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A shaky ceasefire in Libya can go a long way

Oct 27,2020 - Last updated at Oct 27,2020

A rare glimmer of hope emerged in Geneva on Friday when Libya’s two main warring factions signed a historic nation-wide ceasefire agreement thus paving the way for reconciliation that could end more than nine years of civil war. The talks, under UN auspices, took place between military representatives from the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli which controls most of western Libya, and the Libyan National Army (LNA) based Benghazi.

Aside from pulling all troops from hotspots the agreement also calls on all foreign forces to leave the country within three months. What is important is that the agreement was welcomed by Russia, Egypt and the UAE in addition to the UN, the US and European countries. Notably it was downplayed by Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who described it as lacking credibility. One reason for this is that the agreement also freezes any deals with foreign powers putting Turkey's maritime treaty with Libya in danger. While the ceasefire will be tested and Turkey may play a spoiler role, what is important is that it may provide a good chance for political talks aimed at preparing for elections and unifying the state’s sovereign bodies thus eclipsing the specter of partition.

On Monday, the UN initiated a virtual conference that brought figures representing Libya’s various regions amid criticisms over those participating and those who are not. While the path towards a political solution remains long and full of obstacles one should hope that Libyans will agree on fundamental points that could provide a solid base for further discussions.

The main problem with Libya has to do with foreign interference. It is inconceivable that representatives of Libya’s tribes would be able to arrive at a formula to unify the country and its sovereign institutions as well as its armed militias without pressure from key foreign players like Turkey and Russia, among others.

Former UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame had expressed frustration with UN Security Council members who would agree to something only to renegade on their commitments over the Libyan crisis. What happens in Libya affects the US in relation to Russia, Egypt in relation to Turkey and various members of the European Union in addition to the UAE and Qatar. For the Libyan people to find a common ground they must free themselves from foreign intervention. But that is easier said than done.

Soon after the Friday agreement was signed problems began to emerge. Defence Minister of the GNA Salahuddin Al Namroush stated on Monday that the Geneva agreement does not affect the military agreement signed with Turkey and that military and security training between Ankara and Tripoli will continue. That contradicts the core of the Geneva agreement. Sources close to LNA’s chief Khalifa Haftar had pointed that the Geneva deal covers the military and maritime agreements that Tripoli had signed with Turkey earlier this year.

Also, GNA sources said that the Geneva agreement does not mean that Tripoli recognises the LNA as a legitimate entity; a major spoiler.

While it is believed that the ceasefire deal is likely to hold for some time; there is a military impasse and both sides have no stomach to wage war at this time, the challenge lies in sustaining political talks. Behind the scene negotiations between Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh and Ahmad Maitiq of the GNA through Moroccan and Algerian mediation may lead to an interim formula to maintain a long-term truce while preparing the ground for a fresh election under a new constitution. Egypt is backing such talks and keeping Haftar at bay for now. Saleh and Maitiq had already paved the way for the resumption of oil exports after Haftar was forced to back down.

The current US pressure on both sides to talk after reaching a ceasefire will continue regardless of who wins the American presidential elections on November 3. Washington’s priorities in the region may shift if Joe Biden wins but on Libya at least there will be a need to stay the current course.

At one point the GNA and the Higher State Council will have to curtail the influence of Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood if they want to move ahead with genuine talks with their rivals in the East. At the same time Saleh must find ways to neutralise Haftar who has grandiose ambitions to emerge as the supreme ruler of Libya. Meanwhile there is no shortage of references and roadmaps beginning with the Skhirat agreement and passing through the Berlin and Cairo declarations. They all underline Libya’s territorial unity and the need for a representative legislative body. The question that continues to defy the Libyan people since 2011 is that can they find a platform that brings everybody to the table?


Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman


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