Ahead of the Second Berlin Conference on Libya, which opened yesterday (23 June), Cairo intensified contacts with key Libyan parties to help ensure a successful outcome. In many ways Libyan national security is part of Egyptian national security, and so Cairo has spared no effort to restore stability and security in the neighouring country, torn by a civil war fuelled by regional and international parties.
On Sunday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi met with Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush, who had met with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri twice, in Doha and Cairo. A few days earlier, on 18 June, General Intelligence Chief Abbas Kamel had visited both Tripoli and Benghazi to meet with both Libya’s Government of National Unity (GNU) Prime Minister Abdel-Hamid Al-Dabaiba, and the commander of Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar. Libyan Presidential Council Chairman Mohamed Al-Menfi has also been in Egypt for consultations with Al-Sisi.
Through all these contacts, Egypt has affirmed its support for the Libyan Presidential Council and the GNU with the aim of restoring peace and prosperity in Libya, the idea being to hold national elections on 24 December as scheduled. Such key elections are a main step on the way to a political settlement of the Libyan crisis, enabling the will of the Libyan people to shape the country’s future.
In a video released by the presidency during Al-Sisi’s meeting with Libyan foreign minister, Al-Sisi stated that the political roadmap agreed on after lengthy negotiations in Egypt and several other concerned countries is the only way out of the continuing Libyan crisis. “We are keen that this path should be completed and end with elections expressing the will of the Libyan people away from the militias and mercenaries,” Al-Sisi said.
The president reaffirmed Egypt’s unwavering stance, based on the protection of the unity of Libyan territories, the preservation of Libyan resources to the benefit of the Libyan people and non-interference in Libyan domestic affairs.
Needless to say, regional and international intervention in Libya since the downfall of the late strongman, colonel Moammar Gaddafi, in 2011 has been the main obstacle, threatening not only Libya’s future but even its territorial integrity. The country has been practically divided into two parts, with two governments and several armed groups that have gradually gained power and wealth. Such warring groups have put their own interests above those of the Libyan people, extending alliances with regional and international parties to safeguard them.
Thus, the restoration of Libyan sovereignty must start with the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries from the country, and preserving the state’s national institutions. This requires unifying military and security institutions, ending foreign interference, and establishing peaceful dialogue among Libyan rivals.
In this framework, Egypt has offered political support for the General Commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar, in Benghazi. During GI Chief Kamel’s visit to the eastern Libyan city, he praised the efforts exerted by the LNA to achieve internal stability and combat terrorism, affirming that the Libyan military institution has a vital role in protecting the interests of the Libyan people.
The issues discussed in a series of meetings held with Egyptian parties will top the agenda of the second Berlin meeting on Libya, hosted by both UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. The conference will take stock of the progress made since the Berlin Conference on Libya on 19 January 2020, and the next steps needed for a sustainable stabilisation of the country. Those include preparations for the national elections scheduled for 24 December, the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries and the creation of unified Libyan security forces.
Due to Egypt’s contacts as well as regional and international changes, there is a strong chance that the Second Berlin Conference will yield substantial results, despite many difficulties. The key burden falls on Libyan lawmakers and other decision-makers who still need to agree on the budget for the new executive authority, fill several key offices, approve the legal basis and draw up electoral laws for parliamentary and presidential elections.
The main goal right now, whether for Libyan rivals or concerned regional and international parties, must be to promote a peace settlement that all the Libyan parties can commit to and ensure that outside actors genuinely support the UN-facilitated process.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly