Regional Reconciliation in Libya

The following political alert paper reviews the most important regional and international indicators that may push for a political settlement to the Libyan crisis. It also discusses the internal Libyan factors that must be present to ensure a sustainable solution in light of some positive changes in the regional climate.

  • Publisher – STRATEGIECS
  • Release Date – Jan 12, 2021

Surprisingly, without extensive media coverage, high-level security Egyptian delegation held a meeting with Fathi Bashagha, the interior minister plenipotentiary in the Libyan Government of National Accord, in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, under the control of the official government authorities.  

This meeting, held late December 2020, took place at a time when many regional states were re-ordering the files they were engaged in after nearly a decade of disturbances and tensions started at the beginning of 2021, and changed regimes in some countries; followed by security and community shocks, a regional competitiveness among some parties to grab a portion of leverage in what seems a precious and easy target.

However, incidents showed it is difficult to completely influence the course of events in any country by another. Today and after years of internal and external conflict, no party in Libya could resolve the situation or impose sovereignty over its entire territory. We can say there is duality in the service and militant institutions (as oil, ports and health) that emerges from two legitimate authorities playing their roles in specific geographical ranges.   

The duality applies to the external alliances of the Libyan crisis parties; each party is supported by a regional current in contradiction with the other current; this made the Libyan conflict inseparable from the competitiveness among regional capitals seeking more influence and gains.

After many rounds in the military clashes among Libyan protagonists, in October 2020, the two conflict parties signed a permanent ceasefire agreement that is still on going so far. The United Nations- sponsored agreement includes arms regulation and restriction, putting an end to the escalation caused by media and the hate speech.

This agreement could be the main pillar to build confidence in preparation for holding the elections in December 2021 that will lead to the establishment of three authorities (legislative, executive, and judicial) in addition to unified institutions that exercise their powers in all of Libya. 

Regardless the shackles of the past and the actors preserving their positions toward the Libyan file, one can say there are some international and regional indicators that demonstrate the proximity of an agreed-on "solution" that will move Libya to a less turbulent reality. The most notable indicators are:

1. Alleviate inconsistencies that controlled Ankara’s interactions with Cairo and Riyadh

After the Egyptian security delegation left Tripoli, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Turkish foreign affairs minister, expressed the endeavors of Turkey and Egypt to “develop a road map for their bilateral relations”.  Moreover, he emphasized the continuous intelligence communication with Egypt.   

The two parties may have realized the necessity of using “non-contradiction” principle in the cross-cutting files; this could reflect positively on the positions of Libyan local parties. A lot of local crisis in the Middle East are primarily extensions of the actors’ policy dominating the region since 2011.

In parallel with the good intentions to reduce the Egyptian-Turkish tension, the Saudi- Turkish relations are improving for both leaderships. Qing Suleiman has made a phone call with President Erdogan just before the G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia in November 2020, during which the two leaders emphasized the dialogue to improve the bilateral relations and solve the thorny issues that were even more complicated after al Khashoggi murder and its implications.

2. Presidential Change in Washington

When elected president, Joe Biden, officially assumes office in 20 January, a lot of the Middle East files will be reevaluated to review the positions of different parties according to Biden’s administration whose members tend to use multilateral policies that reduce tension and put an end to illegal and external interventions contradicting the principle of “respect for the sovereignty”.

Therefore, it is in the interest of regional actors in Libya to pre-empt the new administration requirements by determined pursuit to reach a preliminary consensus that takes into account the urgent considerations for each party. This does mean reaching a full and comprehensive consensus; it rather means finding a formula that accommodates the vital interests for each party, with the condition of respecting the differences and not turning Libya into a place to undermine any party’s leverage.    

Expectedly, the coming administration would not tolerate with any non-constructive endeavors, this places huge responsibilities on the countries involved in the Libyan file in order not to change it into an extra burden in the relationships with “democratic” Washington. 

3. The Gulf Reconciliation

Certainly, resolving points of contention in the Gulf will help create a positive atmosphere characterized by dialogue, trying to end the regional conflicts peacefully and reconciling viewpoints among opposing forces. 

However, the most important result of the Gulf reconciliation and what was signed in the statement of Al-Oula Summit (held in Saudi Arabia in January 5, 2021) is respecting the sovereignty and not interfering in the sovereign affairs except by the legal and diplomatic ways. If serious willingness of the Gulf capitals succeeds in consolidating their agreement, they may seek to export their breakthrough to hot files in the territory, like the Libyan one.    

The solution for Libya is Libyan

After a decade of interventions, everyone might be convinced there is no weak party to be the target for costly interventions that have not achieved the desired target; however, these moves have bounced back negatively on their source at times. This could weaken the enthusiasm of the external parties to continue adopting the current policies toward Libya. Nevertheless, this is not the end of the crisis, because the final decision is for the Libyan parties, what external parties can do is to encourage Libyans to dialogue and stir this pending conflict.

This conflict –despite its negativities- is considered a perfect time to have an overall de-escalation because conflict parties are not yet dragged into bloody confrontations that result in a big number of victims. This means there is no desire for vengeance controlling the conflicting parties “emotions”. Each party realizes the other owns the needed means and tools to cause massive losses, which will lead to curbing the desire for achieving fast and decisive victory, the balance of power never favors any party over the others completely.     

After years of fighting, Libyans deserve what is better than a “bad” final agreement; this is why negotiations supporters have to seek the success of an appropriate political formula that takes into consideration possible political disputes in a proactive perspective that addresses the crisis before it takes places; not after prevailing.

This is why the suggested territorial division of powers and high positions in Libya is merely a temporary alleviation for conflict drivers; just like the Taef Agreement in Lebanon, and the three-presidencies sharing (ministers, state, parliament members) in Iraq.

It would be prudent to prepare the internal environment for a gradual political process in order to establish one agreed-on authority – or an authority that is unopposed rigidly by a certain party- in addition to giving it control over the international and regional powers, withdrawing all foreign fighters from Libya. Only then can we say that regional reconciliation contributed to creating a settlement for the Libyan crisis.     




Policy Analysis Team