Libya rivalry resolved?

Kamel Abdallah , Friday 22 Jul 2022

An unprecedented rapprochement has occurred between Abdul-Hamid Al-Dbeibah and Khalifa Haftar.

Libya rivalry resolved
Bengdar (photo: AFP)


The recent rapprochement between the Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU), Abdul-Hamid Al-Dbeibah, and the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar shaped the setting for the meeting of the rival eastern and western military chiefs of staff in the Libyan capital Tripoli this week.

The eastern based chief of staff, Lieutenant General Abdel-Razek Al-Nazouri, was greeted upon his arrival at Tripoli’s Mitiga International Airport by his counterpart from the western command, Lieutenant General Mohamed Al-Haddad, and together they proceeded to the meeting of the 5+5 Joint Military Committee (JMC) to continue discussions of the implementation of all articles of the UN-brokered Libyan ceasefire agreement signed in Geneva in October 2020 and on the reunification of the Libyan armed forces. Nazouri and Haddad, together with the other members of the JMC, met behind closed doors at the Chiefs of Staffs building in Tripoli. Libyan sources reported that their talks focused on maintaining and solidifying the ceasefire and on conditions for reunifying the military establishment. According to those sources, the two sides agreed in principle on the main hierarchical structures of the army and proposed names from both sides to fill the posts. Nazouri has been tipped as the most likely candidate for the post of defence minister and it is believed that he will receive this appointment ahead of Haddad’s anticipated trip to Benghazi in his capacity as head of a unified chiefs of general staffs.

Nazouri’s visit to Tripoli, his first visit to the Libyan capital since the east-west rupture of 2014, was part of broader arrangements that resulted from the rapprochement between Haftar and Dbeibah following UAE-sponsored talks between representatives from the two sides. The new arrangements, proposed by Italy during a meeting of representatives of the US, the UK, France, Italy and Germany in Rome in late May, call for negotiations between Dbeibah and Haftar with an eye on bolstering the GNU through a cabinet reshuffle and the appointment of new boards of directors to sovereign institutions. Western powers believe that bringing Dbeibah and Haftar together will help preserve the calm and stability ushered in by the 2020 ceasefire agreement and rehabilitate the UN-sponsored political process they hope will culminate in presidential and legislative elections as soon as possible.

Following the meetings between Dbeibah’s and Haftar’s representatives in Abu Dhabi, the GNU appointed a new board of directors for the National Oil Company (NOC). Farhat Bengdara was installed as chairman of the board, replacing Mustafa Sanalla who had held that post since 2014. Sanalla refused to step down and accused Dbeibah of making deals in Abu Dhabi to undermine NOC.

An informed Libyan source told Al-Ahram Weekly that the sacking of the old NOC board of directors was the practical translation of the originally American proposal which Italy tabled and the UK supported in the above mentioned meeting in Rome on 28-29 May.  According to the proposal, Dbeibah would appoint new ministers and new boards of directors to government organisations such as the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) and the National Oil Company (NOC). The GNU would also resolve obstacles to payments of government salaries and financial obligations to the LNA general command. In exchange, Haftar would lift the three month long blockade of several oil fields and export terminals and withdraw his support from the Fathi Bashagha government which the Tobruk based House of Representatives had created in February but which was never able to function out of Tripoli where the Dbeibah government continued to operate with Western backing. The blockade of the oil installations ended last Friday, enabling the newly appointed NOC chairman to lift force majeure at the fields and terminals as of that date.

Despite such concrete signs of a rapprochement, no statements have been forthcoming from Haftar and his associates or from the Speaker of the House of Representatives (HoR) Aguila Saleh and the HoR’s Prime Minister designate Fathi Bashagha. Prime Minister Dbeibah, who attended the first meeting of the newly appointed NOC board of directors, denied that the change was the result of a “deal”. Rather, he said, it was the product of an agreement between political stakeholders in the country, though he did not identify who those were.

Bengdara, who had served as governor of the Libyan Central Bank from 2006 to 2009, took office at NOC on 14 July. Before then, Sanalla’s refusal to step down had sparked fears of an armed clash between militia factions, leading the US, Italian and British embassies to step in. The first advised Sanalla to challenge the decision to dismiss him through the courts, the second welcomed Bengdara’s lifting of force majeure and the third urged the preservation of calm and the need to keep the oil sector above the political fray.

An emergent alliance between Dbeibah and Haftar would hamper an alternative interim phase project worked out between HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh and the Head of the High Council of State (HCS) Khaled Al-Mishri. HoR Representative Ziad Daghim, in a television interview on Sunday evening, claimed that Saleh and Mishri were colluding to create a constitutional framework for the elections would prevent Dbeibah, Haftar and Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi from running in elections. Saleh’s press office issued a statement refuting the claim and denouncing Daghim’s remarks as “unadulterated slander, lies and deception that have no bearing on reality.” Recent meetings between delegations from the House of Representatives and the High Council of State as well as between Saleh and Mishri have been unable to reach the necessary compromises to produce the required constitutional basis for elections.

It remains to be seen whether the fledgling rapprochement between Haftar and Dbeibah will meet the expectations that Western stakeholders have pinned on it or whether the parties that feel threatened by it will manage to undermine it. In the meantime, HoR member Abdel-Moneim Al-Urfi expects that Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdul-Rahman will visit Benghazi, where Haftar is based, “in the coming days.” Afterwards, HoR Speaker Saleh would fly to Ankara to meet with Turkish officials. Urfi mentioned no specific dates or other details, according to Libyan news outlets. Saleh, in televised remarks three weeks ago following his return from Geneva where he met with Mishri, also said that a senior Turkish official would visit Libya after Eid Al-Adha. However, he did not specify which official.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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