On Monday, the UN relaunched the Berlin Process for a comprehensive settlement to the Libyan crisis, picking up efforts that began at a world summit on 19 January in the German capital. The Berlin track faltered due to developments on the ground in Libya when the military campaign of General Khalifa Haftar failed to seize the Libyan capital Tripoli, which is under the control of the Government of National Accord (GNA), as well as the Covid-19 outbreak. These factors obstructed progress on the international track to resolve the crisis and deflated the momentum needed for success.
On Monday, the UN and the German government, which are spearheading the Berlin Process, hosted a ministerial meeting on Libya attended by relevant countries in order to revive international support for a comprehensive solution that includes parallel political, security and economic tracks under the auspices of the UN. Meanwhile, diplomatic action on Libya has once again picked up, especially by the US where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised last week that Washington will use its diplomatic “arsenal” on the issue.
Ministers gathered as part of a global follow-up to the decisions of the Berlin Process and on the heels of several meetings since early September in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Russia and Switzerland in support of UN efforts to make progress on the peace process in Libya. However, it seems Libyan actors involved in the settlement process appear to be pulled in different directions between the multiple capitals, agendas and positions of domestic players and their strategic outlooks.
This dilemma was also present at this week’s meeting. In his address to the Berlin group, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on all parties to fulfil their commitments made at the January summit, and urged “all parties to become involved in a constructive way in a comprehensive political process” which the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has prepared as part of a three-track (political, security, economic) solution.
US Undersecretary of State David Hale said Washington will continue involving all “domestic and foreign” stakeholders in the Libyan conflict to end the fighting, and reach a peace agreement. Hale called on “all parties to the Berlin Process to uphold their commitments by respecting the UN arms embargo, support the Libyan-led ceasefire and political agreement, and take all necessary steps to achieve this”. He added that the peace process aims to “create a new transitional government and chart the path to national elections”.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri asserted that Libya today is facing “an ideal opportunity” to reach a political settlement that takes into consideration all aspects of the political, security and economic crisis, as well as the fair distribution of power and wealth. Also, to end any foreign interference, eliminate the presence of terrorists, mercenaries and foreign forces in Libya. Shoukri noted that “any real political solution in Libya must be founded on an exclusively Libyan national vision without dictations and malicious pressure from here or there.”
Acting Special Representative of UN Secretary General Stephanie Williams told journalists after the meeting that participants asked for “a comprehensive political process that represents all of Libya’s political and social elements” and urged for “the creation of a demilitarised zone in Sirte and the surrounding area”. That as well as “a permanent ceasefire as part of discussions of the joint military committee (5+5)”, which Williams expects will meet again in the coming weeks.
In Morocco, Libyan parliamentarians and the State Supreme Council (SSC) discussed how to implement Article 15 of the political agreement regarding senior political positions, urging Berlin participants to support the Bouznika talks “which have made positive progress”, according to a statement by Morocco’s Foreign Ministry. In an address delivered on behalf of the two sides participating in the talks, MP Idris Omran said everyone agreed that the talks hosted by Morocco “took place in a positive atmosphere and spirit of optimism that resulted in unifying visions regarding the remaining criteria for seven key positions in Libya”.
Participants at Bouznika are deliberating the criteria for choosing appointees to key positions, with a focus on how to pick the new board of the Central Bank, which will be chosen if the process is successful under the supervision of the IMF and World Bank, which will make recommendations to parliament on the position of governor of the Central Bank.
Abdel-Razek Al-Aradi, who attended meetings in Montreux, said participants agreed to begin the “preliminary phase for a comprehensive solution”, the timeline of which will be decided by the political track but will be no longer than 18 months. Al-Aradi continued that participants agreed that the political track must amend the political agreement, most importantly: restructuring the executive power (presidential council to have one head and two deputies, and an independent prime minister); choosing members of the presidential council through an electoral college vote for each region; addressing the legislative deficit by transferring the tasks of parliament and the SSC to the dialogue team if they fail to issue laws on time. The prime minister will be chosen by the dialogue team, and must form a cabinet within one month and present plans to parliament for ratification and a confidence vote within 10 days. Otherwise, this task will be assigned to the dialogue team.
Meanwhile, a technical committee will decide the powers of the presidential council, GNA and prime minister, and UNSMIL will oversee this committee and the dialogue team will ratify its decisions. International agreements and treaties will be reviewed after new bodies are elected following the preliminary phase. If there is consensus, executive bodies (presidential council and cabinet) and parliament will move to Sirte during the preliminary phase, as soon as security and logistical conditions allow. Then the path of conciliation will begin.
The UN’s Berlin Process incorporates both top down and bottom up efforts. In Morocco, the UN is focused on local Libyan actors, which will eventually evolve into including international players, while the political forum is working from top down and is expected to begin this month, possibly in Malta, Tunisia or Morocco, due to expected closures in Switzerland caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly