Does Libya need a new political process?

Ziad A Akl
Tuesday 4 Aug 2020

Varied initiatives tabled by the UN and European countries on Libya have failed. Now is the time for Libya’s neighbours to coordinate and propose a new way forward

Libya is facing a state of military escalation, mainly between neighbouring countries of the Mediterranean basin, and specifically when it comes to natural gas resources in the Mediterranean. Several political initiatives were tabled in order to stop the escalating conflict in Libya and to preserve the strategic interests of many countries in the region, starting with the efforts made by UN Envoy Bernardino Leon in December 2015 with the signing of the Skhirat Agreement in Morocco, regardless of the manner by which consensus was reached in this process. The agreement gained international legitimacy and became a sort of background for political developments in Libya, specifically in that it introduced a new entity to the scene, which is the Presidential Council and the Government of National Accord (GNA). 

When Leon’s mission ended, Martin Kobler took over the position, and the strategy of Kobler was facilitating. Kobler believed that the UN’s role was to facilitate or make happen the decisions of various Libyan parties. At that time, the main struggle was the conflict between the GNA and the House of Representatives in the east to approve the accord government designed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of the Presidential Council according to the Skhirat Agreement. 

As Kobler’s efforts kept failing due to the escalation in military confrontations between the parties, Kobler was relieved of his position and Ghassan Salame succeeded him. The Lebanese diplomat developed a roadmap for a political settlement in Libya only 10 days after filling the position of UN envoy. Salame introduced a timeframe for a process of political settlement in Libya, one that included drafting a new constitution, parliamentary elections, and eventual presidential elections.

Salame’s premature roadmap did not succeed within the Libyan interior, and the UN started to lose credibility among the warring parties in Libya. After Salame’s failure to activate the process of political settlement via the UN, countries with interests in the Libyan file started to present their own political initiatives for settling the political conflict in Libya. We saw conferences between the parties in Libya in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Paris, Palermo and Berlin. But the problem resides with the fact that all those initiatives were ineffective on a practical level, specifically after Turkish intervention in the Libyan scene. 

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi re-emphasised the necessity of a political process in Libya a couple of months ago, through the Cairo Declaration. But the western part of Libya, empowered by Turkey, did not respond positively to the Egyptian initiative, although it was backed and supported by countries concerned with the Libyan file. It is the pattern of Turkish foreign policy to give scant consideration to international opinion and legal protocols. Ankara only responds to international pressure.

After the recurrent failures of international initiatives on a political settlement in Libya, it seems logical to ask whether Libya is in need of a new design for a political settlement that matches the daily political and military escalation. It appears today that new givens have materialised within the Libyan scene, and these new givens will have to be considered in any future political initiatives. It is almost impossible due to the current situation to ignore the political and diplomatic role of Turkey within any new negotiations regarding a political settlement in Libya. Through military intervention and political agreements with the GNA, Turkey has imposed itself as an actor with the Libyan file. Therefore, any political initiative concerned with Libya will have to include Turkey, by force of the on-the-ground situation, a situation Al-Sarraj allowed to emerge.

International concern over natural gas resources in the southeast Mediterranean have made new countries to appear as actors within the Libyan scene. Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and Italy do not accept Turkish intervention in the search for natural resources within the southeast Mediterranean. International organisations like the Arab League, the African Union and the United Nations tried to reactivate a political settlement within the Libyan interior. But throughout the varied initiatives from the international community concerning Libya, the mechanism that proved most effective was that forged by neighbouring countries— Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria — because they are the parties that maintain communication with all the conflicting parties in Libya. 

It is now the duty of the Egyptian state to underline the international legitimacy of coordination between neighbouring countries, and to stand as an advocate before the international community to argue for the significance of the neighbouring countries mechanism. 

It appears that neither Egypt nor Turkey want to engage in direct conflict. Hence, thinking about new modalities of a political settlement in Libya has become necessary at the current pivotal moment.

The writer is a senior researcher and director of the Programme for Mediterranean and North African Studies at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.



*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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