Analysis - Political Transformations

Protracted Conflict

The Prospects of Libyan Crisis Settlement in 2018

Tuesday، February 20، 2018
Protracted Conflict

Libya in 2018 faces a series of obstacles in the path towards resolving its prolonged crisis since the refusal of the Islamic movements to acknowledge the outcomes of the Libyan parliamentary elections in June 2014, in which the civil and federal movements won the majority of the seats, provoking an armed conflict between the eastern and western regions. The repercussions are still plaguing Libya to date despite efforts by the regional and international powers and the UN Envoy, Ghassan Salame, over the past year, to end the stalemate of the political settlement. These efforts were culminated in the announcement on September 20, of the New Action Plan for Libya to settle the ongoing conflict.

However, the Libyan crisis has not yet seen a real breakthrough. The plan announced by the UN envoy faces an array of obstacles and setbacks that impede its implementation on the ground, which raises the question of whether it can succeed in ending the Libyan crisis within the time frame of one year, just by the end of the current year.

The future of settlement 

The new action plan for Libya, announced by the UN envoy to Libya, is considered the governing framework for resolving the conflict in the country. The plan consists of three phases, the first of which is to amend the political agreement, (also known as the Skhirat 2015 Agreement) that has been initiated with the resumption of national dialogue rounds in Tunisia on 26 September 2017. The second phase is to organize an inclusive national reconciliation conference to integrate the marginalized and excluded from the political process. The conference is to be held in February. The third phase is to conduct a referendum on the constitution and hold presidential and parliamentary elections by the end of September 2018.

In this context, the future of the political settlement of the Libyan conflict during this year can be viewed in light of the following: 

I- Stalemate in the amendment of the Libyan political agreement “Skhirat Agreement”, which represents the first phase of the Action Plan of the UN envoy Ghassan Salame. This is due to the continuing differences between the House of Representatives (Parliament) and the Higher State Council on amendments to the agreement, particularly with respect to the executive power despite three rounds of dialogue between the two dialogue committees in Tunisia on September 26, October 15 and November 15, 2017, as the Higher State Council rejects that the House of Representatives unilaterally selects the members of the presidency council from the lists of candidates for the presidency of the state council and the two deputies. The Higher State Council demands that it must be involved along with the House of Representatives in the selection process.

On the contrary, the House of Representatives, by a majority of its members, approved the proposal of the UN envoy to amend the articles on the executive authority, mainly the following: separating the presidency council from the cabinet, reducing the former’s members to a president and two deputies, decisions to be taken unanimously, as well as the assumption of the functions of commander-in-chief of the army.

Salame endeavours to hold new rounds of dialogue between the two sides of the crisis fell flat, prompting Salame to announce on January 17, 2018, that the efforts of the UN in Libya are currently focused on three main axes: to finalize the draft of the new constitution, achieve national reconciliation, and hold the elections, in an attempt to advance his plan forward, and save it from failure after the faltering of its initial steps.

2- The difficulty of achieving an inclusive national reconciliation among Libyans, after agreeing on holding the national conference in February, the UN envoy announced on December 23 the postponement of the conference, saying that the re-invitation for the conference will hinge on “reaching a certain level of reconciliation and acceptance of the other”.

On February 7, Salame said that achievement of an inclusive reconciliation “requires considerable efforts towards political reconciliation so that every Libyan can accept the other Libyan”. This is an implicit recognition by the UN envoy of the difficulty of implementing one of the most important points of his plan and an essential element for achieving a minimum level of social peace in Libya. This ultimately reflects the depth of the communal and tribal divide in Libya, and the continuing policy of exclusion pursued by some Libyan tribes against the supporters of the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

The recent developments in Libya, preventing the return of displaced persons to their cities, attest to the difficulty of implementing this point. In early February, Misrata refused the return of the displaced persons from Tawergha to their hometown after being driven out of the town by Misrata forces because of their fighting in the Qaddafi ranks, based on the agreement signed between the two sides in August 2016, ratified by the Presidency Council in June 2017. Some armed groups in the city barred the families of Tawergha from entering the town, and representatives of Misrata demanded that the return of displaced persons be postponed until the Tawergha issue is resolved as part of a comprehensive solution for the displaced persons throughout Libya, particularly the displaced persons of Benghazi, east of Libya.

In return, armed formations allied to the forces of the Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in east Libya prevent many families from returning to their homes in Benghazi, accusing them of supporting terrorism because some of them fought against Haftar’s forces. Brigadier General Ahmed al-Mesmari, spokesman for the Libyan National Army justified this procedure, on February1, saying that the sons of those families committed crimes at the start of the Operation Dignity in 2014, and thus left Benghazi for fear of retaliation. That there is a social norm in the country that dictates the killer and his family are deported to another region. However, he stressed the need for an inclusive national reconciliation in Libya.

3- Hurdles to holding parliamentary and presidential elections by the end of 2018, the final phase of Salame’s plan, on which the regional and international powers and the UN envoy are now betting as a way out of the conflict in Libya. They have realized the difficulty of amending the political agreement and forming a new executive authority to lead the country during a transition period. This is reflected in Salame’s statement in early December 2017: “we are pressing forward to the elections in 2018, even if no agreement is reached on the executive authority”.

Obstacles to the elections

Salame’s statement on February 7, 2018, that there are many conditions that should be available for the conduct of the election process in Libya, and that only one of them has been achieved- voter registration- confirms the existence of obstacles in the way of holding the elections as scheduled, the most notable of which are:

I. Impasse over the approval of the new Libyan constitution, which is an essential step for holding parliamentary and presidential elections in the country, amid a number of legal cases filed against the illegality of the draft constitution approved by the Constitution Drafting Assembly on July 29, 2017 on the ground that the voting session on the draft constitution took place on an official holiday, on a Saturday. 

On January 15, 2018, the Administrative Court of Al-Bayda Court of Appeal, eastern Libya, annulled the ruling to refer the draft constitution to the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court in Tripoli is to issue its verdict on the suspension of the draft constitution on February 14. While the State Council has adopted the draft referendum law on the draft constitution on December 26, 2017, the House of Representatives refuses to issue a law regulating the referendum on the draft constitution, adopting instead the judicial ruling to suspend the draft constitution.

2- Concerns about disagreements among Libyans over the electoral law, which should govern the entire electoral process.

3- The difficulty of holding parliamentary and presidential elections amid the worsening security situation in the country, the proliferation of arms and the dominance of armed militias. The capital, Tripoli, continues to witness sporadic clashes between the armed groups. The most recent clash took place on January 15, 2018, when armed militia known as ‘the Cow’ in reference to its leader Khalfallah, more commonly known by his nickname the “Cow”, attacked Mitiga airport to control it.Consequently, a clash broke out with the Special Deterrence Force (Rada) of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which left at least 11 people dead.

Benghazi also witnessed two terrorist bombings in less than a month targeting two mosques, the first on January 23, which killed 41 people, and the latest on February 9, which killed at least one person and injured 65 others.

Settlement challenges 

There are several internal, regional and international factors that could flare up the Libyan conflict in 2018, the most notable of which are: 

First: Internal factors 

1- Constant threats by Haftar to adopt the military solution to end the Libyan crisis if the UN-sponsored political track fails, threatening to press ahead to liberate the capital, Tripoli, and assume power through a popular mandate from the Libyan people, as represented in the elected House of Representatives.

2- The presence of several hard-line armed Islamic militias in western Libyan that reject holding dialogue with Haftar or involving him in the political process. These militias assassinated the mayor of Misrata, Mohamed Eshtewi, on 17 December 2017, after opening up to Haftar and leading the reconciliation with Tawergha. They are the same groups also that prevent the Tawergha people from returning to their city.

3- Concerns that the warring parties in Libya will not accept the results of the parliamentary and presidential elections to be held by the end of 2018, if any of them is defeated, which could plunge Libya into a new civil war, as happened when the Islamic movements refused to acknowledge its defeat in the House of Representatives elections in June 2014.

Second: Regional factors 

It is related to the regional rivalry between the Turkish-Qatari axis supporting the political Islam movements in the region and other forces since the Arab Quartet has boycotted Qatar in June 2017, and the extension of this rivalry to Libya. Turkey and Qatar are providing political and military support for the Islamic forces there, perhaps the tour of the Turkish President Erdogan to Sudan, Chad and Tunisia, the countries bordering Libya, from 24 to 27 December 2017, comes in this context.

Some analysts saw the tour as an attempt by the Turkish-Qatari axis to encircle the Arab axis which opposes the former’s interventions in Libya. Moreover, the seizure of the Andromeda ship by the Greek authorities, on 11 January 2018, which departed form a port in Turkey and was bound for the port of Misrata in Libya, loaded with explosive materials, confirms that the Turkish-Qatari axis continues to support its allied Islamic organizations, and its moves to escalate the confrontation with its opponents there.

Third: International factors

The rivalry between Russia, on the one hand, and the United States and its European allies, on the other hand, over influence in Libya. And the fear that such rivalry would hamper the resolution of the Libyan crisis as Libyan parties may exploit this rivalry to shirk their obligations. On January 15, 2018, Italy decided to increase the number of its troops in Libya to 400 and its military vehicles to 130. In return, Russia is seeking to crowd out the European political and military influence in Libya through enhancing its influence in west Libya via the Algerian gate.

In this vein, a Russian delegation visited Algeria, in the late January, headed by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and included members of the Russian Security Council, during which they met with Algerian President Bouteflika and Chief of Staff of the Algerian army, Qayed Saleh and the chief of intelligence Athmane Tartag. The two sides discussed the situation in Libya and cooperation in combating terrorism. This comes in parallel with its traditional influence in the east through its support to Haftar.

In conclusion, it is evident that the predominant scenario in Libya during 2018 is the escalation of the conflict and the continuing stalemate in the political settlement of the crisis. This began with deadlock in the implementation of the first and second phases of the action plan proposed by the UN Envoy for the resolution of the Libyan crisis, with respect to amending the political agreement and convening an inclusive national reconciliation conference. Now the bet is on holding parliamentary and presidential elections by the end of 2018 as an approach to resolve the conflict. However, these elections face a series of political, security, constitutional and legal hurdles, which may stand in the way of holding them. Moreover, there are concerns that the outcome of the elections, if conducted, will rekindle the civil war if one of the belligerent parties refuses to acknowledge the results.

Keywords: EUFranceLibyaEgyptUNItaly2018UN envoyGhassan Salame