In pursuit of stability for Libya

Ahmed Eleiba , Saturday 20 Nov 2021

During the Paris Conference Egypt underscored inclusive economic development, the departure of foreign mercenaries, and successful parliamentary and presidential elections as prerequisites to restoring stability in Libya.

In pursuit of stability
Al-Sisi with Macron

On 12 November, Egypt took part in the Paris International Conference on Libya, jointly chaired by Germany, France, and Italy. It was Egypt’s third participation in a major international conference on Libya. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi also attended the two Berlin conferences on Libya in January 2020 and in June this year. Egypt has also hosted related technical activities on Libya, including meetings of the Constitutional Committee and the 5+5 Joint Military Committee, and sponsored activities related to the economic track and social tracks, including meetings of the Libyan Tribes Forum. These contributions reflect how closely involved Egypt is in the Libyan question.

At the Paris conference, President Al-Sisi presented Cairo’s position on Libya, reaffirming fixed principles that include the need to rebuild state institutions which collapsed in the decade following Muammar Gaddafi’s fall. As the country plunged into civil strife Libya became the playground militias, organised crime rings, terrorists and foreign fighters and mercenaries.  

“The restoration of lasting stability, the realisation of social peace, and the preservation of the national fabric and identity of Libya involves certain mandatory prerequisites. These are to achieve the comprehensive national reconciliation of all Libyan people, to attend to the just distribution of wealth in order to promote comprehensive development across all Libyan regions and to stimulate the economy and ensure the optimum benefit from Libya’s resources so as to meet the aspirations of its people,” said President Al-Sisi.

Another prerequisite is to enable Libya to regain its national sovereignty, something which President Al-Sisi said will not happen “until we deal seriously with the presence of mercenaries and foreign fighters on Libyan territory”.

 The Paris conference served as an expression of international and regional will to eliminate obstacles to the restoration of stability in Libya. Shortly before the conference, Egypt hosted a meeting between Libya’s southern neighbours and the 5+5 Joint Military Committee (JMC) in order to lay the foundations for the restoration of security in southern Libya where tensions and disorder continue to shape an environment conducive to terrorists, foreign mercenaries and fighters and rebel groups. Egypt will soon host a second round of this track.  

 Another major concern President Al-Sisi addressed in Paris was the forthcoming legislative and presidential elections in Libya. He lauded the resolute steps the Libyan Presidency Council, cabinet, and the High Electoral Commission have taken towards this critical juncture, and called on Libyan political forces to set aside narrow factional interests for the sake of the country. Failure to do this “will create a state of popular anger that could cast the situation back to square one,” he said, alluding to Libyan parties that have been working to obstruct the electoral process to further personal and factional ends.

Appealing to the Libyans’ patriotic spirit, Al-Sisi said: “The time has come for you, the descendants of Omar Al-Mukhtar, to seek inspiration from the resolve of your forefathers, who made the dearest and most precious sacrifices for the sake of freedom and national self-determination, and expel every foreign interloper regardless of how much they claim their presence is good for you. It is in your own hands to bring good, as long as you overcome your differences and summon the resolve to build your country through the exercise of Libyan free will.”  

Egypt expects conditions to improve in Libya if it can pass the critical test of legislative and presidential elections on 24 December. Improvement hinges, however, on the continued shift in the balance of forces towards those that favour peace. This is why Egypt has been working impartially, without backing any candidate or side, to help Libyans not just hold free and fair elections but also to accept the result of the polls.

A successful Libyan electoral process will relieve Cairo of many political burdens, especially given most of the prominent candidates for president have good relations with Egypt.

Turkey’s reluctance to remove the thousands of mercenaries it introduced into Libya remains a major problem. Ankara’s evasiveness was manifested in its reservation on the point regarding the evacuation of foreign fighters and mercenaries in the resolutions adopted in the Berlin II conference, and reflected in the low level of its participation in the Paris conference where it was represented by its deputy foreign minister. French President Emmanuel Macron pointedly mentioned both Russia and Turkey in regard to the problem of foreign mercenaries, though of the two Russia was the more constructive. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a press conference following his visit to Paris on 12 November that Moscow was ready to help remove forces linked to the Russian Wagner Group on condition it is “complete, phased, gradual, and synchronised with regard to both the supporters of Libya’s west and east.” The same principle has also been stressed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The removal of mercenaries and foreign forces will take time, and Cairo rests hopes the Libyan elections will produce an authority capable of taking matters firmly in hand. In terms of Libyan security and national sovereignty, this involves the reunification of the military establishment, the tightening of control over Libya’s borders, and resolve on the part of the government and legislature to take the measures necessary to end the foreign military presence in their country.

Egypt is hoping Libya will succeed in safeguarding and building on the political gains made since the October 2020 signing of the ceasefire. Though subsequent progress has been slower than desired, conditions have still improved considerably. There have been a number of interim phases, of which the latest is by far the most hopeful militarily, politically and economically. There have, of course, been bumps along the way, but Egypt trusts this will be the last interim phase on the way to lasting stability.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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