitimate political institutions that must be eliminated.

In either case, such a move will reflect both antagonism and escalation by the east. However, the ongoing regional support that the House of Representatives and the Libyan National Army are receiving will aid them in the face of the agreement's supporters.

If this scenario takes place, then Libya will be on the road to political division between east and west, or violent confrontations between warring parties.

It is true that the Libyan conflict has been going on since 2014, but this particular moment that we’re in right now is perhaps the most crucial since the beginning of the division.

A political framework was developed through a dialogue process that lasted over a year. Although this process was not free of mistakes, and those mistakes are the ones being reflected in the conflict now, it represented the only peaceful and non-violent exit for the parties of the conflict.

The death of the agreement will indeed end the proposed political pathway. Meanwhile, it is not necessarily true that a new dialogue process will receive the same attention and support from the international community and interested actors.

In fact, some regional and international actors might believe that a new dialogue process will no longer serve their interests. The failure of a new dialogue process will mean that the conflict will remain as violent and as confrontational, with tangible possibilities of political division or prolonged civil conflict.

Libya needs instant action to implement the agreement, with or without amendments. Otherwise, the political, economic and human cost of the Libyan conflict will keep escalating.  

The writer is senior researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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