Alwaght- On Sunday, Moroccan capital Rabat hosted Libyan rival groups who headed to the African country to discuss ways to end the decade-long civil war in the country.
The Turkish Anadolu news agency cited a diplomat from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) as saying that meetings between the Tripoli government led by Prime Minister Fayez Siraj and the Tobruk-based parliament’s speaker Aguila Saleh were held in the town of Bouznika, south of Rabat, to discuss ways to put an end to the Libyan crisis.
The spokesman to the Tobruk parliament on Thursday had said that the arrangement of the talks between the warring sides in Libya was meant to reach a political deal.
Libyan sides over the past few days confirmed that in addition to the Morocco meeting, there are scheduled “secret” negotiations for 5-6 September in Geneva, Switzerland, that would bring together for dialogue representatives from Tripoli and Tobruk. These talks facilitated the first face-to-face meetings since the rivals agreed on a ceasefire last month.
The negotiations are coming as over the past few weeks and after the retreat of General Khalifa Haftar-led forces from the captured regions as a result of a strong push from Tripoli forces, international pressures especially from European sides mounted on both sides for the cessation of hostilities. After a visit to Libya of the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country hosted a Libya peace summit in January, European Union’s foreign policy chief Jesep Borell visited Tripoli last week and talked to Siraj and his cabinet officials, as well as Saleh who represents the eastern Libya House of Representatives.
The meetings are held under the direct supervision of the UN and its special envoy to Libya crisis Stephanie T. Williams who took the position as an acting envoy in March following the resignation of Ghassan Salama. The UN has yet to choose a replacement for Salama as the rivals and the foreign actors have not reached a consensus on a new figure.
From another side, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has so far preferred not to engage in a debate with any of the involved powers on the choice of the special envoy, especially that his term is ending next year and he needs to avoid differences and frictions with the influential powers for reelection.
Last week, Williams traveled to Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt to garner support for her initiative as Libya’s neighbors. The UN envoy also wanted to pass promising messages about the possibility of reaching a comprehensive solution to the deadlock in Libya, where six envoys before her failed in their mission.
Williams, played a major role in Siraj-Haftar agreement on a truce, seems to be resolved to push forward with her peace initiative and press the Libyan sides to go to the negotiating table as she has picked an adequate knowledge of the views of various actors and the sticking points ahead of the talks.
Still, experts are skeptical that the Rabat or Geneva summits will be successful in breaking the spell cast on the political process in the North African country, especially that no advances have been made either on the battlegrounds side or the indirect talks dubbed 5+5 that include 5 security representatives from Tripoli government and 5 ones from Haftar camp.
Challenges ahead of negotiations
The existence of large-scale differences and a lack of consensus among the major foreign players on the Libyan ground on the fashion of ending the 10-year fighting push analysts to the conclusion that like the negotiations in the past years the new round of talks are being held without maximum consensus on the themes of dialogue. This means that the negotiating sides cannot deeply discuss the crisis and this is because the crisis is larger than negotiations and each side wants to secure an upper hand on the negotiating table.
In the present conditions, one of the key challenges of the talks rests in the inner differences of the two sides of the dialogue that frustrates hopes about accepting the results even in case an agreement is reached.
In the Tripoli camp, Siraj is striving to deepen his political sway and is struggling to beat his fellow party man Fathi Bashagha who is the interior minister in the GNA. With the differences between them finding their way to the public, doubts are cast on their possibility to continue the way in the administration in the future without their alliance cracked or even collapsed.
The chasm on the side of Tripoli became clear when Khaled al-Mishri, the chairman of the High Council of State (HCS), based in Tripoli, upon his arrival to Morocco said he was ready to unconditionally meet with Saleh. His remarks were immediately met with objections from the HCS members. The 24 members released a statement in which they lashed out at what they said their marginalization and al-Mishri’s domination of the council and called for equality in the use of the right for decision-making.
The HCS was an outcome of the 2015 Skhirat, Morocco, agreement, formed of 145 members, and controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. The council has the authority to state its view on Libya’s international agreements and is a consultative wing of the parliament. Al-Mishri, who is the head of the Justice and Construction Party as the political wing of the Libya Muslim Brotherhood branch, was named chairman of the body in April 2018.
So, the dispute among the leading Tripoli figures will bring the militant fighters to a question about which one among the three leaders they should be loyal to. This, in place, questions the legitimacy of the Siraj government and causes a fear of a possible coup inside the power orbit.
The opposite side is never in a better position. Libyan sources suggest that Saleh has turned into a magnet of political power in eastern Libya as he is determined to press ahead with efforts towards a political solution with Tripoli without much giving weight to his fellow group leaders. It is highly likely that Saleh’s pro-settlement attempts will be rejected by the militant ranks in eastern Libya whose face is the Haftar-commanded Libyan National Army (LNA) which already rejected Siraj’s initiative. The LNA-aligned politicians follow Saleh’s measures with skepticism as they think that the outcome of the negotiations will be extension of life of the parliament and return of figures loyal to Islamist circles.
The former member of the General National Congress, Touatial-Eidha, launched on his Facebook page a scathing attack on Aguila Saleh, saying “Aguila Saleh lies in public and conspires in secret.” “Either he does not realize the seriousness of what he is doing, or he is chin-deep in the plot for his own benefit.”
“What is coming is worse than any other Skhirat-type agreement and its consequences will be devastating at the national level,” al-Eidha complained. “They are going to turn Sirte into a Libyan Kashmir and reduce the Libyan crisis to a conflict between eastern Libya and western Libya.”
The collection of these challenges makes unrealistic any expectation of success of the recent and upcoming summits in a scene full of political and military turmoil and whose end nobody can see.