While conflict still rages in Libya, the UN-sponsored national dialogue is moving closer to establishing agreement on at least some fundamentals
The ninth round of the UN-sponsored Libyan dialogue is set to begin Thursday (today) against a backdrop of mounting polarisation and violence in Libya since the middle of last year.
From 29 September 2014 to the beginning of February this year, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has convened eight dialogue rounds between the rival factions. The last six, held at the UN’s Geneva headquarters, made considerable headway in bridging opposing positions, perhaps bringing within reach a solution that will resolve the near year-old crisis.
The ninth round will be held in Morocco. It was originally scheduled to begin on Sunday or Monday this week, but was postponed after a request from former members of the officially dissolved General National Congress (GNC).
Al-Sherif Al-Wafi (Al-Marj), Tawfik Al-Shoheibi of the liberal National Forces Alliance (Tobruk) and Ahmed Al-Abbar (Benghazi) wrote to UNSMIL chief Bernardino Leon asking for the talks to be postponed in light of the mourning that followed the triple bombings in Al-Qubbah Friday morning.
The bombings killed more than 45 soldiers and civilians and wounded dozens more. IS (the Islamic State) claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack, which used three booby-trapped vehicles, saying that it was in retaliation for the Egyptian aerial attack on Derna last week.
Al-Wafi is allied with the negotiating team of the House of Representatives in Tobruk. He said that there was an additional reason for requesting the postponement. His team had received information that Leon, in the ninth round, intended to push more forcefully for an agreement on creating a national unity government. The Tobruk team wanted more time to discuss the matter prior to the Morocco meeting.
Libyan sources that are participating in the dialogue told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Tobruk parliamentary team and its allies have strong reservations over the agenda for the ninth round and the UN envoy’s intention to submit a proposal for a national unity government.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said that the Tobruk team and its allies believe that Leon wants to push through a formula for a national unity government that would include parties that lost in the legislative elections last summer, and that this conflicts with the principles of the democratic process to which the Libyan people aspire.
The GNC, re-established in Tripoli, approved the decision to defer the dialogue in the aftermath of the terrorist attack against Al-Qubbah. It is interesting to note that up to the Moroccan round, the conflicting parties are evenly matched in their boycotts or requests to defer the UN-sponsored talks, with four instances per side.
Although the first two rounds that were held in Libya (in Ghadames on 29 September and in Tripoli on 5 October, the latter attended by the UN secretary-general) sought to unite the recently elected House of Representatives, a large segment of the members of the House, which had begun to meet in Tobruk, argued that the MPs boycotting the Tobruk sessions were affiliated with the Tripoli camp dominated by the Libyan Dawn forces commanded from Misrata.
The subsequent six rounds that were held in Geneva in January and February brought considerable progress, even though they were boycotted by the resurrected GNC. Participants approved the proposal submitted by UN envoy Leon to form a national unity government and agreed to enhance confidence-building measures and to continue to appeal for a ceasefire on all fronts in Libya.
In addition, one of the rounds produced an agreement between the municipal councils of Misrata and Tawrga to begin discussions on how to enable refugees from the latter city to return to their homes after the civil war of 2011 against the Muammar Gaddafi regime.
That the participants agreed to form a national unity government should enhance the UN envoy’s prospects to halt the fighting and resolve the various political, social, economic and humanitarian dimensions of the conflict that has plagued the country since May last year.
In spite of the heated controversy sparked domestically and internationally by the Libyan Supreme Court ruling that nullified the last parliamentary elections, it appears that Leon has chosen to leap over this in the hope of bridging the gap between the two sides.
Leon, like the rest of the international community, is keen to reverse the polarisation that spiralled sharply after retired General Khalifa Haftar launched Operation Dignity in May, precipitating a dramatic upsurge in militia warfare throughout the country.
Libya has had five electoral seasons since the fall of the Gaddafi regime, beginning with the GNC elections on 7 July 2012. Then came local council elections in 2012 and 2013, followed by the municipal council elections in late 2013 and 2014, the elections of the Constituent Assembly charged with drafting the constitution in March 2014 and, lastly, parliamentary elections on 25 June 2014.
It is noteworthy that the results of all these elections showed no major change in the balance of socio-political forces, unlike in Tunisia and Egypt where the Islamist current receded or was removed from power. Nevertheless, the voting in Libya did reflect a major shift, in the form of a tilt away from the Islamists and toward the liberals.
The IS bombings of Al-Qubbah on Friday has upped the pressure on the House of Representatives from the people of the eastern region — as well as from supporters of General Haftar — to appoint Haftar general commander of the Libyan army and to create a military council to oversee the war against terrorism. Observers believe that if Haftar is appointed general commander it will enhance his chances of emerging as an unrivalled strongman in eastern Libya.
Meanwhile, the international community, and particularly the US, the EU and the UK, are more determined than ever to push Libyan factions towards a settlement. This was evident at the UN Security Council meetings last week that underscored the need to form a national unity government. Security Council members also refused to lift the ban on supplying arms to the Libyan army, currently divided as a consequence of the conflicts raging in the country.
In the aftermath of the IS terrorist attack Friday, the US, the UK, the UN and the EU issued statements stressing the need for Libyans to come to an agreement over the formation of a national unity government to oversee the remainder of the interim phase.
Hostilities persist in Cyrenaica in the east, the “petroleum crescent” in central Libya and near the capital in western Libya between the forces of Libya Dawn and Operation Dignity. Nonetheless, the Misrata municipal council has announced that it has formed two committees to promote dialogue with the eastern and western regions towards a ceasefire.