September looks set to be a watershed for Libya as the UN moves to kick-start the country’s political process and Haftar indicates that he will abandon military rule if elected president in 2018, writes Kamel Abdallah
Friday,08 September, 2017
The new UN Special Envoy for Libya and Head of UNSMIL (the United Nations Support Mission in Libya), Ghassan Salamé, is preparing to unveil a new plan to revive the political process in the country that has been stalled for more than two years, while developments in domestic political dynamics, though as yet unclear, appear to be moving in the direction of a reordering of the alignments that had been in place for the past three years during the civil war. The dynamics are informed by an array of factors, most notably the war against terrorism, tribal and regional rivalries, and competition over control of the areas of the sources of wealth in order to secure an advantageous position in the political process.
On 28 August, Salamé delivered his first assessment on the situation in Libya to the UN Security Council. Speaking to the council from the UNSMIL compound in Tripoli, Salamé reviewed the local, regional and international rounds of talks and meetings he held with diverse stakeholders in the Libyan crisis during his first month in his new post. While expressing his appreciation for the efforts of all governments and organisations working to promote peace and reconciliation among Libyans, he nevertheless expressed his concern that “a proliferation of initiatives to mediate somehow risks confusing the political landscape”. Salamé stressed the need to strengthen and unify collective efforts beneath the UN umbrella in order to ensure greater efficacy in the drive for Libyan unity, stability and prosperity.
Among the topics Salamé addressed in his speech were the widespread calls for legislative and presidential elections to be held in the spring of 2018. He cautioned that before these take place, “it would be wise to ensure political and technical preconditions for successful elections to be addressed, and in particular a commitment by all parties to accept the election results.” This, in turn, necessitated a consensus over a framework. Accordingly, he said, a “political package” is required to bring the processes together coherently. “Here, sequencing is the name of the game. Libyans can successfully go into these three processes only if they define in what order and with what urgency they should do so, and if we help them combine the three into one single package which most, if not all, players consider acceptable.” The processes entail firstly amending the Libyan Political Accord (LPA) in order to ensure its efficacy in stimulating the political process; secondly, supporting the process of adopting a new constitution the draft text of which was approved by the Constitutional Drafting Assembly on 29 July in a controversial vote that was held in a tense and acrimonious climate; and, thirdly, general and presidential elections.
While in Tunisia, on one of his tours related to the crisis in Libya, Salamé met with a group of Libyan political activists to solicit their views. On the question of elections, he was very candid. He said that to hold elections in Libya under the current conditions was “next to madness”. Clearly, he feared that elections held in the absence of guarantees that they could be held successfully without grave problems, and that their results would be accepted by all parties, could propel the country into a spiral of deterioration again.
As Salamé noted in his presentation to the Security Council, a high-level meeting will be held on the fringes of the forthcoming General Assembly meeting in which a new action plan for Libya will be announced. It is anticipated that annual General Assembly meeting will also occasion numerous high-level meetings on Libya between UN Secretary General António Guterres, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the foreign ministers of Britain, Italy, France, Egypt and the UAE.
Meanwhile, Al-Ahram Weekly has learned that a number of European countries are at odds over the new set of sanctions that are expected to be adopted against a number of Libyan figures for obstructing the implementation of the LPA. The list includes the former commander of the Sumoud Brigade Salah Badi, the Spokesman for the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) Mustafa Al-Shirkasi, former prime minister Abdallah Al-Thinni and Libyan Army Special Forces Commander Mohamed Al-Werfalli, the subject of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant issued a few weeks ago.
According to the Weekly’s sources, the new sanctions bill, sponsored by Britain, has run up against Italian opposition. The Italians oppose the inclusion of Badi and Al-Shirkasi in the list. They argue that the former has been inactive for more than a year and the latter had dissolved the BDB months ago, so their inclusion does not make sense. They also hold that there is little value in including Al-Werfalli since he is already wanted by the ICC.
On the other hand, Rome does support the inclusion of Al-Thinni. It also proposes adding the governor of the Libyan Central Bank in Al-Baida, Ali Al-Hibri and the director of the Libyan National Petroleum Authority, also based in Al-Baida, Naji Al-Maghrabi to the list on the grounds that they head parallel institutions that conflict with the LPA. It is believed that the controversy over the new sanctions list will be resolved by the end of September around the time when the UNSMIL chief announces his new action plan for Libya.
Salamé’s efforts to kick start the political process in Libya come at a time of heightening political tensions combined with fears that these might reignite the fragile security situation in the country. Indicative of these tensions, three boycotting members of the Presidential Council, which was created in accordance with the LPA, declared their opposition for recent appointments made by the chairman of that council, President Fayez Al-Sarraj. In a televised statement broadcast Saturday, 2 September 2017, Fathi Al-Mujabri, Ali Al-Qatrani and Omar Al-Aswad declared that they rejected Presidential Sarraj’s decisions, which they claimed were taken unilaterally and exceeded the scope of his authorities as defined by the LPA. They warned that the decisions would aggravate the political and security situation in Libya and harm serious efforts to reach a comprehensive accord. They appealed to the UN to look into the matter.
Two days before this, Al-Sarraj had announced the appointment of the chairman of the interim security arrangements committee, Brigadier General Abdel-Rahman Al-Tawil, as interim director of the Libyan Army’s General Chiefs of Staffs. While supporters of the LPA approved the decision, which they felt should have been taken sooner, supporters of Commander of the Libyan Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar opposed it. Haftar, for his part, announced that he would cut off all dealings with the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Al-Sarraj. Then interim prime minister in Baida, Abdallah Al-Thinni, reinstated his order calling for the arrest of any official from the GNA. Al-Thinni had revoked that order following the rapprochement between Haftar and Al-Sarraj in Abu Dhabi three months ago.
Al-Sarraj also appointed a commander from the Operation Dignity campaign, Faraj Egaem, as deputy interior minister in the GNA. Egaem commands a militia group drawn from the Awaqir, the largest tribal confederation in the east. The group supports the GNA and backed Al-Sarraj’s previous appointment of another Operation Dignity commander, Al-Mahdi Al-Barghathi, as GNA defense minister.
The day after his appointment, Egaem returned to Benghazi where he was received by a large throng of fellow tribesmen and militiamen who control Benghazi’s Banina International Airport. Libyan sources say that Al-Barghathi, whose house in Benghazi was torched by Haftar supporters, may also return to the city soon. Presidency Council member Fathi Al-Mujabri also returned to Benghazi following a several months-long dispute with the army command due to his support for the GNA.
Observers anticipate further escalation on the part of eastern leaders against the Tripoli-based Presidency Council and GNA in the coming days as well as a number of resignations from that government. Still, Al-Sarraj appears confident that he will continue to receive the backing of his international supporters. At the same time, his adversaries in the east are digging in their heels with regional and international support as well. It is noteworthy in this regard that British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who visited Tripoli and Benghazi on 23 and 24 August, announced after his meeting with Haftar that the latter had pledged to relinquish military rule if he succeeded in becoming president.
It therefore appears that Libya will see some military escalation in the forthcoming period as the factions prepare for the rounds of negotiation that Salamé plans to set in motion with them once he receives a green light for his action plan from the Security Council later this month.