Libya remains a platform for regional conflicts in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Several actors have been involved with the Libyan file in recent weeks, mainly Egypt, Turkey, the US, France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and the UAE. Many diplomatic efforts were made, and the interests of both Egypt and the United States managed to spur a ceasefire between the warring parties in Libya. But due to contrasts within the Libyan interior, the ceasefire pact did not last more than 48 hours. It was broken Sunday night, 23 August. This means that the matter is not one related to international efforts seeking coexistence within the Libyan interior; it is rather a matter of a complicated situation between the different parties in Libya.
The conflicts within the Libyan interior are the major source of political turbulence in the scene. The fact that neither party acknowledges the legitimacy of the other means opportunities for a political settlement are very thin. Regional powers try to exert influence within the file, but the domestic equations are what govern. Several attempts were made to end the contentious state of conflict. However, regardless of what the others might say, Egypt has exercised a role within the Libyan conflict to serve the protection of its national security interests.
It is very difficult to discuss a political settlement in Libya at the current moment. There is a domestic difference, and regional competition over influence in Libya. Both Egypt and Turkey remain in restraint regarding direct military intervention. Few are the times where such political situations re-occur. But this proves it is a matter of a local context that regional and domestic powers do not fully understand.
The ceasefire was broken not only because legitimacy is not equally recognised, but also because of the lack of a connection between the East and the West within dual international communications. Neither partner wants to defy the international community. They attempt to prove that they are pro political consensus, although their actions prove otherwise. There is a cost to be paid within international relations that Libyan political elites are afraid of, because they know they are culpable. In the end, there is a limit to the role that the international community can play in light of equally warring parties on a political level.
This leads to another important question regarding any political settlement in the Libyan interior. According to the givens so far, both parties have legitimacy — the House of Representatives in Tobruk, and the State Council in Tripoli. Both political bodies enjoy international legitimacy, and manage to contain a set of local, regional and international allies to uphold the various interests they have. There is no political consensus or military supremacy that makes one party more powerful than the other. In fact, there is a balance of power between the warring parties.
So how can Libya surpass this current situation of political confrontation and lack of coordination? The answer lies in the idea of building new domestic political associations, backed and supported by regional ones. As Turkey attempts to split the Arab world apart over the Libyan file, Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia must work out a framework of regional cooperation inside Libya, to ensure that the interests involved within the file are being promoted by regional actors who are concerned with the Libyan conflict.
The vulnerability of the ceasefire is mainly due to the total absence of political solutions while actors and parties supporting one side or the other move to raise the military capacities of that side. The international community needs to take into consideration the context of the Libyan conflict before it starts to theorise about it. Otherwise, we will be back to square one, trying to find the basis for a political agreement. Past attempts by the UN and other international organisations were all a failure on the level of implementation. Mainly because of a lack of practical study of the Libyan interior.
There is a need to renew the mechanism involving neighbouring countries, and a dire need for Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia to reach a mutual understanding concerning the Libya file.
International alliances and regional ones regarding Libya are still not effective on the ground, mainly because the interest of each actor is what determines its patterns of action.
Egypt remains the most concerned actor within the scene, and it has to further develop the efficiency of the role it practises in the context of the conflict between East and West Libya.
*The writer is a senior researcher and director of the Programme for Mediterranean and North African Studies at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly