Book Review: Libya's dead-end dialogue
Mahmoud El-Wardani, Monday 17 Aug 2015
A new study argues that the current situation in Libya is a political dispute, not a battle between democracy and radicalism

Azmet Al-Hiwar Al-Siyasi fi Libya(“The Political Dialogue Crisis in Libya”) by Ziad Abdel-Rahman Akl, Strategic Series - Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies, Cairo, 2015. pp.27.

The writer of this study is a good follower of the Libyan issue, especially after the revolution, and has published indeed many studies and press follow-ups before and after the five rounds of political dialogue which were held between the rival parties between September 2014 and April 2015.

The researcher, Ziad Abdel-Rahman Akl, says that he finished his study in May. Thus, he knows well the topic of his important study about the extremely complicated, and at the same time, dangerous situation in post-revolutionary Libya.

The researcher asserts that the situation in Libya four years after the revolution is – in one of its facets – a natural outcome of the political regime that Muammar Gaddafi invented, while at the same time a result of the regrettable way – to quote the researcher – by which the NATO intervened in Libya without thinking in the slightest about setting up a strategy for the post-Gaddafi period.

Of course, the long years, more than four decades of political repression, erosion of opposition forces and ostracising of political and social elites, all contributed to the alarming current situation.

From another perspective, the study basically relies on looking at "the multi-sovereignty" case as the cause of the political dialogue process. No one has the ability, the structures or the tools to impose a unified will or a decision on the entire country, for even the Libyan army itself was disbanded by Gaddafi in place of what was known as Gaddafi's battalions.

Perhaps one of the most significant premises of the study is that it doesn't deal with the political dialogue between Libyan rival parties in isolation from the political, social and military reality. Even the dialogue itself isn't an independent political process sponsored by the UN; it is rather one of the crisis's dimensions.

As for the actual beginning of the crisis, it was when the Supreme Court issued a verdict in Tripoli declaring the dissolution of the Council of Deputies elected in June, which was convening at the time in Tobruk. The result was reconvening in Tripoli the General National Congress, the mandate of which had ended in March 2014.

On 25August 2014, the GNC appointed Omar Al-Hasi as prime minister of the salvation government, while at the same time there was a another government in Tobruk headed by Abdullah Al-Thani, selected by the dissolved Council of Deputies.

In fact, the reason behind the deterioration of the current Libyan situation after the revolution is not only due to the weak successive governments. There is also the total absence of any security institutions performing their role as a legitimate enforcement force, and the disastrous wide availability of weapons and the repeated failure to confiscate them.

What's worse is the emergence of an unofficial frame of interactivity, i.e. a channel which is unofficial yet effective between the state, represented by the government, and the militias and armed groups.

Akl asserts that what Libya has ended up with isn't due to the emergence of two struggling political entities (the GNC and the Council of Deputies), each claiming legitimacy, but rather to a set of intertwining and interconnected factors that have led to a perilous stage in the context of the present political conflict.

This stage is simply linking the political decision with the military give-and-take. The writer adds: "There isn't a space left for any legitimate authority whether it is the government or the elected GNC to practice real sovereignty without an independent military arm that works outside the state on mainly non-patriotic grounds".

Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thani was obliged to retract his resignation a few hours after submitting it because his house was hit by shells from the militias controlling the capital. There are dozens of similar examples in which the governments and executive officials were forced to carry out the demands of the armed militias.

In spite of this, it should be asserted that the current conflict isn't a conflict between a legitimate authority and a group of terrorist groups, as the anti-Islamist current media tries to portray.

At the same time, it isn't a conflict between revolutionary currents attempting to protect the country from Gaddafi supporters, as the media backing the Islamist current attempts to propagate.

What's happening in Libya, to quote the researcher, is: "A political dispute that was strengthened and entrenched by a number of mistakes, wrong decisions and moves; but it is still a dispute between militarised political currents which are different in their points of departure."

Thus, it isn't a dispute between a virtuous party and a corrupt one, or between the forces of extremism and terrorism on one side against the forces of modernity and democracy on the other.

The current political dialogue sponsored by the UN goes back to 2011, when a special envoy of the secretary-general arrived with the aim of helping the Libyans to build institutions and lay the foundation for a democratic dialogue in the post-revolution period.

Envoys arrived one after the other, the last of whom was Bernardino Leon, who sponsored five rounds of dialogue between Libyan rival parties. The first was in the Libyan city Ghadames, close to the Algerian borders, in September 2014. It was a failure because of Leon's insufficient awareness and lack of comprehensive vision of the nature of political and military conflict.

The second round of dialogue was held in Geneva in January 2015, the third in Ghadames once more, in February 2015, and the fourth in Rabat in March 2015. Finally the fifth round was held in the Moroccan city of Skhirat in April 2015. All the rounds failed for several reasons, including because the sponsoring party of the dialogue didn't embrace a more effective vision.

The writer suggests the following five points as a basis to be agreed upon.

First, the results of any political dialogue must be compatible with the principles of the 17th February Revolution.

Second, the Council of Deputies must be adamant about being the internationally acknowledged legislative authority.

Third, the representatives of the main active military formations must be present at the negotiation table.

Fourth, regional powers' roles shouldn't be ignored considering their influence on the dialogue's validity, especially Egypt, the UAE, Algeria and Tunisia.

Finally, it is necessary that the UN stands at the same distance from all the parties participating in the dialogue, because there has been plenty of American and European intervention in favour of some parties and at the expense of others.