Libya talks move forward

Kamel Abdallah , Wednesday 9 Sep 2020

Parallel meetings in Bouznika, Morocco and Geneva suggest progress can be made in breaching the Libyan divide, but the devil will remain in the details

Libya talks move forward

Two consultative meetings between Libya’s warring factions were held in tandem over the weekend, one in Geneva and the other in Bouznika, Morocco. It is hoped these meetings will facilitate the resumption of the UN sponsored Libyan Dialogue in the framework of the Berlin Process endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2510 on 12 February 2020 and end the long-lasting political impasse between the key players in eastern and western Libya.

Delegates from the House of Representatives based in Tobruk and the High Council of State (HCS) based in Tripoli held their first meeting in Bouznika, a charming resort town overlooking the Atlantic, on Saturday. The meeting was attended by Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, delegate from the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Youssef Bilal, and the personal envoy to Morocco of the Speaker of the House of Representatives Ambassador Abdel-Medjid Seif Al-Nasr.

The five representatives from the House of Representatives were: Essam Al-Juhani, Misbah Douma, Idris Omran, Youssef Al-Agouri and Adel Mawloud. They were accompanied by three media advisers: Atef Miloud Al-Hasia, Faisal Rizk Bourraiqa and Hamdi Ahmed. The HCS delegation included Fawzi Al-Oqab, Ali Al-Shuwaih, Abdel-Salam Al-Safrani and Mohamed Naji.

The purpose of the Bouznika meeting is to build confidence and test good faith, to solidify the ceasefire and pave the way for meaningful negotiations to resolve outstanding differences between the Libyan factions, Maghreb Arab Press (MAP) reported. According to sources from the Tobruk based parliament, the meeting would also address questions related to key government positions.

House of Representatives Spokesperson Abdullah Blaiheg told reporters that the participants in Bouznika would discuss “the distribution of sovereign posts” between Libya’s three main regions (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan). However, it would not be up to the House of Representatives’ delegation in Morocco to name candidates. The seven key positions in question are the governor of the Libyan Central Bank, the director of the Audit Bureau, the director of administrative oversight, the director of the anticorruption bureau, the chief public prosecutor, head of the Supreme Court and the chairman of the Higher National Electoral Commission.

The Tripoli-based HCS insists that the Bouznika meeting is purely consultative and solely aimed at restarting dialogue with the House of Representatives. HCS Chairman Khaled Al-Mishri stated that the HCS had reached “certain” understandings with the Tobruk based parliament during a dialogue that had lasted for some time in Tunisia.

The two sides had agreed, in principle, to reducing the Presidency Council from nine members to three (a president and two vice-presidents), separating the Presidency Council from the cabinet and mechanisms for selecting individuals to fill the seven sovereign posts. He stressed that the results of the meetings in Bouznika and in Geneva will not be binding because the meetings are more in the nature of “brainstorming sessions” to pave the way to the resumption of the Berlin Process.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita struck an upbeat note in his keynote address. Given the recent positive dynamics in the Libyan question, especially the ceasefire and presentation of initiatives by the Libyan parties, the exchanges between the delegations in Bouznika were likely to “prelude agreements that would end the Libyan crisis”, he said.

He stressed that any solution to the Libyan crisis had to be based on three core principles: the spirit of Libyan patriotism must prevail, only a political solution will work and, thirdly, there must be confidence in the ability of the High Council of State and the House of Representatives, in their capacity as legitimate institutions, to summon the spirit of responsibility needed to overcome difficulties and engage in dialogue for the sake of Libya’s welfare.

Bourita, in his speech, urged the Libyan parties to “proceed, without hesitation, towards a solution to the crisis and to transcend the winner-loser formula and zero sum thinking”. He expressed his hope that the Bouznika meeting would serve as a “practical avenue towards reviving confidence, building understandings, fleshing out ideas and consensuses and preparing for agreements to lead the country out of crisis”.

Libyan news sources report that due to the progress achieved in the first sessions, it was decided to extend the meeting two more days. Members of both delegations have issued statements confirming that they have reached common ground on the issues under discussion, which include the distribution of sovereign posts, the implementation of Article 15 of the Skhirat Agreement and holding a referendum on the draft constitution approved by the Constituent Assembly in July 2017.

In tandem with the Bouznika meeting, representatives from the HCS, the Presidency Council and the Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, and representatives of the House of Representatives as well as some figures representing the former Gaddafi regime met in Geneva at the invitation of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD).

The CHD had worked together with UNSMIL to prepare for a UN sponsored Libyan national forum that was scheduled for mid-April 2019, but had to be called off due to the military operation Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar launched in order to take control of Tripoli.

The Geneva meeting was attended by Presidency Council Security Adviser Taj Al-Din Al-Razqi, who represented GNA Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, activist Ahmed Al-Ruwaiti, as representative of GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha; GNA Ambassador to the EU Hafez Qaddour, who represented the Tripoli militias; Abdel-Majid Malegta and Ziyad Dahim, who represented the House of Representatives, Mohamed Al-Lafi for the HCS and Mohamed Abu Ogeila affiliated with Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi.

According to Libyan sources, participants in Geneva addressed the same issues as those discussed in Bouznika. But, in addition to the seven abovementioned sovereign posts, they also discussed the posts of general intelligence chief and the army general chief of staffs. The sources added that Geneva meeting would name candidates for these posts.

Despite the generally positive climate and the progress made the meetings in Bouznika and Geneva, the meetings did not pass without criticism. Most of it was directed at both Chairman of the HCS Khaled Al-Mishri and Speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh who were accused by HCS and House members of monopolising the decisions in these two chambers and refusing to consult other members.

The Bouznika and Geneva meetings followed a diplomatic tour by UN Envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams to Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria to secure these countries’ support, as Libya’s neighbours, for the renewed drive to revive the political process that has been stalled since 2016. The meetings also came in the wake of large demonstrations in Tripoli and other Libyan cities protesting declining living standards, corruption in key government bodies and the escalatory dynamics between eastern and western factions despite the ceasefire announced by Saleh and Al-Sarraj three weeks ago.

It appears that such domestic grassroots pressures combined with international pressures since the ceasefire finally convinced the HCS and House that it was time to soften their positions enough to begin to meet again and feel their way forward towards a solution in the framework of the Berlin Process. The three tracks of this process, covering military, political and economic facets of the Libyan conflict, ground to a halt shortly after they were initiated in the Berlin conference in January 2020 due to intransigence on both sides and renewed fighting.

As of time of writing, three days after the meeting began in Bouznika, UNSMIL has not commented on the substance of that meeting even though its delegate, Youssef Bilal, attended the sessions. At the same time, there remains a significant disparity between the disputants over the most immediate priorities.

Aguila Saleh believes that the restructuring of the executive (the Presidency Council and government) should precede attention to security arrangements while Fayez Al-Sarraj insists that security arrangements should be addressed first. Both seem to be at odds with the views of some of international powers which are pushing for an overhaul of all midlevel government posts followed by an institutional restructuring, a plan that some regard as overly ambitious.

Meanwhile, Al-Sarraj received Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya in Tripoli Monday for a short working visit. Laya relayed her government’s support for the ceasefire declared 21 August, the demilitarisation of Sirte, Jufra and the petroleum crescent, the resumption of oil exports and the holding of legislative and presidential elections in March. She also invited Al-Sarraj to visit Madrid.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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